Over at Religion in America, historian Randall Stephens has posted a helpful bibliography of recent and forthcoming books in American religious history. A few standouts are related to American evangelical history — with potential significance for Brethren in Christ studies. Here are a few:
From Bible Belt to Sun Belt: Plain-Folk Religion, Grassroots Politics, and the Rise of Evangelical Conservatism. Darren Dochuck’s exciting study is touted as “a sweeping, five-decade history of the evangelical movement in southern California that explains an epochal realignment of American politics.” It traces conservative Protestants’ Great Depression-era migration from Oklahoma, Arkansas, Texas, and other midwestern states to southern California, where they mounted a religious conservative movement that had dramatic effects on the American political scene. One wonders to what extent the Brethren in Christ of southern California — predominantly politically and religiously conservative evangelicals — played a role in or reflected this ideological movement. Read a review from the A.V. Club here.
No Sympathy for the Devil: Christian Pop Music and the Transformation of American Evangelicalism. For anyone who’s been to a megachurch (or even not-so-mega church) worship service in the past ten years, it is indisputably clear that American evangelicals have embraced the “Christian pop music” trend. Trading hymnals for PowerPoint lyrics projected on the wall, these Christians have — as author David W. Stowe argues in his new book — transformed the landscape of American evangelicalism. As the publisher writes: “For an earlier generation, the idea of combining conservative Christianity with rock–and its connotations of nonreligious, if not antireligious, attitudes–may have seemed impossible. Today, however, Christian rock and pop comprises the music of worship for millions of Christians in the United States, with recordings outselling classical, jazz, and New Age music combined.” Certainly this has been true of the Brethren in Christ Church.
God-Fearing and Free: A Spiritual History of America’s Cold War. Read through copies of the Evangelical Visitor from the 1950s and 1960s and you’re sure to come across reprinted articles written by the likes of J. Edgar Hoover and other so-called “Cold Warriors.” These articles, borrowed by the Brethren in Christ from the mainstream evangelical press, make direct connections between communism and religious apathy; between criminality and Sunday school truancy. Unless you practice conservative Christianity, these articles aver, you will become a communist and go to jail. This politicization of American evangelicalism is explored in Jason W. Stevens’ God-Fearing and Free. As a church historian working in this era, I anticipate that Stevens’ study will shed some much-needed light on the links between conservative Christianity and Cold War rhetoric, and look forward to reading the book at length. Until then, check out this review.
I hope to see these titles reviewed in a future issue of Brethren in Christ History and Life!