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Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to "The Passion of the Christ" Paperback – May 4, 2008
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From Publishers Weekly
After complimenting the Puritans for a vibrant spirituality grounded in sound biblical and church theology, Lancaster Bible College professor Nichols shows how subsequent generations of Americans have reduced Jesus to whatever best fits their needs. The book demonstrates in humorous detail how Jesus has proved to be a malleable figure in American culture and politics, from Jefferson's moral-exemplar Jesus to the manly Jesus of Billy Sunday, or from a trivialized Precious Moments Jesus to Focus on the Family's Republican Jesus. Nichols contends that reducing Jesus in this way is harmful. Although the book spotlights the Jesus of American evangelicalism, its chapters on contemporary images of and ideas about Jesus are filled with references that any modern American reader will recognize. For nonevangelical Americans, bemused by the proliferation of Jesus paraphernalia among believers, such discussion offers welcome perspective. Nichols's critique may not persuade his fellow evangelicals to tune out the ubiquitous Jesus is my boyfriend songs or turn off Veggie Tales. But his call to humbly accept that Jesus is more complex than a slogan or plaything strikes a chord. (May)
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"Nichols's critique will provoke thought and lively discussion on issues that today's Christians need to consider." (James Gorman, Restoration Quarterly, 53:2, 2011)
"Jesus Made in America is written in a lively style, one from which the author's voice clearly and uniquely rings. His case is compelling and his argument is one that needs to receive a wide reading in evangelical churches. May Nichols' work cause evangelicals to rediscover the robust Jesus of the Holy Scripture." (Jeff Robinson, Towers, August 16, 2010)
I found Nichols' book stimulating, challenging and troubling. The stimulation comes from the writing of a competent scholar who examines the current literature and cultural commentaries. I found it challenging because I too am a part of the consumerismn that grips our culture and our churches. The troublesome part of Nichols' book is that it is much too close to home. Nichols' book may make us examine our cultural and spiritual experiences and relate them to our motives and contributions to linguistics and Bible translation. (Karl J. Franklin, Christian Scholar's Review, Winter 2009)
Nichols has useful things to say about the evangelical use of media, especially music and film, and about the commercialization and politicization of Jesus in our own time by evangelical Christians. (Howard Miller, The Journal of American History, June 2009)
Nichols takes the reader on a history of America through the person of Jesus. How have we formulated Him to fit our collective conscience? Nichols advises: listen to scripture first, listen to tradition, and listen to experience. (JD, Libraries Alive, Winter 2009)
I certainly recommend Nichol's book to those evangelicals who wish to be capable of critically evaluating their culture, who are open to the painful experience of realizing that not everything you have assumed even as part of your Christian worldview deserves the label "Christian." For all those interested in American Christian culture, but in particular for those who participate in it, Nichol's book provides a helpful perspective and much valuable insight. (James F. McGrath, Exploring our Matrix (exploringourmatrix.blogspot.com), August 14, 2008)
One of the most engaging, informative books I've read this year. (Tim Challies, Discerning Reader, July 15, 2008)
. . .one of the most engaging, informative books I've read in a long time. Nichols helps us learn from the mistakes of those in the past, while offering words of wisdom for those of us seeking to be faithful to Jesus in the present. (Rev. John Chadick, Book Bargains and Previews, July 2008)
In Matthew 16:13-20, Jesus asked his disciples, "Who do you say I am?" Historian Stephen J. Nichols surveys the answers of American evangelicals particularly. What he finds makes for disturbing reading. (George Wood, AG ThinkTank, June 2008)
One of the most engaging, informative books I've read this year. In fact, I'll be surpised if this book doesn't make my annual Top Ten list of "favorite reads." (Trevin Wax, Kingdom People, June 18, 2008)
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What Nichols does is spends the first half or so of the book walking the reader through how particular cultures and people in the past have really shaped our thinking and their thinking of Christ. He starts with the Puritans, then to our founding fathers, the Victorians and the modernists of the early 20th century.
After Nichols goes through these with precision he then gives the reader insight on how we have specifically been affected, or infected, depends on how you see it, through Contemporary Christian Music, Hollywood, Consumerism and Politics.
This part of the book was very informative as Nichols shows how the history of each one of these has led us to where we are currently with Jesus and culture and he doesn't leave any stone unturned. He questions things such as Thomas Kinkade, Precious Moments, The Passion of the Christ, CCM Music Festivals, WWJD bracelets, Christian T-Shirts, Dobson and the extreme politics pulling on Jesus from both sides.
I believe that Nichols unpacks some things that are very worrisome in our day in age where Madonna actually has become a prophetess, even though she falls into the same trap:
Christianity is becoming more of a currency than a belief
Sadly, I think she is right.
This book is extremely well done and I would recommend this to any reader to show what is happening in front of our own eyes and the danger of falling into consumerism Christianity.
This might have been Nichols best book to date. Highly Recommended.
As a bit of a blinded patriot who had truly believed much of our country's foundation was established on Christian principles, the exposure of the hypocrisy of (many of) our founding fathers left me red-faced. Nichols then describes the culturalization of Jesus through our nation's history: the meek, effeminate Jesus of the Victorian era, followed by the overly masculinized Jesus of Teddy Roosevelt's America. But around that same time, the counter-Puritan movement began to fully take root in America through the Rockefeller-funded ministry of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who tried to turn Jesus into an American industrialist with wonderful principles rather than the scriptures' supernatural Man-God who came to save us from our sins.
The second half of Nichols' book concentrates on the modern Jesus Movement. Although Nichols describes himself as an American evangelical, he seems pretty well set against any and all commercial efforts undertaken by the evangelical community, such as the Christian music and film industries (he is careful not to bite the hand that feeds him, the Christian book industry). He points out several examples of entrepreneurs who have targeted the Christian market with theologically dubious product, but he doesn't stop there and seems to take delight in pillorying any Christians who are commercially successful.
To some extent I get it: sometimes we have let Jesus' house be turned into a den of thieves. But it begs the questions: How do Christians counteract the strong anti-Christian forces at work in America? And, are Christians to abandon the film and music industries?
For instance, Nichols has no tolerance for any film whose screenplay doesn't come straight from scripture, but as any filmmaker would tell you, scripture doesn't make a very compelling screenplay (nor was it ever meant to). In the end, Nichols' main argument is against experiential evangelization, but if cultural adaptation is experiential, it makes me wonder what is acceptable. Also, the authorities Nichols uses to prove his points are not from the ranks of respected evangelicals but rather liberal theologians like Martin Marty or (often) any secular writer who has a bone to pick with evangelicals.
It reminds me of a specific scriptural anecdote (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17) where people were bringing their children to Jesus for prayer. The disciples rebuked these people; apparently, like Nichols, they didn't approve of the experiential approach. Jesus, in turn, rebuked the disciples. Nowhere in Jewish scripture did it say that the Kingdom of God belonged to those with the innocent minds of children, but Jesus stated that for them at that time. The same situation came up with the woman in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was OK with their spontaneous - albeit non-scriptural - expressions of devotion.
Missionaries in foreign lands often seek to relate the Gospel to the culture of the people they're trying to reach. Apparently Nichols feels that shouldn't ever happen in America. My takeaway from the book was: Puritans good, anything else bad. "Jesus Made in America" is an interesting read, and while it has some constructive history challenges for us, it's also a little disappointing to see this kind of destructive nitpicking coming from within the evangelical movement.
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Thanks to Adrianna of IVP for the review copy of this book.Read more
Nichols has written a book that all Christians ought to read and ponder.Read more