The Triumph of the Sentimental

I recently began reading Homespun Gospel: The Triumph of Sentimentality in Contemporary American Evangelicalism by Todd Brenneman. Dr. Brenneman is Assistant Professor of Christian History at Faulkner University. His knowledge of the sentimental heart of American evangelicalism is, I'm sure, quite extensive given the fact that his PhD dissertation focused on the work of Max Lucado.

I am not very far into my reading at this point and it is clear that I will take issue with some of Dr. Brenneman's presuppositions. However, it is also clear that Brenneman understands a great deal about what drives contemporary evangelicalism. One particular passage in the introduction affirms (excruciatingly so) my own experience in a "broadly evangelical" church.

[Evangelicals] have looked for ways to construct a sense of community among those who participate in their culture, primarily through the rhetoric of affect. Evangelicals like those examined in this work conceptualize "the social world as an affective space where people ought to be legitimated because they have feelings and because there is an intelligence in what they feel that knows something about the world that, if it were listened to, could make things better." They live in an aesthetic world where emotion is the currency to interact not only with other human beings but also with God. They produce commodities that enable themselves to "feel as though it expresses what is common among them" without recognizing the differences that exist among even evangelicals about what constitutes the appropriate way to follow God's commands and expectations.

Modern evangelical literature and practice appear to be outlets to habituate practitioners to a culture of simplicity that reduces the practice of religion to the creation of feeling. In such a mind-set, human beings complicate life, but God offers something more straightforward. Doctrinal division, intellectual inquiry, and elaborate constructs of religiosity all move humanity farther from God, whereas emotionality can move them closer...[The] work of evangelical culture is to sentimentally reconstruct the details of history, biblical interpretation, and theology to craft a vague or simple version of the religion.

Eerily familiar.