I finished off my summer reading about fundamentalist/evangelical Christianity with The Anointed. Co-authors Randall Stephens and Karl Giberson address six main topics about modern evangelical Christianity in the United States: creationism, nationalistic history, psychology, apocalyptic thought, cultural parallelism, and the loose-knit network of leaders and followers that adhere to modern American evangelicalism.
Several of the chapters focus on one representative evangelical leader to discuss the topic at hand. For example, in the chapter on nationalistic history, David Barton serves as the representative figure for Stephens and Giberson to explore the interpretations of U.S. history that emphasize the exclusivity of the nation’s Christian heritage. The chapter on creationism focuses on Ken Ham, the founder of Answers in Genesis and the Creation Museum. Not surprisingly, James Dobson and Hal Lindsey draw much of the authors’ attention in the chapters on psychology and apocalyptic thought, respectively. In a refreshing change of pace, an “every man” serves as the thread of continuity for the chapter looking at the creation of a separate and parallel Christian culture in the United States, one that encompasses education and consumerism, among other things. The final chapter pulls together the first five through its discussion of the influential role played Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Oral Roberts, in creating modern evangelicalism.
One of the strengths of the book is the authors’ inclusion of Christian voices that combine faith and intellect honestly. For example, Barton’s skewed and disingenuous interpretation of U.S. history is balanced by that of Mark Noll, an evangelical and well-respected historian. Francis Collins, an evangelical Christian who heads the National Institutes of Health, presents a Christian perspective on faith and science that exposes the weakness of Ham’s emphasis on young-earth creationism.
By including these voices in contrast to the more well-known faces of evangelical Christianity, Stephens and Giberson underscore their main argument: the tension between the city of God and the city of Man is one that has existed since Christianity’s inception, and speaking to it requires intellectual honesty of the sort one often does not find among the most vocal evangelical Christian leaders.
For me personally, all of the leading evangelical figures present in this book were part of my formative years, both physically and spiritually. In my pre-college fundamentalist years, most of them, such as Dobson, were considered liberal compromisers because they attempted to engage the secular world instead of living separately. As I grew older and moved into evangelicalism, many of them became part of my mainstream thinking. Now, I don’t view any of them as authoritative.
As cliché as it sounds, The Anointed forced me to look into the mirror of my past and helped me understand how the same group of people could mean so many different things to me at different stages of my life. If for no other reason, I’m glad I read it for that.