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Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul Hardcover – Bargain Price, March 30, 2010


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books (March 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465009328
  • ASIN: B004NSVF9A
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,502,296 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

A journalist and United Church of Christ ordained minister, MacDonald, an occasional PW contributor, bemoans the rise of America's religious marketplace, taking church leaders to task for caving in to pressure to provide inoffensive, low-threshold environments that keep members comfortable. Critically examining contemporary efforts such as small group ministries, which he considers insular, and short-term missions, which he regards as misguided efforts to satisfy participants' demands, MacDonald rebukes both fast-growing megachurches and mainline Protestants for not holding members to high Christian standards. He suggests that spiritual disciplines such as fasting and honoring Lent as a structured time for introspection are tools available to address such prevalent social problems as debt, obesity, and divorce. Compellingly arguing against measuring success by attendance or pledge revenue, MacDonald provides examples of communities engaging a new ethic of asceticism. The author's extrapolations from his four-year pastorate of a 40-member congregation occasionally ring bitter, and Christians of good faith may disagree with stances such as fencing the communion table—the practice of setting criteria for who can receive communion. Overall, however, MacDonald's journalistic prowess makes this book a thought-provoking challenge to today's church. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Review

Os Guinness, author of The Last Christian on Earth
“Parts of the American church are beginning to resemble a modern Ship of Fools, and G. Jeffrey MacDonald has fired a timely shot across its bows. A penetrating and wide-ranging analysis of consumer religion, written with sorrow rather than anger, Thieves in the Temple is good reading for any interested observers but essential for pastors and lay people concerned for the integrity of the Christian faith in the modern world.”

Randall Balmer, Episcopal priest, Professor of American Religious History at Barnard College, Columbia University, and author of Thy Kingdom Come: How the Religious Right Distorts the Faith and Threatens America
“With deft analysis and uncommon wisdom, Jeffrey MacDonald has produced a devastating critique of the cult of consumerism and easy affirmation that has corrupted American Protestantism in recent years. Protestants, the author argues in this compelling, prophetic, and ultimately hopeful book, have defaulted on their historic and culturally crucial task of moral formation. Thieves in the Temple is the finest, most perceptive book on Protestant life in America in a very long time.”

Jean Bethke Elshtain, Laura Spelman Rockefeller Professor of Social and Political Ethics at the University of Chicago and author of Sovereignty: God, State, and Self
“Jeffrey MacDonald's Thieves in the Temple is written with clarity and verve. He argues passionately that the wholesale embrace of a consumerist driven model of culture threatens ‘the very soul’ of the Christian churches, and he does so in a manner free from the spite and resentment that too often accompany such critiques. Thieves in the Temple deserves a wide readership.”

Dan Rather, Global Correspondent and Managing Editor of HDNet's Dan Rather Reports
"G. Jeffrey MacDonald writes with a journalist’s eye and a preacher’s heart. The crisis he identifies in this provocative and timely book has serious implications not only for America’s religious life but also for our broader culture and politics."

Rev. Dr. Roy J. Enquist, Emeritus professor, Gettysburg Seminary and former Canon, Washington National Cathedral
“No one seriously concerned about the future of the churches can afford to miss MacDonald’s critique and vision.”

Rev. Dr. Roy J. Enquist, Emeritus professor, Gettysburg Seminary and former Canon, Washington National Cathedral
“No one seriously concerned about the future of the churches can afford to miss MacDonald’s critique and vision.”

Tucson Citizen
“The author bemoans the rise of such institutions and calls for nothing less than a return to basics and a new religious reformation…Thieves in the Temple is a sobering call-to-arms and might be an important first step.”

Christian Science Monitor
“MacDonald does outstanding work…As a journalist and minister, he’s uniquely able to understand the problem from the inside out, and he supports his thesis well.”

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

59 of 64 people found the following review helpful By J. Lonas on April 14, 2010
Format: Hardcover
As the editor of an explicitly Christian periodical, I am usually wary of books that arrive on my desk from secular publishing houses. More often than not, the titles they want us to review are "Christian" in name only, using the religious angle as a veneer for social and political issues. Such books are, at best, useless and, at worst, deliberately destabilizing to the faith. Every once in a while, however, something worthwhile slips through.

