The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good. By Maria Pally. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2011. 268 pp. Paper, $20.00.
Marcia Pally is a professor at New York University. In this book, she makes the case that there is a growing tendency among American evangelicals to move more toward the left in their political leanings. These “New Evangelicals” generally maintain a stress on individual salvation and freedom of conscience, but they combine it with the performance of good works in society at large. She claims these people are distributed across Protestant denominations and make up roughly 25% of the population (p. 22).
In the past, evangelicals have solidly sided with the Republican Party. New Evangelicals still generally support the Party but they are willing to deviate in certain areas. Evangelicals have realized that their allegiance to the Party have caused them to become part of the state apparatus and made them complicit in supporting unjust wars and government lies. This has led the New Evangelicals to look at each issue by itself. In many issues, they support the Democratic Party. However, a strong shift to the Democratic Party in elections is unlikely because of evangelical opposition to abortion and a preference for small government (p. 27).
She interviews Richard Cizik, the former vice president of the National Association of Evangelicals, who says that the New Evangelicals are antimilitaristic, anti-consumeristic, and focus on poverty relief, immigration reform, and environmental protection (p. 17).
The New Evangelicals support a “liberal” democracy. This means that they hold to a strict separation of church and state. Everybody has the freedom of conscience to worship as they see fit. The state is also responsible for the just treatment of all people. In the past, they feel that the Republican Party has sought for support from evangelicals by promoting the Christian religion. Government should not do that. This has left other religions out. New Evangelicals recognize that if we argue that a Christian pharmacist should not have to sell medicine that causes an abortion, a Muslim storeowner should not have to sell pork.
Pally interviews many of these New Evangelicals in her book. They are from various denominations and Christian organizations. They are diverse in their beliefs. One pastor proudly proclaims that his church has ministries that deal with substance abuse, cancer care, foster children, the homeless, offers free food, helps the deaf in the community as well as people struggling with homosexuality (p. 4). Another says that Christianity is not about personal salvation, but in giving and serving others, and seeing what you can do (p. 5).
The cultural shift in American has caused attitudinal shifts among evangelicals in things such as sex and global connectedness. New Evangelicals, for example, are much more accepting of homosexual rights and marriage (p. 229). They are much less judgmental about such things.
Another factor in this shift was the younger Bush’s presidency. Many evangelicals saw that they supported his polices, especially torture and an unjust war, and they realized they acted against the teachings of Jesus and that being tied with government so closely cannot be the “godly way” (p. 21).
Older evangelicals were associated with opposition to abortion and gay marriage, supported laissez-fair capitalism, and were judgmental towards others. This judgmental attitude was reflected in their insistence upon personal salvation as well as morality. This attitude goes back to the turn of the twentieth century. Evangelicals felt that the social gospel did not spend enough time on saving souls. The rise of dispensationalism, premillennialism, and the holiness movement all directed Christians to look at the world to come, and not this present world (pp. 53-54).
But there is an earthquake occurring in the evangelical world. Younger evangelicals are not interested in winning elections, but making a difference around the world. Even organizations like Dallas Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention are joining the green movement. Some evangelicals are working with the pro-abortion Planned Parenthood in order to help poor women have fewer abortions by combating things like poverty (pp. 99-101).
New Evangelicals see Jesus as a society builder. If we follow the teachings of Jesus seriously, lives of service and sacrifice will change the world. We can accept Jesus as savior, but godly love, expressed in service to others and the world, can change things (pp. 130-32).
Concern for the environment among New Evangelicals is a view that not only moves away from dispensational teachings, but also sees creation as something that Christians have a “stewardship” for. The stopping of global warming is a Christian imperative (pp. 221-22).
The book does not deal much with the gospel. One New Evangelical says she is troubled by the idea that if you don’t believe in Jesus you are going to hell. The God of love created us with so much diversity. We shouldn’t just cross people off who don’t believe in Jesus (p. 9). Patty would admit that not all New Evangelicals would state it this way. However, it is clear that this growing movement would put much less emphasis on doctrinal clarity and evangelism.
I recommend this book. The various interviews make it very easy to read. Many would agree that the church in America has often become too entwined with the Republican Party. There is a change occurring in Protestant churches. Many are alarmed when they see how the next generation of those within Christendom sees things like the Gospel and certain moral issues. In many instances, there seems to be a shift from a focus on the world to come to this present world. We need to be aware of what is happening. This book gives a glimpse of this shift.
Kenneth W. Yates
Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society