The Decade in Review (Part II: The World of American Christianity)

Posted: December 30, 2009 in Uncategorized

The Decade in Review (Part II: The World of American Christianity)

Most INFLUENTIAL CHRISTIAN BOOK of the past decade for American Christians: God’s Politics by Jim Wallis.  Published in 2004, Wallis’ book was instrumental in changing the landscape of Christian involvement in politics.  Prior to God’s Politics there was indeed a monologue by the religious right as perceived by the secular media, the political operatives, and even by Christians themselves.  It was assumed that all evangelicals were upper middle class whites who voted in alignment with only two issues: abortion and gay marriage.  Wallis’ book and the subsequent discussion and groundswell that followed revealed that political viewpoints among American Christians were much more complex.  Wallis also gave voice to a rising number of young evangelicals who found the rhetoric of the religious right to be disquieting.  One notable beneficiary: Barack Obama.

My most quoted five Christian books of the past decade (not necessarily published in the 2000’s):

The Next Christendom, Philip Jenkins – While others have written about the changing face of global Christianity (most notably, Barrett and Johnson, Walls, Sanneh, Roberts), Jenkins’ book has been the most widely read and quoted.  Jenkins brought the reality of a majority non-white Christianity into the mainstream.  Of course the title of my book The Next Evangelicalism capitalized on Jenkins’ title, so I owe him one.

Divided by Faith, Michael Emerson and Christian Smith – Bill Hybels claims that this book wrecked his world and jolted him out of racial complacency.   Emerson and Smith’s work brought the awareness of racialization to white evangelical America.  I wonder, though, how much of an impact the book would have had on white evangelicals if it had been written by two African-American academics?

Peace by Walter Brueggemann – reprinted in 2001 (my version of the book) Peace was first published in the ‘70s.  Has some of the best insights on why shalom is such a difficult concept for Westerners to understand.

City of God, City of Satan by Robert Linthicum – Another book I encountered this past decade but was published in a different one (1991).  Some of the best urban theology from a real veteran of urban justice ministry.

The Next Evangelicalism (IVP Books, 2009). Now available in Kindle and in Large Print!  It’s my most quoted, because I quote myself all the time. 🙂

Issue of the decade for me: Christian Publishers.  Beginning with the Rickshaw Rally VBS by Lifeway Publishers (the publishing arm of the Southern Baptist Convention) to the Chinese Delivery Guy skit by YS/Zondervan to Deadly Viper also by Zondervan, there were three occasions where I was directly involved in protesting Christian publishers’ negative, stereotypical, or ignorant portrayal of Asian-Americans.  I know that there were a number of secular media’s negative portrayal as well, but I was particularly concerned with the way that evangelical publishers failed to give consideration to what is one of the fastest growing Christian book purchasing groups in the United States.  To Zondervan’s credit, they took seriously the protests that were raised and acted in a decisive manner.  Lifeway, on the other hand, went out and hired PR people and got their spin machine in motion in order to protect their financial butts. Cheers for Zondervan, jeers for Lifeway.

Speaking of Christian Publishers: What is up with Christianity Today?  How did a noble magazine that tried to represent the best of American evangelicalism become a periodical representing a fairly narrow sliver of Christianity?

City of the decade for our family: Cambridge/Boston.  In 2006, our family moved from Cambridge/Boston to Chicago.  Chicago has been a great city, but nothing could measure up to the community, ethos, and just the great feel of Cambridge/Boston.  So despite the fact that Chicago is our home, we still miss the Boston area a great deal.  In terms of the Christian community, Boston is one of the best networked and cooperative Christian communities with ministries like CUME (Center for Urban Ministerial Education), the Boston Ten Point Coalition, and the Emmanuel Gospel Center.  While Chicago has significant urban churches (New Life Covenant, Salem Baptist), CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), and is the birthplace of community organizing, the Christian community feels like a very disconnected community in a very large city.  Hoping that will change and I’m hoping to get more connected to the city of Chicago as North Park Theological Seminary launches a number of urban ministry initiatives.  Stay tuned for what develops in the new decade.

  1. I second the question about CT… I’d noticed a change about a year ago and we dropped our subscription… Anyone know what’s changed? We used to love it, and now it often seems way more narrow than it used to be…

  2. Dan S says:

    Amen to your thoughts on the Boston-Chicago differences.

  3. JP Paulus says:

    “Next Christianity” was your most quoted — but how often did you plagarize, even by accident? 😉

    Best city: Boston? Umm, you’re certainly biased on that one, but i know you have some strong backing by Jonathan Choe!

    “While Chicago has significant urban churches (New Life Covenant, Salem Baptist), CCDA (Christian Community Development Association), and is the birthplace of community organizing, the Christian community feels like a very disconnected community in a very large city. ”

    That frustrates me very much. i have worked at networking for several years, and it just astounds me at the disconnection between even Christian groups. i have seen relationships building (such as Apostolic Church of God having a significant role in Chicago Reload 2010, as one example), so bridges are being built.

    My prayer is that relationships grow, so that we have less PR events, and more long term relationship building & cooperation.

  4. danderson says:

    I personally think that Jim Wallis and the Religious Left is no different than the Religious Right in how each side has its hierarchy of issues. It’s just that Wallis and gang prioritize economic, environmental and racial issues instead of sexual, marriage and life issues. Why can’t there be a middle ground? Oh, that’s right. They’re called Evangelicals For Social Action, which dares to wed word and deed ministry and doesn’t have a political axe to grind like Wallis has.

    Meet the new bosses, same as the old bosses.

  5. Erik says:

    Your certainly are more in-tune with many American Christians than I am overseas, but I would have to say that your selection of Jim Wallis “God’s Politics” as the most influential book over the past decade is simply wrong-headed.

    I would posit that the book has done a lot for those who profess to be a part of the Christian “left” (whatever that is), but if you were objectively looking at the number of readers and overall influence, two books would easily exceed Wallis’: 1) Rick Warren’s “Purpose Driven Life”; 2) Joel Olsteen’s “Your Best Life Now”.

    It’s especially ironic that you excoriate Christianity Today for targeting a “fairly narrow silver” of Christianity, when that is, for better or worse, what Wallis has accomplished. Once again, we can have a discussion (albeit a different one) on whether the influence of Warren or Olsteen on the nation’s believers is positive or negative, but your choice speaks of a palpable bias for your own religious cabal that is topped off with the highly inappropriate metric of Barack Obama. Indeed, such a metric is far from a reputable one for measuring the pulse of American Christianity.
    One would hope a religious scholar would have a more objective analysis than that presented here.

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