In his 2011 Bancroft Prize-winning book The Age of Fracture, Princeton intellectual historian Daniel Rodgers writes:
Across multiple fronts of ideational battle, from the speeches of presidents to books of social and cultural theory, conceptions of human nature that in the post-World War II era had been think with context, social circumstances, institutions, and history gave way to conceptions of human nature that stressed choice, agency, performance, and desire. Strong metaphors of society were supplanted by weaker ones. Imagined collectivities shrank; notions of structure and power thinned out. Viewed by its acts of mind, the last quarter of the century was an era of disaggregation, a great age of fracture. (p.4).
Lately I have been wondering how Rodgers’s ideas in The Age of Fracture apply to the last eighty or so years of American evangelicalism. A few of the questions I am asking:
- To what extent did the neo-evangelical movement of the 1940s and 1950s represent some kind of “evangelical” (as opposed to the “fundamentalism” of the folks like John R. Rice, Bob Jones, and Carl McIntire) consensus?
- Rodgers writes, “What is important are the significant breaks–where old lines of thought are disrupted, older constellations displaced, and elements, old and new, are regrouped around a different set of premises and themes.” (p.4) If there was a period of mid-century consensus, how do we define it? In the 1940s and 1950s, the average American knew evangelicals through the Gospel message of Billy Graham. Since the 1980s, the average American knows evangelicals through their commitment to conservative Republican Party politics.
- In the “age of fracture, Rodgers writes, “notions of power moved out of structures and into culture. Identities became intersectional and elective. Concepts of society fragmented.” To what extent did evangelical “structures” or institutions (controlled by white males)–seminaries, publications (I am thinking about Christianity Today here), organizations (National Association of Evangelicals?)–give way to categories of cultural identity such as politics (e.g. Christian Right), class (e.g. Trump evangelicals vs. “elitist” evangelicals), race (e.g. we now refer to “White” and “Black” and “Hispanic” and “Asian” evangelicals); and gender (e.g. the #metoo movement has come to evangelicalism).
- What role has the Internet and social media played in the fracturing of American evangelicalism? Did social media cause the fracture, or merely reveal it?
Just to be clear, I am thinking about this historically. This is not an endorsement or criticism of the “age of fracture” as it relates to American evangelicalism.