The decade of the Seventies has a rather dismal reputation. In his creatively titled book The Seventies, Bruce Schulman chronicles the horrors: bad hair, vapid dance music, a rootless youth culture, Ford’s mysteriously exploding compact car called the Pinto, hostages in Iran, defeat in Vietnam, double-digit inflation and stagnant economic growth (called stagflation).
The American people, according to cultural critic Christopher Lasch, had slid into an unrepentant narcissism with little regard for the common good. Writer Tom Wolfe derisively called it the “Me Decade.” “The perfect Seventies symbol,” another critic complained, “was the Pet Rock, which just sat there doing nothing.”
But for evangelicals, the Seventies was a boon. Consider the following significant “evangelical moments”:
- In 1970 Hal Lindsey published The Late Great Planet Earth. It sold more than 10 million copies by the end of the 1970s.
- On July 4, 1970, Billy Graham delivered the flagship sermon for the prominent Honor America Day event.
- In 1972, Dean Kelley published Why Conservative Churches Are Growing. He suggested that evangelicals were successfully “explaining the meaning of life in ultimate terms.”
- In 1972 Campus Crusade sponsored a huge event in Dallas called Explo ’72 (also known as Godstock). An audience of 180,000 listened to Graham, Johnny Cash and Kris Kirstofferson. President Nixon tried (unsuccessfully) to join the lineup.
- In 1973 Marabel Morgan wrote The Total Woman. In it she approvingly recounted a Southern Baptist woman who “welcomed her husband home in black mesh stockings, high heels, and an apron. That’s all. He took one look and shouted ‘Praise the Lord!’” The book made huge waves in popular culture.
- In 1975 Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver converted and got the blessing of Billy Graham. He wrote a spiritual autobiography entitled Soul on Fire, a play on his earlier book Soul on Ice.
- In 1976 Jimmy Carter burst on the scene as a real live born-again presidential candidate.
- Charismatic preacher Ruth Carter Stapleton (Jimmy’s sister) got to be so famous that she addressed the West German parliament and hosted a $1,500-per-table Manhattan benefit.
- In 1976 Newsweek declared it to be the “Year of the Evangelical.”
- Tom Landry and Roger Staubach published spiritual autobiographies with an evangelical press.
- In 1976 Tim and Beverly LaHaye wrote The Act of Marriage: The Beauty of Sexual Love, which sold half a million copies by the end of the decade.
- In 1976 Former Nixon advisor Chuck Colson wrote the best-selling Born Again.
- In 1978 Bob Dylan had “a born-again experience, if you want to call it that.”
Forget the rise of the NAE, Youth for Christ, and the 1940s. The 1970s was where it’s at!
For a thicker description of these characters, check out Chapter 1 of Steven Miller’s terrific book Evangelicalism: America’s Born-Again Years. Miller contends that evangelicalism was no longer a subculture. It was instead “an age” that stood for America itself. You should check out Miller’s book; it is the most entertaining and interpretively sophisticated account of recent evangelicalism out there.