Amazing Books by Academics Holding American Christianity Accountable
Updated: Mar 4
At times I think that these authors represent a new class of individuals driving our theological conversation forward, even though they are mostly historians, sociologists, researchers, and journalists. Or prophets?
I have spent most of my professional life working in Christian publishing. I’ve often joked (privately, now publicly) that after a day at work focusing on content that inspires, that is upbeat and positive, always looking for some new angle on how to be a better person, I just want to go home and do a little sinning.
Maybe the Christian life isn’t meant to be this way, but working for what Brian McLaren calls “the Christian industrial complex”, as I unquestionably have, can exhaust you. Some people can pull it off 24/7, but I can’t, and I don’t know many people who want to hang out with those who do. You just have to get away from it sometimes.
In recent days, that feeling of wanting to get away from American Christianity, especially the evangelical church, has grown. Just yesterday, on the eve of inaugurating a new President, and in the wake of white, patriarchal, Jesus-praying racists rioting through our US Capitol, I saw a social media post from someone saying that they just don’t feel like they want to have anything to do with Christianity anymore. Just a simple statement, a gut feeling, with no additional comment from him, though the post had a lot of likes and comments.
I feel badly about this, to say the least. How has Christianity become so artificial, even to the point of girding up a murderous, vigilante mob? How can we let this happen again in our world today?
I can’t help but think I’ve been complicit. I can’t help but think I’ve not worked hard enough to challenge the shallowness and deceptive simplicity of those around me wanting to win souls for Jesus, and those wanting to embrace the quick fix that American Christianity often offers, especially perhaps the prosperity preachers--Franklin Graham and Robert Jeffress included--that Donald Trump beckoned to his side (yet excoriated behind their backs). I can't help but think I've not done enough to forward a version of Christianity that is inclusive, socially active, and authentically spiritual.
The truth is that we’ve all been complicit. If our Christianity was as robust and righteous as we sometimes claim or imply, I wouldn’t feel so exhausted. That man on social media wouldn’t be giving up. That Christian identifying, Mad Max mob in Washington, D.C. wouldn’t have formed. And that president who fomented dissatisfaction and promised that he was the Chosen One (his words—I guess he likes Star Wars) wouldn’t have been elected by so many of us.
There’s something about our faith, our American evangelical Christian culture in particular, that needs, once again, serious correction.
Now to the point of this post. Sorry it took so long to get here.
There are so, so many good and recent books on holding American Christianity accountable. It’s struck me that, while no doubt some of them are inspired by recent political developments, the authors of these books are indeed doing this hard work and fighting our complicity, as scholars should. At times I even think that they represent a new class of individuals driving our theological conversation forward, even though they are mostly historians, sociologists, researchers, and journalists. Or prophets? Their work cannot be dismissed as anti-institutionalism, or unilateral deconstructionism. It’s really about creating a stronger conversation in the way we talk about faith and religion, even if it means we question our allegiance to it, which is a healthy part of any faith. I’m encouraged, as I think that pastors, church goers, and seekers of all kinds will be challenged by them. These authors have also caught on with everyday readers like we haven’t seen in a while.
Those of us trying to reconcile our frustration with American Christianity, and who are looking for a new way forward, will find some answers here.
So here they are as I’ve seen them, and apologies to those I’ve left out. I’m open to suggestions.
After Evangelicalism: The Path to a New Christianity
David P. Gushee (2020)
American Blindspot: Race, Class, Religion, and the Trump Presidency
Gerardo Martí (2020)
Believe Me: The Evangelical Road to Donald Trump
John Fea (2020)
The End of Empathy: Why White Protestants Stopped Loving Their Neighbors
John W. Compton (2020)
How to Fight Racism: Courageous Christianity and the Journey Toward Racial Justice
Jemar Tisby (2021)
Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
Kristin Kobes Du Mez (2020)
Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels
Tony Keddie (2020)
The Spiritual Danger of Donald Trump: 30 Evangelical Christians on Justice, Truth, and Moral Integrity
Ronald J. Sider (2020)
Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States
Andrew L. Whitehead, Samuel L. Perry (2020)
Teaching Moral Sex: A History of Religion and Sex Education in the United States
Kristy L. Slominski (2021)
White Evangelical Racism: The Politics of Morality in America
Anthea Butler (2021)
“The Orange Wave”, Bradley Onishi, a special series by the Straight White American Jesus Podcast (2020)
And not quite as recent:
Evangelicals Incorporated: Books and the Business of Religion in America
Daniel Vaca (2019)
The Kingdom of God Has No Borders: A Global History of American Evangelicals
Melani McAlister (2018)
Moral Combat: How Sex Divided American Christians and Fractured American Politics
Marie Griffith (2017)
The Possibility of America: How the Gospel Can Mend our God-Blessed, God-Forsaken Land
David Dark (2019)
The Preacher's Wife: The Precarious Power of Evangelical Women Celebrities
Kate Bowler (2019)
The Immoral Majority: Why Evangelicals Chose Political Power over Christian Values
Ben Howe (2019)
The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism
Katherine Stewart (2020)
White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity
Robert P. Jones (2020)
Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump
Sarah Posner (2020)
Recent Discovery: While I’m on the topic of books, another one to check out, more from a devotional point of view, is Who Stole My Bible? Reclaiming Scripture as a Handbook for Resisting Tyranny by Jennifer Butler. Oh, this is so strong, such good takes on the Bible that you’ve probably not heard before, even if “there’s nothing new under the sun.”