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Seeking a Better Country: 300 Years of American Presbyterianism Hardcover – June 15, 2007
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"Those seeking inspiration will have to look elsewhere. This is a sobering account of division, missed opportunities, and unrealized potential on the part of a church with exceptional theological, human, and material resources too often squandered on a worldly cultural agenda. The authors' goal is accuracy, and the response they evoke is not celebration, but critical self-awareness, leading, they hope, to self-correction and reform. For all who are concerned for the future of Presbyterianism, this is an important book." --Terry Johnson, senior minister, Independent Presbyterian Church, Savannah, Georgia
"Historians D. G. Hart and John Muether provide an account of American Presbyterian history that makes a basic and challenging argument: in their great success, Presbyterians in America have often lost sight of their spiritual mission of preaching the Word and administering the sacraments. Not exactly an uplifting message, and yet one that we need to hear! For in making their case, these authors not only provide a compelling account of Presbyterianism in America; they also offer a vision of Presbyterian identity that deemphasizes the noise, jazz, and heroes of this present age for a better country, that is a heavenly one, whose maker and ruler is God." --Sean Michael Lucas, vice president for academics and assistant professor of church history, Covenant Theological Seminary
"Seeking a Better Country does far more than simply chronicle the first three centuries of American Presbyterian history. It is a trenchant assessment of the Presbyterian legacy in the United States by two leading conservative scholars. It should be on the bookshelves of pastors and students alike." --Peter Lillback, president, Westminster Theological Seminary
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Top Customer Reviews
There is a wealth of information, and the authors bring humor, balance, and a sense of perspective to the issues Presbyterians have wrestled with over the centuries. They are very good at identifying the strengths and weaknesses of individuals and groups and at sounding an appropriate note of praise or caution. At the end, they stress the provisional nature of uninspired history and the need for humility in making evaluations. In fact, if there is one criticism I have of the work, it is that the humility the authors profess and recommend seems a bit overdone. If that is the case, however, underconfidence is perhaps easier to appreciate and to put up with than overconfidence.
I would recommend this book for all students of church history. Of course, it has a special appeal for Presbyterians, and it may help many of us to understand better where we are and how we got here. One immediate value that it has is that of putting into perspective various controversies that continue in evangelicalism and Presbyterianism today. Whether you are conservative or liberal, and whether your emphasis is more on doctrinal conformity or on social change, this book is likely to challenge and perhaps change some of your strongly held assumptions.
The assessment offered by the authors is neither celebratory nor condemnatory, but sober, reasoned, and balanced. While Balmer and Fitzmier cover essentially the same period and material, Hart and Muether's history takes time to explain the background and the significance of the events they recount, resulting in a richer and more illuminating study. While Balmer and Fitzmier ably relate what happened, Hart and Muether do a better job of exploring why it mattered (and matters).
While the authors touch upon the other branches of the Presbyterian "family" in America (the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church, the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, as well as the EPC, OPC, and PCA), their study essentially traces the development of what since 1983 has been known as the PC(USA) (full disclosure--the denomination in which I am ordained). They are not "cheerleaders" for any of these branches--not even their own: whatever bias the authors may have they did a fine job of bracketing.
The text would have benefitted from one more round of copy editing. That's about my only criticism. This history is a very welcome addition to my library. Anyone interested in American denominational history, the history of the "mainline" churches and their decline, or American history, would find this study worthwhile reading. It would be especially helpful for anyone interested in trying to learn how the PC(USA) came to have the theological shape it has today, and why the PC(USA) seems so divided on several issues that seem on the face of it more social and cultural than Biblical in nature.