Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America


A groundbreaking insider's look at the lives and culture of American evangelicals

In Believers, award-winning religion journalist Jeffery L. Sheler offers a unique and intimate look at the evangelical Christian subculture—a faith tradition that some sixty million Americans call their own. With panoramic sweep and compelling narrative detail, Sheler, who grew up as an evangelical, breaks through the stereotypes to examine not just the big-time ministers but also the ordinary ...

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Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America

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A groundbreaking insider's look at the lives and culture of American evangelicals

In Believers, award-winning religion journalist Jeffery L. Sheler offers a unique and intimate look at the evangelical Christian subculture—a faith tradition that some sixty million Americans call their own. With panoramic sweep and compelling narrative detail, Sheler, who grew up as an evangelical, breaks through the stereotypes to examine not just the big-time ministers but also the ordinary people who make up this dynamic movement. Traveling across the nation, Sheler visits today's evangelicals at work, at home, and at worship to discover how their faith shapes their lives and how they are influencing the public debate in this country. Stops along the way include:

• the trend-setting Saddleback Church, a fifteen-thousand-member congregation in Lake Forest, California, that is a template for the evangelical megachurch movement
• the picturesque campus of Wheaton College in Illinois, the flagship of a burgeoning network of evangelical colleges
• Washington, D.C., where some of evangelicalism's chief political operatives roam the corridors of power

Throughout, Sheler reports that the evangelical movement is much more diverse and complex than often portrayed. At a time when the religious right is more influential than ever, Believers is a timely and eye-opening exploration of the motives, aspirations, and agendas of American evangelicals.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
American evangelicalism, with a reported 50 million believers, is not as easily categorized as many think. According to Sheler (Is the Bible True?), contributing religion editor for U.S. News & World Report, it "has exploded into a torrent of confusing cross currents" and is more complex than the media typically allows. Sheler came to Christianity in a fundamentalist church in the 1960s and spent years in evangelical congregations before moving into mainline Christianity, so his exploration is both personal and professional. He investigates power centers that evangelicals will readily recognize: James Dobson's Focus on the Family, Rick Warren's Saddleback Community Church, and Wheaton College. He attends the Creation Festival (think a Christian Woodstock) and goes on a short-term mission to Guatemala with a church group. Along the way, he sketches a detailed history of the movement (though he ignores the most recent developments like the emerging church movement) and concludes that evangelicalism today is at a crisis point, with theological and political crusaders on one side and those who urge more moderation on the other. He also concludes that evangelicals are "extraordinarily normal." Throughout, he does an excellent job capturing the complex diversity within this conservative faith movement. (Oct. 9) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
The publisher is betting that this account of the growing evangelical movement, written by a former religion editor at U.S. News & World Report, will stir lots of interest. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Travels with Chaplain Charley into such heartlands as Grand Rapids, Mich., and Orange County, Calif., on the trail of homegrown fundamentalists. At one time, fundamentalist Christians liked being called just that. But once the media started applying the term to Jews and Muslims, the more sensitive of the brethren demanded to be called "evangelists." Evangelical America, notes U.S. News and World Report writer Sheler (Is the Bible True?, 1999), numbers at least 50 million inhabitants. Many of those folks share common notions: Gay is bad, gay marriage worse; Bush is good; churches branded and marketed like chain restaurants are much to be preferred to the tired old denominations; far from quietly rendering unto Caesar, fundamentalist Christians deserve a place at the political table. Comparative liberals like "America's pastor," Purpose-Driven Life author Rick Warren, eschews public-policy debates and gives most of his considerable income to social-service charities, but he's the welcome exception here. More typical is Focus on the Family founder James Clayton Dobson, who opposes gay marriage because "if two women can say they're entitled to the rights of married couples, there isn't any reason why some judge won't say three can do the same thing-or five and two, or six and one." Gays are obsessed over by the fundamentalist cowboy churches of Colorado, which surprises Sheler, who may not have heard of Brokeback Mountain; they obsess fundamentalists all over America. Yet, interestingly, absent gay marriage and abortion, evangelicals would not be solidly Republican; after all, 55 percent of them voted for Bill Clinton against George H.W. Bush in 1992. As Sheler notes, evangelicals are"working with feminists on sex-trafficking legislation, with gay-rights activists on the Global AIDS Initiative, with Tibetan Buddhists on the International Religious Freedom Act . . . and so on."There's not much news here for those who follow the news, but it makes for a useful survey of an influential subculture.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780143112679
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 12/18/2007
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 5.48 (w) x 7.96 (h) x 0.74 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeffery L. Sheler is an award-winning journalist who reported for U.S. News & World Report for twenty-four years, fifteen as the religion editor. He authored thirty-five cover stories and is now a contributing editor. He is also the author of Is the Bible True?, which was named one of the top ten religious book of 2000 by Christianity Today. Sheler is an occasional correspondent for PBS's Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 3, 2006

