About 10 years ago, I taught an adult Sunday school series in which I considered three ways to understand evangelicalism. Is it a movement defined primarily by its (American) history, a narrative arc leading from early 20th century fundamentalists through neo-evangelicals like Billy Graham to the more recent Religious Right? Is it a theological system, most memorably defined by David Bebbington, emphasizing the Bible, the Cross, conversion, and activism? Or is it a subculture defined primarily by its consumption of curated books, media, college degrees, VBS curricula, and other religious products?
My third hypothesis did not sit well with the Sunday school class. I had not presented the three possible definitions as mutually exclusive, but even addressing commercialism in that setting was discomfiting. No one wants to be told that what they think of as cherished convictions are actually mere consumer preferences.
In the years since that class, a swelling tide of scholarship on the business of American evangelicalism has made its economic entanglements harder and harder to ignore. Key titles include Bethany Moreton, To Serve God and Wal-Mart: The Making of Christian Free Enterprise (2009); Darren Dochuck, From Bible Belt to Sunbelt: Plain-folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism (2010); and Kevin Kruse, One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America (2015). Darren Grem, author of Corporate Revivals: Big Business and the Shaping of the Evangelical Right (forthcoming), is also working on an edited collection tellingly titled The Business Turn in American Religious History.
Timothy E. W. Gloege’s Guaranteed Pure: The Moody Bible Institute, Business, and ...1