I’ve read a lot of books in the last couple of years. These helped me to understand more about how Christian nationalism and evangelicalism have affected the American church. I believe that each of these would be valuable to you, for varying reasons. I’ve included the Amazon blurb for each, as well as a link to the Amazon listing for the book.
“Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation” by Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Wow. Okay, this book, the target of my second book study, is a mixed grab bag of indisputable history facts with a bit of grandstanding from someone who was clearly wounded by patriarchy. But despite the flaws that we uncovered, it’s another deep dive into a side of American history that is both undeniable and simultaneously steadfastly ignored by the evangelical branch of America’s church culture. Worth the read.
Amazon’s description: Jesus and John Wayne is a sweeping, revisionist history of the last seventy-five years of white evangelicalism, revealing how evangelicals have worked to replace the Jesus of the Gospels with an idol of rugged masculinity and Christian nationalism—or in the words of one modern chaplain, with “a spiritual badass.” As acclaimed scholar Kristin Du Mez explains, the key to understanding this transformation is to recognize the centrality of popular culture in contemporary American evangelicalism. Many of today’s evangelicals might not be theologically astute, but they know their VeggieTales, they’ve read John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart, and they learned about purity before they learned about sex—and they have a silver ring to prove it. Evangelical books, films, music, clothing, and merchandise shape the beliefs of millions. And evangelical culture is teeming with muscular heroes—mythical warriors and rugged soldiers, men like Oliver North, Ronald Reagan, Mel Gibson, and the Duck Dynasty clan, who assert white masculine power in defense of “Christian America.” Chief among these evangelical legends is John Wayne, an icon of a lost time when men were uncowed by political correctness, unafraid to tell it like it was, and did what needed to be done. Challenging the commonly held assumption that the “moral majority” backed Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020 for purely pragmatic reasons, Du Mez reveals that Trump in fact represented the fulfillment, rather than the betrayal, of white evangelicals’ most deeply held values: patriarchy, authoritarian rule, aggressive foreign policy, fear of Islam, ambivalence toward #MeToo, and opposition to Black Lives Matter and the LGBTQ community. A much-needed reexamination of perhaps the most influential subculture in this country, Jesus and John Wayne shows that, far from adhering to biblical principles, modern white evangelicals have remade their faith, with enduring consequences for all Americans.
“The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism” by Paul D. Miller
Read this book. Seriously. This is an essential exposé on Christian Nationalism in the US, and its deep and dark dangers to the entire American system. The author comes from a very highly experienced and scholarly position, and very carefully sources all his points and assertions. If you want to understand what’s happening in America today as parts of the evangelical church try to “take back America for God,” you really seriously need to understand this material.
Amazon’s description: Long before it featured dramatically in the 2016 presidential election, Christian nationalism had sunk deep roots in the United States.
Paul D. Miller, a Christian scholar, political theorist, veteran, and former White House staffer, provides a detailed portrait of—and case against—Christian nationalism. Building on his practical expertise not only in the archives and classroom but also in public service, Miller unravels this ideology’s historical importance, its key tenets, and its political, cultural, and spiritual implications.
Miller shows what’s at stake if we misunderstand the relationship between Christianity and the American nation. Christian nationalism—the religion of American greatness—is an illiberal political theory, at odds with the genius of the American experiment, and could prove devastating to both church and state. Christians must relearn how to love our country without idolizing it and seek a healthier Christian political witness that respects our constitutional ideals and a biblical vision of justice.
“Why Do the Nations Rage?: The Demonic Origin of Nationalism” by David A. Ritchie
This is a pretty potent book that presents some scriptural understanding of principalities and powers, and shows how Biblical concepts like “the prince of Persia” translate into realities of demonic strongholds over modern “nations” – which are not political entities per se, but a broader category of political or ethnic or regional domains. It then begins to consider how people funnel religious energy into nationalism, and how this nationalism can usurp even a Christian world view. It’s not focused just on Christian nationalism; it uses plenty of illustrations and examples from other nations to make the case.
Amazon’s description: What if we understood nationalism as a religion instead of an ideology? What if nationalism is more spiritual than it is political? Several Christian thinkers have rightly recognized nationalism as a form of idolatry. However, in Why Do the Nations Rage?, David A. Ritchie argues that nationalism is inherently demonic as well. Through an interdisciplinary analysis of scholarship on nationalism and the biblical theology behind Paul’s doctrine of “powers,” Ritchie uncovers how the impulse behind nationalism is as ancient as the tower of Babel and as demonic as the worship of Baal. Moreover, when compared to Christianity, Ritchie shows that nationalism is best understood as a rival religion that bears its own distinctive (and demonically inspired) false gospel, which seeks to both imitate and distort the Christian gospel.