Thieves in the Temple is the most recent such gem. With measured candor, MacDonald (a freelance journalist and United Church of Christ clergyman) addresses the decline of moral and spiritual authority in today's American Church, tracing it to the Church's embrace of the wider culture's creeds of consumerism, individualism, victimhood, and passivity.

MacDonald examines and deconstructs the consumer culture of the Church and exposes it for the pile of dry bones it is. He reminds pastors of their responsibility, not to be "relevant" or accommodating, but to be challenging to churchgoers. Christian leaders, he says, should be leading, not entertaining or offering therapy. Appealing to Christ's thoroughly counter-cultural ministry, he urges readers not to conform to the world (or even to be only superficially "different"), but to be sacrificial, disciplined, and committed to a higher road where self is denied more often than indulged. MacDonald openly wonders what will become of the Church in this country when the consumerist juggernaut finally grinds to a halt leaving a bankrupt shell of belief in its wake.

The book is not without some significant flaws. MacDonald's reasoning at times seems to indicate that he doesn't fully understand the deity of Christ.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Joe B on August 25, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have enjoyed this writers work in the Boston Globe newspaper and when I found he had written this book, well it was a must read. In addition, I had the pleasure of not only meeting but partaking in a Sunday church service with Pastor MacDonald and I found him to be most affable and intelligent. This is to me a must read not only for Christians but people of all faiths (or even those of no faith). Well written, well thought out, provocative - it'll make one think, that's for sure. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It reads smoothly and logically, presenting ideas that I agreed with AND disagreed with. Truly this work got me thinking. Well done!
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Janemb35 VINE VOICE on November 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I bought this book two years ago, when it first came out and finally got around to reading it and I am delighted with the author's take on the place of religion in American life. G. Jeffrey MacDonald is an intelligent voice in a noisy world of religiosity, and articulates a number of the problems with modern-day religion, even if masquerading as "that ol' time religion!" It seems to me that he's right on target naming people's desire for entertainment as missing the point of the scriptures by stressing comfort at the expense of repentance. Too, he sees the turning away from God-as Judge to Church as-therapy. Some things get lost in that translation. A totally unexpected fact from the Pew Research Center speaks, it seems to me, to a real decline in the meaning of Christianity:71% of Americans, predominantly Christians, said that torture of suspected terrorists was justifiable! How dreadful. Shame on us.
As a clergyman, MacDonald reflects on his experiences as an interviewee at a series of lay search committees, noting that the ideal candidate would make them comfortable and entertained. With these observations he transitions into a discussion about what can be done to make things better. He suggests that the clergy can bring about real change in their conduct of their day-to-day affairs, they can act as leaders and facilitators, challenging the laity to action. Indeed, MacDonald suggests a return to a form of asceticism such as is practiced by Environmentalists, for example.
MacDonald is not without hope for us and for the churches. He cites examples from four churches in the Minneapolis-St.Paul area. The details are worth considering, but too lengthy to include here.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Review of Thieves in the Temple: The Christian Church and the Selling of the American Soul, G. Jeffrey MacDonald (Basic Books, New York, 2010)
The first half of Thieves in the Temple is like sitting in on a circuit pastors’ discussion. Almost all of his laments are ones every parish pastor has made:
• prosperity gospel (pp. 4-5)
• church shopping (p. 7)
• “vacuum of authority” (p. 25)
• worship as “entertainment” (p. 32)
• music teams as “concerts” with little congregational participation (p. 39)
• lack of contrition in Confession/Absolution (p. 40)
• contributions made outside worship rather than as part of worship (p. 41)
• weddings and funerals out of pastor’s control (p. 42, 78)
• infant baptism as ritual with no parental commitment (p. 45)
• preaching to please the crowd (p. 48)
• mission trips as fun and exciting (p. 51)
• programs (p. 62) and small groups (p. 69) as cheap psychotherapy
• no sacrificial disciplines even during Lent (p. 75)
• participation in Holy Communion with little faith commitment (p. 84)
• disciplines of self-control and morality not expected (pp. 94-96)
• development of “niche congregations” as clubs for particular interest/age/social/economic groups (p. 104)

MacDonald sees all of these characteristics of American Christianity as expressions of the church’s basic sellout to the American consumerist mentality. He lays the character deficit of American life at the feet of the church. (p. 190) Instead, he urges that pastors and congregation members together should approach church life like athletes, with discipline, intention, and sacrifice (p. 142).
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