It's seven years since evangelical George W. Bush entered the White House, a feat celebrated in D. Michael Lindsay's Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite (Oxford University Press, 2007). The book is a useful compendium of interviews with upwardly mobile evangelicals in not only politics and business but university life.
Lindsay exults that "Academic prestige and educational credentials can enable a group to move from the social margins to the intellectual mainstream, and evangelicals are well on the way." But the question should be asked: On the way to what? What profiteth evangelicals to gain prestige and credentials when during their ascendance many wear masks, and then find that their faces have changed to fit the masks?
Since Lindsay broadly defines evangelicals, it's not clear if and how many of his leaders put Christ above kudos. For example, his Bush-related list includes Karen Hughes, an elder in the decidedly unevangelical Presbyterian Church USA, and John DiIulio, a Catholic good guy who hurt the faith-based initiative in 2001 by publicly scorning many evangelicals.
Some of Lindsay's organization descriptions also seem strained. For instance, the Pew Charitable Trusts once reflected the staunchly conservative views of money-making Pews now deceased; liberals captured the organization during the 1980s and began funding the left, so it's strange for Lindsay to write about staff members still "fulfilling the founder's mission." This lack of discernment leaves the book as a fine record of interviews but an unreliable guide as to whether significant change is occurring.
And a basic question lurks. The third verse of the famous hymn "Be Thou My Vision" goes, "Riches I heed not, nor man's empty praise,/ Thou mine inheritance, now and always:/ Thou and thou only, first in my heart,/High King of heaven, my treasure Thou art." If our goal becomes residence in the halls of power, will we care less about the halls of heaven?
The New Yorker once had a cartoon of a man protesting his presence in hell because a New York Times obituary writer had labeled him a member of the elite.