Christopher Benson reviews Darryl Hart’s book From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin in Books and Culture. An excerpt:
Focusing on the evangelical intelligentsia rather than the rank-and-file, he considers “the reasons that representative born-again Protestant academics and pastors give for political participation, their understanding of the good society, or the value of the American polity.” The literary evidence that Hart marshals is impressive. He takes us through the writings of young progressives in the 1970s (Richard Pierard, David Moberg, Mark Hatfield, Richard Mouw), historical revisionists (Peter Marshall, Jr., Francis Schaeffer, Donald Dayton), correcting historians (Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden), fundamentalist “party crashers” in the 1980s (Jerry Falwell, Tim LaHaye, Pat Robertson), faith-based pundits (Chuck Colson, Ralph Reed, Marvin Olaskey, James Skillen), leftist evangelicals (Jim Wallis, Randall Balmer, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider), and “heroic conservatives” (Michael Gerson, Joel Hunter, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren).
Hart then turns to traditionalist conservatives (Russell Kirk, Roger Scruton, Michael Oakeshott, Mark Henrie, Patrick Deneen) for an alternative to the “redemptive utopianism” that prevails among evangelicals. In Hart’s account, latter-day evangelicals, for all their internal differences, closely resemble their revivalist ancestors, stitching a patchwork quilt of American exceptionalism and providential benediction, patriotism and piety, evangelism and social action. “Deep within the soul” of members of the Religious Right, Hart observes, beats “the heart not of a Burkean conservative but of a Finneyite activist.” If we follow the levels of reading in How to Read a Book, Hart has reached the highest level as a syntopical reader, placing multiple books in relation to one another and constructing a new and perceptive analysis on the subject. However, I do question how much can be extrapolated about the political ethos of evangelicalism—a remarkably pluriform movement—from literary evidence alone.
Read the whole thing. I’ve not yet seen this book, but I’m familiar with Hart’s book from his previous work. Elsewhere in his review Benson compares From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin to Hunter’s To Change the World (another textbook-like work I hope to read). A shorter work I’ve enjoyed on this topic (and from a slightly different perspective) is City of Man: Religion and Politics in a New Era (by Michael Gerson and Peter Wehner, with a Foreword by Tim Keller).