From Publishers Weekly
While the roles of American clergy have changed over the past 400 years, this thorough account argues that the narrative of decline is unwarranted: in congregational leadership... the clergy have as much authority now as they did in the 17th century. According to Holifield, professor of American church history at Candler School of Theology, the gospel is both world denying and world affirming, which means that clergy stand in an irreducibly paradoxical relation to American culture. After summarizing the roots of Christian ministry from the first century through the Reformation, Holifield traces the shifts in authority from the American colonies through 2005. Using parallel chapters covering Protestant and Catholic issues, he weaves in portrayals of African-American clergy and the contested place of women in the ministry. Topics include the trend toward an educated clergy and their ongoing professionalization; the populist revival, which valued religious enthusiasm over theological accomplishment; increasing tensions between liberal and conservative Christianities; the social gospel; the changing role of the laity; and the impact of Vatican II. Holifield's section on clergy from 1970 to the present is tantalizingly brief but incisive. Full of detailed research, this balanced historical study is clear, well-organized and perceptive. (Oct.)
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