The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians by Tom Krattenmaker
Tom Krattenmaker, author of Onward Christian Athletes and Religion and Public Life Columnist for USA Today has written a provocative and unique book on the new face of evangelicalism. This new book, The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, provides a fresh look into some leaders in the evangelical movement that you might not have hear of and who minister in very different ways than their evangelical forefathers. The result of the book is a reorientation with leaders who do ministry in fresh and invigorating ways, at times including leaders in their respective communities who are diametrically opposed to their beliefs but want to seek the common good together. Rather than just ride on the coattails of previous leaders such as James Dobson, the new Focus on the Family President Jim Daly focuses his effort on less overt political matters and more on equipping families to grow and sustain healthy relationships. Although the book at times still has the flavor of someone on the opposite spectrum criticizing evangelicals for their beliefs, Tom is quick to point out how progressive conceptions of evangelical leaders are often hearsay and littered with false beliefs.
Evangelical leadership in the past has time and again focused on the preaching of the good news to bring converts into their ranks. Yet, this line of ministry has not been without its faults. In Portland, under the ministry of Kevin Palau, son of preacher Luis Palau, there is a network of evangelical churches committed to helping surrounding communities with service projects full of the help of hundreds of volunteers (18). Tom writes, “Called the Seasons of Service, the annual campaign consists of free medical and dental clinics; public school beautification and mentoring efforts, shelters for victims of sex trafficking; drives to provide the homeless with food, clothing shelter, and counseling; and other good works” (18). Later on in the chapter Tom indicates that for Kevin Palau, he is still willing to you about how Jesus changed his life but he is engaging the Portland community with no strings attached in an effort to serve the people in the city without an ulterior motive. For Kevin, this effort meant going before the Mayor of Portland and asking, “What could the church community do to help” (27)? The new Mayor Sam Adams felt a sense of anxiety about the evangelical community helping due to a perception that this work might just be a ploy to proselytize. Yet, after the first year of seeing 550 churches involved, 27,000 volunteers and over 300 service projects maintained, the Seasons of Service initiative was a major success that other cities are seeking to emulate.
The Mecca of Evangelical organizations, Colorado Springs, is also home to Focus on the Family. The author made a trip there to interview President Jim Daly and take a tour of the campus. After sensing the shift from a political driven, abrasive leader in James Dobson, the present President Jim Daly has taken a different approach to things. Daly has been an advocate of partnering with less than conservative groups for good causes, including trying to partner with TOMS shoes. Yet, I think the line of thought that Krattenmaker takes is very wise in considering Focus on the Family. He writes, “The good done by Focus on the Family is still good, whether it’s motivating church members to put their pro-life money where their mouths are and adopt foster-kids, whether it’s consoling and counseling a panicked parent who marriage is in crisis, or whether it’s trying to promote TOMS Shoes and the footwear it provides to needy children” (189). Progressives will never fully agree with Daly’s stand on issues of life, marriage, or faith driven policies, but there are many issues where a common stand is not only appropriate but dearly needed. Overall, I think the chapter outlined some of the changes in tone and outlook for Focus on the Family that came about with the hiring of Jim Daly. A new face for an organization rooted in bringing hope to families was needed and Daly provides that vision.
This book is a great look at evangelical leaders who lead with a different vision than leaders of the past. Seeking the common good of all, partnering with organizations who don’t agree with their stand, gives these churches and organizations a voice in our culture. Krattenmaker has his own criticisms of the evangelical leaders but I think he is fast to point out how the vision and practice of some evangelical leaders are more open to his progressive, mainline friends. Even more than this, the book is a lesson in understanding how misconceptions and conjecture often are stopped dead in their tracks when meeting with real people and the work that they do.
I was encouraged by this book and its overall emphasis on the next evangelical leadership.
Thanks to SpeakEasy and Rowman and Littlefield Publishers for the review copy of this book in exchange for review.