Historians, says Philip Jenkins in his latest Real Clear Religion column, are just now starting to understand with how evangelicalism remade itself in the 1970s. He argues the professors are doing a decent job “showing how Christian movements and leaders developed during these years” but they’re not seriously grappling with pop culture.
That grappling is necessary, writes Jenkins, because “those groups faced a daunting challenge in reaching out to a non-believing audience that was at first deeply unsympathetic to the moral and cultural messages they preached. To say the least, the years around 1970 were not a promising time to be preaching chastity, heterosexuality, and a drug-free lifestyle…”
And into this cultural gulf, between the clean-shaven, clean living, low-church Protestants and their long-haired, chemically-enhanced, non-churched contemporaries stepped… rock music.
Jenkins argues that as the ’60s pushed into the ’70s, rock rediscovered its country roots and found God in the process. At the same time, evangelicals launched their own sort of Christian rock that would eventually become the Contemporary Christian Music genre. These two things pushed the secular closer to the religious and the religious close to the secular, and the rest is religious history.
We were actually supposed to run a different Jenkins column today as a way of relaunching his regular column, but he sent us the piece early last week. It was on Jerry Sandusky, Penn State and pedophilia. If there’s one lesson I learned working for two tours of duty with Wlady Pleszczynski, it’s that sitting on good, newsy copy is a sin against the Polish Holy Spirit.