[At the beginning, I must point out that the book I read was the 1989 hardbound edition, and some of what I have to say might not apply to later editions.]
In the 1980s, religious historian Randall Balmer began to look again at the church that he had disgustedly left in the 1970s, the American evangelicals. Traveling across the country, he visited evangelical churches and organizations from Santa Ana, California to Schroon Lake, New York. This book is a compilation of his visits to these various evangelical sites, reporting what he saw and heard, and giving his own piercing analysis.
First of all, any potential reader must know that Professor Balmer began his study of the "strange-and-wacky world of American evangelicalism" with a strong distaste for the object of his study. He left that church in disgust, and his dislike for it is evident throughout this book. That said, though, I found his examination of American evangelicalism to be thorough, and quite interesting. His knowledge of the movement allowed him to give the reader a wonderful understanding of it, and his analysis was quite keen.
But why, then, do I give it a mere 3 stars? The truth is that, as he points out, American evangelicalism is not defined by its hierarchy or liturgy (although I do disagree with the author when he suggests that other Christian sects are not defined by their doctrines (pages 228-229)), and it has gone on to change quite a lot since he looked at it some twenty years ago. In certain ways, this book is already a work of history, looking at the evangelicalism of the 1980s, rather than that of today. But, I must say, that this is quite an interesting book, one that anyone interested in the American evangelical movement would find quite informative.
This is a great, affirming book. It's really about a spiritual search, and the author does a great job relating the conflicting passions of modern evangelicals (desire for safety, certainty, security, in a rapidly changing and apparently [to them at least] amoral world) and, in the final chapter relates them to the original protestant vision articulated by Luther and others and to his own struggles with the culture. As he points out through interviews "it's really a lover's quarrel," but one with profound implications for day to day religious belief.