A Transforming Faith: An Exploration of 20th Century American Evangelicalism.

Watt, David Harrington. A Transforming Faith: An Exploration of 20th Century American Evangelicalism. Rutgers University Press, 1992.

David Harrington Watt explores the historical emergence and dynamics of power within the twentieth-century evangelicalism in America with specific reference to four areas: politics, private and public sphere, women’s role, and modern psychology. Watts study is based on an extensive survey of popular literature produced by evangelicals; he admits that the study does not address evangelical practices as such. Dealing with the years between 1925 (the year of the famous scopes trial) and 1976 (the year Jimmy Carter was elected president), Watts study examines continuities and changes in each of the four areas mentioned above.
Watt begins with analyses of how the conversion experience is portrayed in evangelical literature; he singles out Bill Bright’s “Four Spiritual Laws” that served almost as a manifesto of evangelical conversion process. While some may have held “Four Spiritual Laws” to be overtly concerned with annihilating one’s sense of selfhood and self-worth, in Watt’s view it portrays a serious call to a devout and godly life although in a manner that embodied the commodification of Christian traditions.
The evangelicals’ rise in the arena of politics is explained not merely in terms of their influence on the dominant American culture, but also with reference to their increasing economic achievement and rising social status. This occurred in the backdrop of the fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s, which although widely understood as resulting in the defeat of fundamentalist ideas, actually saw an increase in membership rolls in conservative churches, the expansion of evangelical schools and colleges, the rise of evangelical publishing houses, and the launching of a number of evangelical initiatives such as the National Association of Evangelicals, Youth for Christ, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
The evangelicals involvement in politics revolved around a set of principles including: a tendency towards conspiratorial interpretation of public events; the belief that healthy families are the cure to most social ills; suspicion towards large government involvement with society; the belief that America is a Christian nation. Families become a point of renewed interest among evangelicals. The response is feminism is not monolithic and Watt maps these along a broad spectrum. The most significant change however is observed in how modern evangelicals relate to modern psychology. While the fundamentalist were extremely suspicious of modern psychology in the 1920s and 1930s, beginning in the 1940s the evangelicals adopted a less hostile attitude towards principles of modern psychology. Watt observes that the evangelical mainstream in the 1960s and 1970s was infused with themes and practices that were rooted in modern psychology.
Watts study shows that not only did the evangelical subculture influenced the predominantly liberal traditions of American culture, it was in turn influenced by the predominant culture so much so that the spirituality it offered became increasingly commodified, their hopes became markedly secular, they saw the role of women through ideas promulgated by secular feminism and their view of the world came increasingly to rely on ideas and attitudes drawn from modern psychology.