...as soon as evangelicalism becomes a subject, it splinters and splits. Indeed, taken together, recent studies by more-or-less outsiders show there is no such thing as evangelicalism. The term represents a broad range of significantly different theologies, practices, and religious movements within Christianity, and there are often tensions among and within them. Which is no revelation at all to most more-or-less insiders, who call themselves evangelicals, however qualified, and who argue as much with others who do the same as with those of us who don't. Holy Mavericks: Evangelical Innovators and the Spiritual Marketplace NYU Press, 2009, by Shayne Lee and Phillip Luke Sinitiere, turns critical attention to five of todays most well-known celebrity "evangelical innovators," namely T.D. Jakes the subject of Lees first book, Brian McLaren, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Paula White. Heirs of the religious-economy approach of Roof, Wuthnow, and others, Lee and Sinitiere—an associate professor of sociology and African diasporic studies at Tulane University, and a visiting assistant professor of history at Sam Houston State University—see these five figures as supply-side free agents who succeed not because of their status within a particular ecclesiastical hierarchy but because they are able to market their content, indeed themselves, in ways that embody changing American sensibilities.

Their approach challenges the "strict church thesis" of earlier sociologists of religion, which argued that conservative, hard-line suppliers of religion fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals thrive, while lenient ones liberals, progressives decline. On the contrary, these five profiles suggest that the key to success is not theological or political strictness but effective marketing. Indeed, part of what allows these evangelical innovators to be so successful is that they find ways to "overtly avoid yet subtly address" potentially controversial issues among their constituents, Lee and Sinitiere write. One of the big take-aways from their research is that the evangelical movement is, they say, "far more elastic, far more complex, and far more contradictory than what popular accounts reveal."

via The Chronicle of Higher Education.