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America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln Paperback – April 21, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 19 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

This "social history of theology" in America, from the colonial era through the Civil War, promises to reshape the way we think about American religion, and, indeed, American history. Noll, who teaches history at evangelicalism's premier liberal arts college, Wheaton, charts the changes and developments in American theology, but he does not approach this potentially technical and narrow topic from the fusty perspective of old-fashioned intellectual history. Rather, he embeds theology in American society, showing how, inter alia, printing presses, legislatures and war shaped, and were shaped by, theology. His gauntlet-throwing argument is that American theology (by which he means primarily Protestant theology) is markedly different from European theology. A specifically American evangelicalism, he contends, was forged during the Revolution and early Republic. Noll's story ends with the Civil War, which he claims reveals a "theological tragedy": the contradictions and complications of this distinctly American religion were exposed when, in war, the American project proved wanting. Noll's hints of the "post-Protestant, even post-Christian" post-bellum America will leave readers hoping for a sequel. Although this magnum opus will be of interest primarily to scholars, it could certainly be appreciated by a larger audience. Noll's trademark clarity-both in analysis and in prose-is in evidence here; unlike many academics, he does not make the reader hunt and strain to find (and follow) his argument. Equally obvious is Noll's erudite mastery of everything from Puritan ecclesiology to Scottish moral philosophy. This is, finally, the magisterial work that has long been expected from one of our leading historians.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Noll (Christian thought, Wheaton Coll.) is a well-recognized historian and author of American religious history. Here, he closely examines pre-Civil War American religion, showing that it was a unique synthesis of republicanism, commonsense moral reasoning, and evangelical Christianity. The antebellum United States was a society uniquely preoccupied with biblical religion, but American religion also reflected the prevailing sentiments and political preoccupations of secular society. Noll brings to light some lesser-known theological thinkers while also reexamining the more famous figures of the time, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, Thomas Jefferson, and Jonathan Edwards. Carefully documented and including an excellent bibliography, this insightful volume makes a useful contribution to the study of religion in America. It is not aimed at the general public but is unusually readable for such a scholarly book. Recommended for academic and large public libraries.
C. Robert Nixon, M.L.S., Lafayette, IN
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (April 21, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195182995
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195182996
  • Product Dimensions: 9 x 1.7 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #209,680 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Top Customer Reviews

By Robert Morris HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
What we have here is a remarkably comprehensive examination of the role formal religion played in the United States from the Colonial period through the Civil War. For various reasons, those who formulated the Constitution insisted on a separation of church and state as well as certain checks and balances within the federal government. What I found most interesting in Noll's book is his analysis of the transition from European Puritanism (after almost 200 years) to what could be called American Evangelism (emerging in the late-1790s) which not only allowed but indeed celebrated freedom of religion. Noll's primary subject is the evolution of American theology. He necessarily examines the historical context within which that process occurred. My only quarrel with him, probably more an honest difference of opinion than a complaint, is that he suggests -- or at least assumes -- a homogeneity in America's religious life which seems to be contradicted by what the separation of church and state made possible: religious heterogeneity protected by the Constitution and sustained by the checks and balances. Nonetheless, Noll succeeds brilliantly in explaining how and why religion was central to early-American history.
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Format: Hardcover
I came to the book at a result of reading _Jonathan Edwards: A life_ by Marsden. M.Noll like G.Marsden has made my short list of i-must-read-them authors. This is perhaps my 5th book by him i've run across and looked at during my year's study of the issues in the creation-evolution-design(CED) debate. It is, to me, a rather important book for it puts together several issues i have been thinking about but had not related, in particular slavery and evolution being, in the conservative Christian community, similiar issues revolving around the interpretation of Scripture, i intend to follow up this idea. Furthermore, the very systematic way he goes about building a case for the influences of republican ideals on Reformed theology interests me as a very concrete example of the way the cultural matrix determines religious thought. Noll doesn't use the term "American captivity of the Christian Church" but the critical ideas are presented to make such a case.
It's a rather long (450pages) book, with a complex structure and at times detailed arguments, so i find myself wondering to whom to recommend it. Because of it's historical nature and subject material, simply reading the chapters that most interest you is not as good an option as it would be in reading a collection of essays. So if you simply want to get a taste of the book i would read the first 20 or so pages which are the introduction to both the book, how Noll approaches his subject and what he intends to show with this scholarly research. I found chapters 18 and 19 the most interesting: chapter 18 "The 'Bible Alone' and a Reformed, Literal Hermeneutic", and
chapter 19 "The Bible and Slavery", i have several long quotes from these chapters on my extended review at: [...]
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Format: Hardcover
Noll argues that American Protestantism developed a unique religious perspective due to the combining of three historical idea forces: 1) the theology of the Protestant Reformation, 2) the philosophy of republicanism that arose from and was animated by the American revolution, and 3) the thought of the Scottish common-sense Enlightenment.

Protestantism's ability or willingness to speak the language of these three strands of thought made it the religion of choice and influence in the early republic, as its apologetic and evangelistic discourse echoed contemporary political assumptions and commitments.

But, Noll argues, there was a down-side to this success. The theology of Protestantism was itself changed by the use of this republican and common-sense language. These changes led to a literalistic, individualistic Biblical hermeneutic that made American Protestantism unable to speak definitively on the issue of slavery. North and South used the American Protestant hermeneutic to come to radically different conclusions on the morality of slavery.

This intractability ended in the civil war, which was not just a political crisis, but a theological one as well. The failure of the American Protestant synthesis to resolve the great moral issue of slavery, Noll argues, caused it to lose its social force, and opened the way for the modern era.

Noll's argument is almost overwhelming. He lays an exhaustive groundwork of 18th century religious/philosophical/political thought, moves into early 19th century theological evolution of Calvinism and Methodism, and then builds to a civil-war-era climax of heated, yet impotent, theological dispute. Each section is so rich and deep that challenging Noll on his intermediate conclusions is a daunting task.
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Format: Paperback
Mark Noll wrote this book with the goal of describing how Christian theology gradually became more comfortable using the catchwords and ideas of the American political scene (liberty, freedom, virtue, rights, common sense, reason). Noll shows that even though Calvinist and Arminian and Wesleyan thought may not have radically changed because of American republicanism, the way they were packaged and presented were.

In this book, we begin with the traditional Reformed ideas of Jonathan Edwards. We see how Calvinists in America were quick to side with the colonies in the years leading up to the Revolutionary War. We see how even George Whitefield was somewhat sympathetic toward the colonial cause, though he tended to shy away from preaching politics.

We read of John Wesley's opposition to the American form of government, as he reveals that he has not met one republican who was a good Christian.

We see how Thomas Paine's writings were very influential in promoting reason and common sense, and how this influenced preachers of the faith, such as Timothy Dwight, the new President of Yale, who rumor has it spend six months in 1795 challenging his students to a debate on whether or not the Bible was the Word of God.

We see how Charles Finney incorporated populist American jargon into his revival sermons. We also see his ardent opposition to the American slavery system.

Speaking of slavery, the last 100 pages of the book deals with how people of differings theological persuasions dealt with this divisive issue. Noll seems sorry to report that the pro slavery people did a better job of supporting their view from scripture than the abolitionists did.
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