Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation

Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1987. 302 pp. (Paperback edition, 1988)
By James Hunter

Distinguished Book Award 1988
Society for the Scientific Study of Religion
Selected by Choice as one of the outstanding scholarly books of 1987

Now a force of world significance, Evangelicalism has often been regarded as a cultural mastodon that somehow survived the advent of modern civilization. Today, however, Evangelicals constitute 20 percent of the American population and are the fastest-growing, politically most visible and ambitious segment in American Protestantism. In Evangelicalism: The Coming Generation, James Davison Hunter looks at this conservative Protestant movement by focusing on the "coming generation"--those who will be the lay and professional leadership of Evangelicalism in the next decades.

Hunter's work is based on a national study of students and faculty at sixteen institutions of higher learning, a sample that represents the very heart of mainstream Evangelicalism. Each institution--nine liberal arts colleges and seven Evangelical seminaries--is committed by charter to the maintenance and propagation of core theological and religious tenets of the Evangelical worldview. Although the students and seminarians in Hunter's sample represent a generation that will define the symbolic universe for the Evangelical movement in the future, his analysis goes beyond this group to study the broader Evangelical population and culture.

While taking account of the social and historical context of this cultural movement, Hunter surveys trends in conservative Protestantism's encounter with the modern world in the following areas: its ideal of the family; its view of work, morality, and the self; its principal theological tenets; and its political culture. Changes have begun to take place in all of these areas, Hunter concludes, so fundamental that the world of the coming generation of Evangelicals may bear little resemblance to the Evangelical world of previous generations.

At one level, Hunter argues, these changes signify a decline in religious orthodoxy; at another the changing definition of orthodoxy. His provocative analysis of the changing cultural milieu of conservative Protestants is situated in the long-standing debate over the future of religion and of American hegemony in the contemporary "world order." As the form of religious orthodoxy to confront modern life longer and more intensly than andy other, the case of Evangelicalism sheds new light on how "traditional" religions survive the constraints of modern life.

Evangelicalism offers a much-needed study of a major religious force in America. Its accessible prose and illuminating arguments will make it essential reading for anyone interested in Evangelicalism, in religious traditions, and in the dynamics of cultural change in America.