Here’s a book that deserves to be brought back into our discussions and onto our reading lists: The Search for Christian America by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden. It was first published in 1983 and then expanded in 1989. But the message is completely relevant for Christians today.
Here are some questions the book tackles: How “Christian” is America’s religious past? Is the “Christian Nation” concept harmful or helpful to effective Christian action in society? Was/is America God’s treasured nation among all nations? Should we try to “go back” to “Christian America?” What relationship does idolatry have with patriotism, if any? How is the First Great Awakening related to the American Revolution?
If those questions didn’t grab your attention, here’s the two-fold argument of the book (in the authors’ own terms):
“1) We feel that a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly, or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word ‘Christian’ a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians can return. In addition, a careful study of history will also show that evangelicals themselves were often partly to blame for the spread of secularism in contemporary American life.”
“2) We feel also that careful examination of Christian teaching on government, the state, and the nature of culture shows that the idea of a ‘Christian nation’ is a very ambiguous concept which is usually harmful to effective Christian action in society” (p. 17).
I’ll come back to this book later. For now, let me simply say that I highly recommend it. Though it flies in the face of many American evangelical beliefs, I believe it is a must-read for Christians living the U.S. The Search for Christian America will help the today’s church remain distinct from the world and able to engage culture in a wise, biblical, and prophetic way.
FYI, at the time of this post there are quite a few used copies on Amazon for less than $10 shipped. It’s certainly worth that! And my thanks go out to one of our readers for mentioning this book last week. I trust he’ll back up my recommendation!