Emerging Evangelicals

Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity

256 pages

22 illustrations

October, 2011

ISBN: 9780814789551



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James S. Bielo is Assistant Professor of Anthropology at Miami University. He is the author of four books including, Anthropology of Religion: The Basics, Emerging Evangelicals: Faith, Modernity, and the Desire for Authenticity, and Words Upon the Word: An Ethnography of Evangelical Group Bible Study. He is also the founder of Materializing the Bible, a digital scholarship project, available at www.materializingthebible.com.  

All books by James S. Bielo

The Emerging Church movement developed in the mid-1990s among primarily white, urban, middle-class pastors and laity who were disenchanted with America’s conservative Evangelical sub-culture. It is a response to the increasing divide between conservative Evangelicals and concerned critics who strongly oppose what they consider overly slick, corporate, and consumerist versions of faith. A core feature of their response is a challenge to traditional congregational models, often focusing on new church plants and creating networks of related house churches.

Drawing on three years of ethnographic fieldwork, James S. Bielo explores the impact of the Emerging Church movement on American Evangelicals. He combines ethnographic analysis with discussions of the movement’s history, discursive contours, defining practices, cultural logics, and contentious interactions with conservative Evangelical critics to rethink the boundaries of “Evangelical” as a category. Ultimately, Bielo makes a novel contribution to our understanding of the important changes at work among American Protestants, and illuminates how Emerging Evangelicals interact with the cultural conditions of modernity, late modernity, and visions of “postmodern” Christianity.


  • "Bielo's depiction of ‘emerging’ evangelicals shows what can be achieved through the best kind of ethnography. This is a deeply engaging and revealing portrait of Christians' whose lives and religious convictions are shown to be complex and subtle, even as they are often pitched against conservative forms of the faith."

    —Simon Coleman, Chancellor Jackman Chaired Professor, University of Toronto

  •  “Provides a vivid portrait of new-style Christianity that is challenging and revitalizing the pursuit of the Kingdom of God in the 21st century. Bielo brings an astute anthropological sensitivity to this multifaceted movement and provides a clear-eyed perspective on the variety, motivation, and utter sincerity of the people driving it.”

    —Gerardo Marti, author of A Mosaic of Believers: Diversity and Innovation in a Multiethnic Church

  • "Emerging Evangelicals is a welcome addition to the steadily-growing body of scholarly literature on contemporary American Evangelicals."

    —Charlie McCrary, Religion in American History

  • "The book is useful for both graduate and upper level seminary students and anthropology major students. It will make a good collection for both seminary and university libraries."

    —Ning Zhang, Religious Studies Review

  • "From [Bielo's] empathetic description...[it's clear] the growth of introspective evangelicals serves as a caution to scholars and commentators not to assume a homogenous evangelical experience. Recommended."


  • "This enlightening study of postmodern evangelicals illustrates the adaptive capacity and phenomenal resilience of religion in contemporary society, debunking any simple secularist or fundamentalist understanding of religion and modernity."

    Anthropology Review

  • “This is an engrossing and powerfully observed ethnography with much richness in detail…Bielo has caught the essence of an intriguing and important variant of postmodern Christianity as it emerges”

    —Dominic Martin , Social Anthropology

  • “Bielo offers an illuminating, cogently organized interpretation of Emerging Evangelicalism in America as well as a provocative model for linking subjectivity and structure through ethnographic data. For these reasons, Emerging Evangelicals contains much of value to advanced scholars of Christianity, scholars of American Protestantism most of all. As a generally lucid and energetic treatment of its subject, the book also provides non-specialists such as graduate students with an accessible introduction to many of the leading themes in the anthropology of Christianity.”

    —Michael J. Boyle, Nova Religio

  • "Bielo offers an illuminating, cogently organized interpretation of Emerging Evangelicalism in America as well as a provocative model for linking subjectivity and structure through ethnographic data."

    Journal of Alternative and Emergent Religions

  • "Emerging Evangelicals demonstrates how understanding particular Christianities as traditions of cultural critique can clarify their fraught relations with 'worldliness' both within and without the church. Accessibly written and relatively compact, the book would be appropriate for undergraduate classes focused on anthropological approaches to Christianity in North America."

    American Athropologist

  • "This book is full of thick description and rich detail.  Bielo has a knack for capturing the essence of the people he interacted wth in his 3 year ethnographic journey through Emerging Evangelicalism.  The personalities come through in his description of their appearance and clothing, mannerisms and attributes, and in their voices in the text.  His descriptions of gatherings and worship ritual are so vivid that at times I found myself transported through his prose back to my own ethnographic research on Emerging congregations." 

    Review of Religious Research