    Comments from an evangelical

    In recent years the national media has begun to recognize the influence of evangelicals in American life, perhaps most notably in giving voice to such scholars as professors Darrell Bock, Ben Witherington, and Craig Evans in networks specials on Jesus, The DaVinci Code, and the like. In the print media a great deal of ink has been devoted to the impact of evangelicals in the election of George W. Bush, an association that once seemed to have promised much in potential political influence. Now this association appears to be an opportunity lost, negated by an ill-advised foray into democracy experiment in Iraq. On the other hand, this newfound respectability which evangelicals have seemed to obtain has yet to trickle down to the level of primetime dramas (think Law and Order here for example) which continues to cast evangelicals as intolerant fundamentalists. Into this breach steps Jeffery Sheler, religion editor for the US News and World Report and author of Is the Bible True? (HarperSanFrancisco, 2000 mostly by the way). Determined to demystify the stereotype of ¿fundies¿ typically held by his colleagues and the public-at-large, and having started out fundamentalist in Grand Rapids and eventually settling into a ¿conservative¿ Presbyterian congregation in Washington D.C., Sheler decided that it was up to an ex-believer like himself to set the record straight. In Believers: A Journey into Evangelical America (Viking), he visits the Focus on the Family ministry headquarters, Saddleback Church, Wheaton College, the Creation festival (an outdoor contemporary Christian rock/folk fest), political operatives in Washington, and goes on a mission trip to Guatemala with a church group. After a few inconsequential visits elsewhere, Sheler visits the Focus on the Family ministry headquarters in Colorado Springs. He is there to interview James Dobson, who many consider to be America¿s most influential evangelical. Politics ¿dominates¿ his interview with Dr. Dobson (Dobson was formerly a practicing pediatrician), though acknowledging that the focus on politics was clearly irritating Dobson. Latching onto a touring Brethren couple on his way out of Focus on the Family headquarters, he discovers that ¿common¿ people don¿t think Dobson should focus so much on politics they liked him much better when he talked family. Moving on, he next gives high marks to Rick Warren, Saddleback Church, and Wheaton College seeming at times wistful as if recalling the better angels of his fundamentalist past. The chapter on Wheaton perhaps makes the most poignant observation in the book (at least from the viewpoint of the uninitiated). Evangelical Christianity in America is no longer characterized by the anti-scholastic stance it adopted in the 1930s. Oddly, in the Saddleback segment, Sheler recounts a conversation with a just-baptized couple who claimed that prior devotion to a Wiccan goddess brought them closer to Christ. After reading Mere Christianity, they became open to explore Saddleback where ¿One of the main tenets of this church is that you believe in Christ, but it¿s not exclusionary to that extreme (people who are not Christians are going to hell).¿ Sheler points out that they probably weren¿t ready for the ¿meat¿ (though clearly Saddleback, in spite of having a seeker-sensitive orientation, does not embrace universalism in any form). Perhaps the highest mark Sheler divvies out is to a group of lay churchmen from Alabama who habitually go short-term to Guatemala to aid in construction. As if to offset their sacrifice, he mentions an agnostic woman who has given up everything to join the staff of Habitats for Humanity in Guatemala. Likewise, the chapter on the Creation festival, the largest of a dozen national outdoor jam fests (of every scope) held each year, gets good press. Sheler¿s conclusion: Christian teens suffer the same conflict with their role in the world as their secular counterparts (though for diffe

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