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Friday, May 4, 2012

Faith In The Halls Of Power

God has His people spread throughout the full spectrum of American society. From one end to the other, the People of the Vine are occupying all corners of culture through the daily workforce. While the largest percentage of them hold "everyday jobs," the Lord has His Esthers and Daniels in "high places," too.

I was reminded of this recently while reading D. Michael Lindsay's 2007 book, Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite. This fascinating volume, nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, is the result of Lindsay's doctoral dissertation at Princeton. He collected data from 360 one-on-one interviews over three years, logging more than three hundred thousand miles, doing twenty-eight transcontinental trips, visiting seventy-two different locations, from Boston to San Diego, and Miami to Seattle.

Lindsay, current president of Gordon College and a member of Chuck Colson's first Centurions group, defines an evangelical as: "someone who believes (1) that the Bible is the supreme authority for religious belief and practice, (2) that he or she has a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and (3) that one should take a transforming, activist approach to faith." While one or two of the individuals Lindsay mentions may stretch the envelope of this definition a bit, what Lindsay discovered is, evangelicals are increasingly present in the mainstream of American culture-making. This is true not only in politics, but in higher education, the corporate world, and Hollywood.

While an "evangelical power-broker" sounds like an oxymoron, Lindsay's research suggests otherwise. After a period of withdrawal in the 1920s and 30s, American evangelicalism took a course correction in the 1940s, as "neo-evangelical" leaders, including Billy Graham, made the intentional choice to "enter the public square again without abandoning their religious identity."

While evangelicals were relatively minor players among the so-called "elite" in the 1960s and 1970s, the last 35 years have seen a marked resurgence of evangelicals in "the halls of power." Lindsay writes: "As America has become more religiously diverse, evangelicals have begun acting on their faith in more public ways."

I was unaware of the breadth and depth of the presence of evangelicals in positions of public influence until I read Lindsay's book. "Though most of us know that there are growing numbers of evangelicals in leadership today," writes Lindsay, "we know virtually nothing about them."

Lindsay's book changed all that.

For more on this topic, read yesterday's BreakPoint article by Eric Metaxas:
The Next Unreached People Group: Christianity and the Elites.

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