Evangelical Journeys: Book Review by Patrick Mitchel in Evangelical Quarterly

imageAnother review of my book, co-authored with Claire Mitchell, Evangelical Journeys: Choice and Change in a Northern Irish Religious Subculture (UCD Press, 2011), has been published in Evangelical Quarterly (Vol LXXV, No. 3, p. 287).

The review is written by Patrick Mitchel of the Irish Bible Institute (IBI). The full text of the review has been reproduced on the IBI’s useful book reviews section. Among the highlights are that Mitchel describes the book as “refreshing” for “at least three reasons”:

The first is transparency.

The authors, Claire Mitchell (formerly of Queen’s University Belfast) and Gladys Ganiel (Trinity College Dublin, Irish School of Ecumenics), are sociologists of religion They do not hide behind the safe boundaries of supposedly omniscient sociologists who can decode everyone’s true motives but who alone remain pure and objective, above the fray in a pristine world of detached observation. Mitchell (an agnostic brought up within a charismatic evangelical context in Northern Ireland) and Ganiel (an American and self-confessing evangelical) are open in telling of their own ‘evangelical journeys’. We can be grateful here for the postmodern importance of the authors’ own perspectives and the book is all the stronger for this. As a result, the methods chapter is a model of transparency and the author’s the aims and conclusions are realistic and solid.

Mitchel is the second reviewer to comment on the quality of our methods – which I find especially gratifying as someone who teaches a module called “Social Research for Transformation.” Writing in Sociology of Religion, Kevin McElmurry of Indiana University Northwest said:

“Beyond being of general interest to scholars of religion, this book would make an interesting ethnographic exemplar in a graduate or an upper-level undergraduate course, whether the subject of that course is religion or not. The authors take great care to address the potentials and pitfalls of using narrative interviews to access changes over the life course, and they describe the construction of their analytic framework carefully and with grace and candor.”

But back to Mitchel …

… Second is the authors’ understanding and respect of the tradition they are investigating.

It was Andrew Walls who said ‘religion can best understand religion’ in that ‘religious commitment’ provides the best ‘entrance gate’ for understanding religion because ‘it at least presupposes the reality of the subject matter‘. While this is debateable, I’m inclined to agree and Mitchell and Ganiel’s ‘insider’ experience gives this book an informed feel.

… Third, this approach leads to a constructive contribution into the nature of evangelical Christianity per se.

Some points which stood out to me are: [presented below in abridged form, click here for fuller explanations]:

i. The significance, yet untidiness, of conversion within evangelicalism.

ii. The importance of personal choice is rightly stressed, whether to stay and ‘deepen’ one’s faith or to abandon it as a repressive cultural construct.

iii. The importance of cultural context in shaping the tenor of evangelical identity.

iv. The perennial issue of evangelical spirituality lies close to the surface of many of these stories. Can spirituality flourish within evangelical churches? For quite a few of the sample the answer was ‘No’. As someone who teaches at an evangelical third level college, a repeated thing I hear from students is that they absolutely love the opportunity to think, discuss and explore new ideas and there is simply little time or space for this to happen in the local church.

For more information about Evangelical Journeys, click here.

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