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Preaching to Convert

Evangelical Outreach and Performance Activism in a Secular Age

John Fletcher

Publication Year: 2013

Preaching to Convert offers an intriguing new perspective on the outreach strategies of U.S. evangelicals. Author John Fletcher frames these activities, from door-to-door proselytizing to the spirited sermons of superstar televangelists, as examples of activist performance, broadly defined here as acts performed before an audience in the hopes of changing hearts and minds. Most writing about activist performance has focused on left-progressive causes, events, and actors, and if evangelicals have appeared at all, they often appear as one-dimensional forces of ignorance or bigotry against which brave (left-leaning) activists must fight. Preaching to Convert argues against such a constricted view of activism and for a more nuanced understanding of U.S. evangelicalism as a movement defined by its desire to win converts and spread the gospel. In other words, evangelicals are activist performers par excellence. The book positions evangelicals as a diverse, complicated group confronting the loss of conservative Christianity’s default status in twenty-first–century U.S. culture. In the face of an increasingly secular age, evangelicals have been reassessing models of outreach. In acts like handing out Bible tracts to strangers on the street or going door-to-door with a Bible in hand, in elaborately staged horror-themed morality plays or multi-million-dollar creationist discovery centers, in megachurch services beamed to dozens of satellite campuses, and in controversial “ex-gay” ministries striving to return gays and lesbians to the straight and narrow, evangelicals are redefining what it means to be deeply committed in a pluralist world. The book’s engaging style and careful argumentation make it accessible and appealing to scholars and students across a range of fields.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. i-vi

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pp. vii-x

More people than I can hope to account for helped me to envision, research, and complete this project. Scott Magelssen, Lance Gharavi, Carolyn Roark, Rob Shimko, Sara Freeman, Henry Bial, and Jody Enders all helped me—as editors and as friends—work through versions of and...


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pp. xi-xii

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Introduction: Tackling You to Change the World

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pp. 1-14

Suppose you knew something deeply, utterly true—not just a truth but the Truth, a life-changing, capital-T- type Truth. Imagine that you knew with every atom of your being that this Truth could set people free, save them from a certain doom, and lead them into a richer, fuller, life. What...

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1: Performance Activism, Progressive Oversights, and Deep Differences

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pp. 15-45

Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education in 2005, critical and legal theorist Stanley Fish recalls a reporter asking him “what would succeed high theory and the triumvirate of race, gender, and class as the center of intellectual energy in the academy. I answered like a shot: religion.”1 A glance at recent publications from superstar critics on the progressive...

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2: Positioning Secular Age Evangelicalism

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pp. 46-76

What’s going on with evangelicalism? Consider two perspectives on faith in the United States, one from an evangelical minister and one from a sociologist of religion. In the spring of 2009, Michael Spencer, an evangelical pastor and blogger known as “the Internet Monk,”1 posted a three-part series—part argument, part manifesto—entitled “The Coming Evangelical Collapse.”2 There Spencer...

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3: Face to Face, Door to Door: Personal Evangelism and the Scandal of Salvation

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pp. 77-121

A young man, mid-to late twenties, dressed in a suit and tie, climbs the porch steps to knock on the door. As the door opens, the man introduces himself: “Hi, I’m Steven Anderson; I pastor Faithful Word Baptist Church.” Provided the person does not shut the door at that point...

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4: Apologies and Apologetics: Meta-Kerygmatic Evangelism

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pp. 122-156

For the approaches I reviewed in the previous chapter, evangelistic effectiveness depends upon the miraculous power of the gospel message. Those strategies stress that the Holy Spirit, not the evangelist, works to convict and persuade prospects through kerygma, the plain proclamation...

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5: Hell and Judgement: Houses of Distinction

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pp. 157-190

It’s 10:30 at night, the day after Halloween 2003. I’m standing in line outside of the Freedom Assembly of God Church in Tallahassee, Florida, to watch the congregation’s first annual Hell House.1 It is my first Hell House as well, and I am a little uncertain just what to expect. News...

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6: Prepare to Believe: Performing the Evangelical Worldview at the Creation Museum

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pp. 191-219

I confess: I was taken aback by how professional it looks, this Museum, how slick. Past experience with conservative evangelical productions led me to expect something like hell houses: an earnest but awkward attempt at “science,” a sincere but threadbare facsimile of a secular discovery-center...

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7: Staging Church, Marketing the Divine

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pp. 220-261

The video begins with a young couple pulling into a Starbucks. “So, are you nervous?” the young woman asks. “Because I haven’t been to a coffee shop since I was a little girl.” The storefront looms in the windshield. “At least you’ve been to a coffee shop,” her husband replies. Searching for a free space in the immense, comically crowded lot...

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8: Change Is Possible: Exodus and the Opposite of Homosexuality

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pp. 262-302

It is mid-June 2009, and I am sitting in an ancillary chapel of the huge Sunshine Community Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. At the podium is Alan Chambers, president and public face of Exodus International,1 the largest and oldest evangelical organization dedicated to helping...

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Conclusion: American Grace and Evangelical True Believers

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pp. 303-314

have ended with an especially profound, intimate, and therefore scandalous model of evangelical conversion, describing ministries and people dedicated to transforming homosexuality (seen as a desire-based identity) into holiness (a faith-based practice of self). As Exodus’s ongoing...


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pp. 315-368


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pp. 369-388


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pp. 389-400

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029877
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472119158

Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2013