Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ
By Stephen J. Nichols
(Intervarsity Press) $22.99
With its catchy pop title and retro baseball cover, Jesus Made in America will surprise and delight readers with the thoughtful research and academic rigour within its pages. While many Americans have an intuitive sense of Jesus’ cultural importance, author Stephen J. Nichols untangles the historical weave of what he has identified as a uniquely American Jesus.
In his quest to uncover the American Jesus, Nichols examines most of the important cultural developments in America’s history, from colonial preacher Jonathan Edwards’s sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God,” to 1980s punk band Bad Religion and its anti-war, anti-George H.W. Bush song, American Jesus. Nichols leaves few stones unturned, delving into para-church movements, the commodification of Christ, contemporary Christian music, as well as Jesus through the eyes of Hollywood notables such as Mel Gibson (The Passion) and Martin Scorsese (The Last Temptation of Christ).
Nichols’s fine book falls short in a number of ways, however. Most striking is the book’s lack of attention to the African influence on the American Jesus. While Nichols addresses the issue of slavery, he almost entirely misses the influence of the slave’s religion on American evangelical Christianity and its Jesus. And while he acknowledges an African American hermeneutic, he dismisses it, claiming that white American evangelicals have been “conditioned by a different set of cultural influences.” Cultural icons such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who not only empowered blacks but transformed the hearts and minds of whites, find little place in this book.
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