Their approach [T.D. Jakes, Brian McLaren, Joel Osteen, Rick Warren, and Paula White] challenges the "strict church thesis" of earlier sociologists of religion, which argued that conservative, hard-line suppliers of religion (fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals) thrive, while lenient ones (liberals, progressives) decline. On the contrary, these five profiles suggest that the key to success is not theological or political strictness but effective marketing. Indeed, part of what allows these evangelical innovators to be so successful is that they find ways to "overtly avoid (yet subtly address)" potentially controversial issues among their constituents, Lee and Sinitiere write. One of the big take-aways from their research is that the evangelical movement is, they say, "far more elastic, far more complex, and far more contradictory than what popular accounts reveal."
-From Among the Evangelicals, a Fractured Movement.
I tend to agree with both the "strict church thesis" and the "take-away." As to the "effective marketing" thesis? This is more of the "medium is the message" over-simplification. (Ooops, sorry Walter.) And, of course, it misses the centrality of the Spirit, but that's certainly understandable in an article published in the Chronicle of Higher Education.
Thanks to Ann Althouse for this.