“Not in It to Win It: Why Choosing Sides Sidelines The Church” by Andy Stanley
This is a stunningly insightful book about today’s American church culture that turns everything into conflict and spends so much of its energy battling in the culture war. But Jesus showed something shockingly different – even to His own time – He choose to surrender, and He never once attacked or tried to overthrow or take over the government of His day. He simply loved people and surrendered His life, and His example changed the world.
Amazon’s description: Is it possible to disagree politically and love unconditionally? The reaction of evangelicals to political and cultural shifts in recent years revealed what they value most. Lurking beneath our Bible-laced rhetoric, faith claims, books, and sermons is a relentless drive to WIN!
But the church is not here to win. By every human measure, our Savior lost. On purpose. With a purpose. And we are his body. We are not in it to win anything. We are in it for something else entirely. That something else is what this book is about.
- How to take a stand the right way. You’ll learn how to make your case with a posture of humility and understanding, rather than being fueled by the fear of losing something.
- How to view politics through the lens of faith. Learn curiously, listen intentionally, and love unconditionally.
- How the life of Jesus and his teaching applies to modern-day challenges in a fresh way. The “biblical” stand may not be what we’ve been taught.
Jesus never asked his followers to agree on everything. But he did call his followers to obey a new command: to love others in the same way he has loved us. Instead of asserting our rights or fighting for power, we need to begin asking ourselves: what does love require of me?
Christians Against Christianity: How Right-Wing Evangelicals Are Destroying Our Nation and Our Faith” by Obery M. Hendricks
The words in Amazon’s description, including “galvanizing,” “scathing,” and “clarion call,” are certainly on point. This will be a “love it or hate it” book, for sure. I’d love to sit down with Dr. Hendricks some time and interview him. I’m absolutely certain that I would learn an amazing amount from him in a short time.
This book was chock full of factual historical details about the formation of evangelical thinking, like a number of other books described on this page. He methodically addresses all the hot-button topics against which modern evangelical Christians are up in arms right now, including social justice, abortion, workers’ rights and big business, gun control, homophobia, and more. He tears gaping holes in the justification for the right-wing position for every single one of them.
I was already familiar with almost all the ideas which Dr. Hendricks addresses, and I had read several reviews by conservative evangelical Christians railing against this book being supposedly filled with heresy and left-wing socialistic views. However, he provides reasonable and rational and inspired answers against the multitudes of right-wing and evangelical claims. There are certainly some areas where I take issue with his assertions, for example just one or two instances where I think the Bible translation he used results in a particular spin that the original Greek or Hebrew might not support. But on the whole, I found very little in this book that did not have a strong factual basis and scriptural support.
I appreciated that he was careful to distinguish between “evangelical” and “right-wing evangelical,” and to repeatedly emphasize that modern right-wing evangelicalism bears extremely little resemblance to its origins.
He was also scathing in his identification of the sudden downward spiral represented by the election of President Trump, and the evangelical church’s running after him as their darling, and I believe with good reason.
Perhaps the most shocking statement in the entire book was found halfway through the epilogue: “But their full possession by a spirit of antichrist can be considered to have occurred when their leaders made a devil’s bargain with Donald Trump to defend his avalanche of lies, hate mongering, blatant immoral indecency, and outright attacks on the democratic rule of law in return for his support of their agenda to dominate American society.” Ouch. If he is correct, this would explain a lot. And with the perspective available to me from spending much of the last year separating myself from both evangelicalism and right-wing ideology, I can see the truth in this stunning indictment.
Amazon’s description: A timely and galvanizing work that examines how right-wing evangelical Christians have veered from an admirable faith to a pernicious, destructive ideology.
Today’s right-wing Evangelical Christianity stands as the very antithesis of the message of Jesus Christ. In his new book, Christians Against Christianity, best-selling author and religious scholar Obery M. Hendricks Jr. challenges right-wing evangelicals on the terrain of their own religious claims, exposing the falsehoods, contradictions, and misuses of the Bible that are embedded in their rabid homophobia, their poorly veiled racism and demonizing of immigrants and Muslims, and their ungodly alliance with big business against the interests of American workers.
He scathingly indicts the religious leaders who helped facilitate the rise of the notoriously unchristian Donald Trump, likening them to the “court jesters” and hypocritical priestly sycophants of bygone eras who unquestioningly supported their sovereigns’ every act, no matter how hateful or destructive to those they were supposed to serve.
