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God's Ambassadors: A History of the Christian Clergy in America (Pulpit & Pew) Hardcover – September 25, 2007

4.2 out of 5 stars 5 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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Review

Interpretation
"This volume is a masterful performance. . . Writing an integrated narrative involving many streams of Christianity over a four hundred year period is no small achievement. Holifield accomplishes this with excellence and grace. He has created a readable account from a vast array of material, both primary and secondary. In my judgment, this volume will become a classic. It will be of interest to all who practice ministry as well as those who are preparing to enter its ranks."

Reviews in Religion & Theology
"Brooks Holifield has undertaken the significant task of chronicling the story of America's clergy. He does so with grace and eloquence, making God's Ambassadors must reading for any one, clergy or scholar, interested in the place of Christian ministry, Protestant or Catholic, in American life. A book that is not just readable, interesting, challenging, but that is also a book to which clergy and scholars should give close attention. (Starred Review)."

Stephen J. Stein
— Indiana University, Bloomington
"E. Brooks Holifield has framed the social and ecclesiastical contexts and the historical development of the Christian ministry in America in its denominational complexities with fresh clarity and insight. His work on the diverse and changing challenges to clerical authority will be of great interest to social and religious historians, to the general religious public, and especially to members of the clerical profession or those in training for it. This volume will immediately become the standard historical account of the topic for many years to come."

Mark Chaves
— Duke University
"Brooks Holifield has synthesized a vast amount of scholarship into a compelling story, gracefully written. God's Ambassadors will stand for a long time as the authoritative history of Christian clergy in America, but this remarkable book is more than that. It is a new history of religion in America, one with the clergy at center stage."

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. . . 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."

Katarina Schuth, O.S.F.
— University of St. Thomas
"In this extraordinarily well-documented historical account of the ministry in the United States from its early stages, Brooks Holifield captures a sense of the soul of the minister. His engaging descriptions of the varied missions of 'God's ambassadors' are threaded with just the right combination of fascinating details and serious theological reflection. The reader comes away with a balanced understanding of the achievements and disappointments of these ministers, both Protestant and Catholic. Through the centuries their work has left a deep impression on American culture, and Holifield's unique history brings to life the significance of their contribution."
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Product Details

  • Series: Pulpit & Pew
  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans; First Edition edition (September 25, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802803814
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802803818
  • Product Dimensions: 6.2 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,065,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
What do Tammy Faye Baker, Pat Robertson, and Jesse Jackson have in common? They are cultural icons that Professor Holifield's masterful study puts into an entertaining and historically useful context. Americans have been worried about the decline of Christianity and the loss of respect for clergy since the Pilgrims disembarked from the Mayflower. Dr. Holifield's lucid discussion allows us to see the sweep of American history, and his incisive consideration of the eternal paradox --how to be in the world but not of the world--that clergy face makes that history come to life. This book will be useful not only to readers interested in Christian clergy but also to any reader who wonders how it is possible to juggle American identity with religious commitments that transcend national boundaries. This is MUST READING as we head into Election Year 2008.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This is a general overview of clergy roles and practices in American life. It discusses clergy attitudes toward their jobs, their diverse responsibilities, and their perception by others in America through the centuries.

The book begins at the time of the Pilgrims and concludes in the year 2005. I wish more attention would have been given to the towering figures in clergy history, as well as more attention to the preaching styles of prominent clergy, but this is a minor quibble. It can be read in conjunction with books on the history of preaching, like David Larsen's outstanding  tome.
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Format: Hardcover
Most of us are aware that ministers, priests, and rabbis play an important role in contemporary American political and cultural life. But few of us understand how that role has changed over time. This study, by one of the most prominent scholars of American theology and church history, elucidates these changes with remarkable clarity and insight. I highly recommend the book to all who wish to understand the history of clerical authority and influence in this country.
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Format: Hardcover
I decided to read the 100 pages required in chapters eight through ten; the three chapters look at the Protestant and Catholic churches from 1930–2005. This period is not one that I have had much time to personally study, so to spend the time in Holifield’s book in the way I did was inspired by curiosity, requirement, and intrigue. Holifield is a blatant historian and writes the book as such. The book presents data, historical conclusions, and leaves insight and authorial presupposition to the side as subordinate. As a reader who loves any good data-driven conversation, I appreciated the feel of God’s Ambassadors compared to the other theology I have read for my Masters in Divinity degree.
I was particularly intrigued in the data that addressed the state of the clergy throughout the civil rights movement. In a time when racism is taking the modern discussion once again, the findings were extremely helpful to see. Many of the clerical struggles of the 1960s and 70s are still happening – or happening in new ways – today. However, I found myself more and more inspired of the clergy during this time, who took much criticism for the ways they did (or did not) speak out to the horrendous atrocities. I hope to look more into the era that Holifield’s research skims over.
Holifield’s research grounded me closer to earth and help me locate myself on the historical clerical trajectory. Modern Christian media and sentiments can quite easily lead to a alarmist, panicked tone in the clergy. When I see the clergy of yesterday struggling with much of the same issues, I find a strange sense of peace. The church is the church, and our God will remain faithful until the day of New Creation.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Hollifield's magisterial knowledge of the terrain provides the reader with far more than just a history of Christian clergy in America. This book is in effect a history of America's religious history written from the vantage of the ecclesiastical leaders who shaped and/or misshaped it. Hollifield gets inside their stained glass world to provide not only an intellectual tour of the theological/cultural shifts of the American religious experience but more particularly what congregational leadership felt like to the "called" in each successive period. And, aside from the wealth of historical detail within each chapter, Hollifield's introductory analysis of the dilemma of American clergy is a gem of clarity and insight. jdd
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