Bielo, James S. 2013. “FORMED”: Emerging Evangelicals Navigate Two Transformations. In The New Evangelical Social Engagement. Edited by Brian Steensland and Phillip Goff, 31-49. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Excerpt: This book asks a vital question. Is there a sea change happening on the social, political, and cultural front of evangelical social engagement? And if so, just how is that sea floor shifting? These questions are important due both to the significant influence of evangelicals in American public life and to the received wisdom among academic and mainstream discourses about evangelicals’ public presence. There is a familiar story at work here. American evangelicals are culture warriors, obsessed with abortion and homosexuality, who seek to elect their own into public office so they can codify religious morality. They create Christian alternatives to every imaginable form of popular culture and democratic institution. And they do service work with people who are socially disadvantaged and marginalized, largely from the comfortable confines of middle-class suburbia.
We might read this volume as a call to take seriously the complexity and tensions within the amorphous category “evangelical.” As Steensland and Goff outline in the Introduction, evangelicals have recently made waves on their own shores and those of secular media outlets for appearing in unexpected places: taking up arms in debates about sustainable development, climate change, HIV/AIDS, human trafficking, and global peacemaking. This chapter proceeds from the assumption that while platforms and agendas are indeed up for grabs, the future of evangelical social engagement will not unfold on the basis of specific public issues. It will unfold along the cultural contours that give expression and direction to evangelicals’ ongoing public influence.
Any comparative analysis of a new social engagement must confront the institutional and ideological changes that evangelicals have produced and wrestled with in recent years. The diverse movement known as the Emerging Church exemplifies such changes and was the focus of my ethnographic research from October 2007 to July 2011. In this chapter, I highlight one institutional invention among a small group of emerging evangelicals in Cincinnati, Ohio, to consider how views of social engagement are tethered to ideals of spiritual formation.