In the wake of the deadly insurrectionist attack on the US Capitol, Christians Against Christianity is a clarion call to stand up to the hypocrisy of the evangelical Right, as well as a guide for Christians to return their faith to the life-affirming message that Jesus brought and died for. What Hendricks offers is a provocative diagnosis, an urgent warning that right-wing evangelicals’ aspirations for Christian nationalist supremacy are a looming threat, not only to Christian decency but to democracy itself. What they offer to America is anything but good news.
“Celebrities for Jesus: How Personas, Platforms, and Profits Are Hurting the Church” by Katelyn Beaty
This book left me shaking my head wondering why I’d never really thought through all the problems with celebrity Christianity, and more than that, how many ways we allow hero worship to creep into our faith practices. I’ve long been concerned about the BIG celebrities, especially after listening to “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast, but even the small and local celebrities, can cause trouble in our doctrine.
It also ended on a great reminder that Jesus’ way of making disciples and influencing culture was always the non-obvious, humble, self-sacrificing way, and that should apply to our leaders too.
Amazon’s description: Many Christian leaders use their fame and influence to great effect. Whether that popularity resides at the local church level or represents national or international influence, many leaders have effectively said to their followers, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” But fame that is cultivated for its own sake, without attendant spiritual maturity and accountability, has a shadow side that runs counter to the heart of the gospel. Celebrity–defined as social power without proximity–has led to abuses of power, the cultivation of persona, and a fixation on profits.
In light of the fall of famous Christian leaders in recent years, the time has come for the church to reexamine its relationship to celebrity. Award-winning journalist Katelyn Beaty explores the ways fame has reshaped the American church, explains how and why celebrity is woven into the fabric of the evangelical movement, and identifies many ways fame has gone awry in recent years. She shows us how evangelical culture is uniquely attracted to celebrity gurus over and against institutions, and she offers a renewed vision of ordinary faithfulness, helping us all keep fame in its proper place.
“Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” by John Fea
I found this book to be a very helpful walk through early American history – both before and around the time of the writing of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, up through the Bill of Rights. It’s chock-full of well-sourced historical writings of the Founders themselves. Rather than starting from a “yes” or “no” answer, Fea addresses the question with equanimity and patience. The answer, to give a bit of a spoiler, is a resounding “maybe – it really depends on how you define ‘Christian’.”
Amazon’s description: John Fea offers a thoroughly researched, evenhanded primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title’s question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. This updated edition reports on the many issues that have arisen in recent years concerning religion’s place in American society including the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, contraception and the Affordable Care Act, and state-level restrictions on abortion and demonstrates how they lead us to the question of whether the United States was or is a Christian nation. Fea relates the history of these and other developments, pointing to the underlying questions of national religious identity inherent in each. “We live in a sound-bite culture that makes it difficult to have any sustained dialogue on these historical issues,” Fea writes in his preface. “It is easy for those who argue that America is a Christian nation (and those who do not) to appear on radio or television programs, quote from one of the founders or one of the nation’s founding documents, and sway people to their positions. These kinds of arguments, which can often be contentious, do nothing to help us unravel a very complicated historical puzzle about the relationship between Christianity and America’s founding.”
“Immeasurable: Reflections on the Soul of Ministry in the Age of Church, Inc.” by Skye Jethani
This was a powerful book to me. It’s really written to pastors and church leaders, but I found it very useful to help me understand the Biblical role of pastors and churches, in contrast to what is visible today in the American evangelical church systems in which I was raised. In particular, it calls us to recognize when we’ve gotten a little too focused on metrics and numbers and the business of church, and not focused enough on the ministry and people within the organization.
