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This book could be considered either history or theology. It actually falls into the general category of Sociology of Religion. This is an excellent set of thoughtful essays on the role of religious thought in the political and cultural milieu of the United States in the 20th century.
The authors have drawn together an excellent set of essays looking at the range of thought and sociological form found in American churches in the 20th century. This provides good historical portraits of many American religious movements and denominations. In doing so, however, the authors challenge the value of the standard "two-party" analysis commonly used until recent years.
The dualistic mindset has commonly tried to divide churches, denominations and the Christian movement as a whole into dichotomies, such as Modernist-Fundamentalist, Liberal-Conservative, Evangelical-Social. These essays propose that the real picture is much more complex and such dualistic analyses overlook an extensive middle. They point out here important peripheries that cannot be accounted for by trying to put every group or faction into one of the two categories preferred by analysts.
There were other important factors that led to the coalescence or divergence of various groups. The dominant political factors, sometimes clothed in theological concerns, cannot account for the identities involved, according to the writers of this collection. Thus the focus on Re-forming the Center. Looking more realistically at the situations and trying to understand the factors, concerns, values and motivations that led to various movements such as the Holiness, then Pentecostal, and later Charismatic focuses.
Likewise these essays also present the same idea that most commonly opposing groups, like the Fundamentalists and the Liberals, are really two variations of the same set of beliefs and commitments. That is, these are expressions of Enlightenment Rationalism that needs to objectify truth and reality into manageable propositional statements. They just differ on what that set of positions should be.
This is an informative and enjoyable set of essays. This is for people who really want to take a fresh look at the factors of recent American Christian history, however, not those who hope to find their ideological prejudices confirmed.
See related reviews and articles on this site:
Experiencing the Future of Faith
Graduation to Reality – The Church Emerging
Liberal Protestantism: History and Personality
Postmodernism – The Church's Challenge and Opportunity
Postmodernism and the Emerging Church: Some Thoughts
Progressive Foundations for Postmodern Christianity
Resources for Diversity
Uncovering the Hidden Kingdom
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Many other books have review notes with the reading list entry
First reading notes written November 2006
Finalized into an article and posted on OJTR 3 December 2007
Reviewed on Amazon 4 March 2009
Last edited 27 April 2009
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2007 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.