Amazon’s description: “In my first seminary class, we were asked to introduce ourselves and say why we enrolled. I’ll never forget what one student said… ‘My denomination wants me to have an M.Div., but once they see I can grow a big church, I don’t think they’ll make me finish the program.’” The priorities of this future pastor were startling, but he’s not alone in them.In the years since that class, author and minister Skye Jethani has seen more and more pastors swallowed by the celebrity syndrome. Not long ago, ministers were among the most trusted and admired people in our culture. But not anymore. A 2013 study from Gallop revealed that Americans’ admiration for clergy has reached an all-time low. That, taken with reduced trust of institutional religion overall, makes it easy to see why ministers feel insecure about their calling. In response to this trend, some pastors have looked to emulate those who are praised by the culture—business leaders, entertainers, and social activists. This has led to a new understanding of what a minister should be. We’ve turned away from viewing our pastors as shepherds, and now expect them to be celebrities. Immeasurable will help ministers recognize the cultural forces shaping their view of the calling, and then reimagine what faithful church leaders can look like in the twenty-first century. Through short essays and reflections on the pastor’s soul and skills, this book will help prospective pastors explore their calling to ministry, and it will help veteran pastors reframe their vision for the work. Drawing on cultural dynamics, personal stories, and his own experience working in a church and with church leaders, Skye Jethani will address matters like ambition, anger, community, consumerism, fame, health, justice, platform, preaching, rest,simplicity, success, vision, and more. There are endless resources to help pastors do the practical work of ministry, but there are far fewer that speak to the pastor’s soul and spirit. Immeasurable provides affirmation and encouragement for church leaders faithfully serving God. It commends the true work of ministry—shepherding, teaching, encouraging—while redefining what we mean by success in ministry. It’s a book church leaders can return to again and again for insight and inspiration.
“Inalienable: How Marginalized Kingdom Voices Can Help Save the American Church” by Eric Costanzo, Daniel Yang, and Matthew Soerens
This was a very impactful book to me. It’s written by three very different US-born white evangelical men – a pastor, a missiologist, and a parachurch ministry leader. Each brings their own unique perspective and experience to the book, yet it’s a very coherent work. Its basic thrust is carefully assessing the struggles facing the American church, particularly the evangelical wing of the church, and frankly and openly considering its blind spots, particularly in how it has marginalized other communities and other worldwide Christians, cutting itself off from the insights and blessings that those communities bring to Christianity. The four themes of the book include the kingdom of God, the image of God, the word of God, and the mission of God. The entire book is deeply insightful, and well worth your time.
Perhaps the most valuable thing about this book to me was how it opened my eyes to the contributions from Christians outside the United States. It challenged a lot of my assumptions about the primacy and superiority of the American church’s doctrine and spiritual wisdom. Reading this book has put a new desire in me to begin learning about how the church in other cultures and nations understands the Gospel and God Himself; I am convinced that such study will give me great insight into my own faith and a new rich ability to connect with God at a deeper level.
Amazon’s description: With our witness compromised, numbers down, and reputation sullied, the American church is at a critical crossroads. In order for the church to return to health, we must decenter ourselves from our American idols and be guided by global Christians and the poor, who offer hope from the margins, and the ancient church, refocusing on the kingdom, image, Word, and mission of God.
The authors say:
We’ve written this book because we believe American Christians are at a critical crossroad, and the very soul of the American church is at stake. Jesus Christ promised that his church will endure until he returns again (Mt 16:18). He did not make that promise to the American church, however. If we are to stem this tide of decline and decay, it will take all of us—and it will take humility to listen to voices of the church beyond the White American evangelical stream of the faith which has long assumed leadership.
“The Myth of the American Dream: Reflections on Affluence, Autonomy, Safety, and Power” by D. L. Mayfield
Wow. I highly, highly recommend this book.
I’m really conflicted on how to write this review. It was a deeply, personally, painfully challenging book, on multiple levels. It directly poked at many things I grew up with in my life, and despite all the changes in my heart and actions in the last two years, it still found me jerking back as yet another nerve was touched, a fiery sting of recognition of my own shortcomings.
At the same time, it often felt like sitting in the therapist’s office as the author poured out her heart – her white, American, privileged, evangelical, self-sufficient, superior heart – over the injustices she became aware of, and became aware she was complicit in. There was constantly a tension between feeling my own discomfort and sometimes pain, and vicariously watching her intensely feel her own discomfort and sometimes pain.
And yet, despite this discomfort, I came away from each session feeling as if there was a deep hope and peace amidst the pain, a recognition of the amazing gift to which we Christians have ready access if we can just step back from our pursuit of affluence, of autonomy, of safety, and of power (her four major sections), and see the world – and “the least of these” among us – through God’s loving eyes.
Amazon’s description: Affluence, autonomy, safety, and power. These are the central values of the American dream. But are they compatible with Jesus’ command to love our neighbor as ourselves?
In essays grouped around these four values, D. L. Mayfield asks us to pay attention to the ways they shape our own choices, and the ways those choices affect our neighbors. Where did these values come from? How have they failed those on the edges of our society? And how can we disentangle ourselves from our culture’s headlong pursuit of these values and live faithful lives of service to God and our neighbors?
I’ll update this list as my reading continues.
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