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Wednesday, October 7, 2009

God Is Back

God Is Back

The book, God is Back, by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, may well be the most important book I have read in the last 10 years.  Published by Penguin Press, this book is, in respect to religion, a 21st century version of Democracy in America, written by the Frenchman, Alexis de Tocqueville, after his visit to America in 1831.  It appears that de Tocqueville was attached to, but not active in, the Catholic Church.  Some have even gone so far as to describe him as an agnostic.  Micklethwait and Wooldridge, editor in chief and Washington bureau chief of The Economist respectively, are natives of England, both educated at Oxford.  They identify themselves as a Catholic and an atheist, although they do not identify which is which.

Like Democracy in America, God is Back is a book of observations on the state of religion in the world, with a special focus on what they call “American Style Christianity” and its impact around the globe.

For anyone who is involved with or actively participating in para-church organizations in the US, and for anyone who cares about spreading the Gospel, this book is worth reading.  The data provided is surprising, even stunning.

For instance, did you know that by the Chinese government’s own estimates, Christianity in China has grown from “14 million in 1997 to 21 million in 2006”?  But, when you add in numbers from the house churches and the underground Catholic Church, today there are “at least 65 million Protestants in China and 12 million Catholics.”  The authors surmise that “by 2050, China could well be the world’s biggest Muslim nation as well as its biggest Christian one.”

In discussing the European version of state-run Christianity vs. the American model of choice by the individual, the writers state that the American model “…is winning.  America has succeeded in putting God back into modernity partly because it put modernity, or at least choice and competition, back into God.”

They deal with Voltaire, de Tocqueville, the French Revolution and its impact on religion.  Darwin, Freud, Huxley, Hardy, and Carlyle are covered in regard to their prediction that faith and religion would disappear as science and modernity proved religion to be false.
The authors contend that “America was not born religious.”  But that it “…became religious.”  They cite evidence that “Church members never made up more than a third of the adult population of New England before the revolution…”  For instance, they say that “by 1683 some 83 percent of the taxpayers confessed to no religious identification.”

They cover the Great Awakenings in the 1730s and 1740s “ignited by America’s first significant theologian, Jonathan Edwards.”  And they talk about results, “In 1769-74, the number of Baptist churches in Virginia jumped from 7 to 540.”

The primary uniqueness of the American approach to religion cited by the authors is that while Europeans, especially in the French Revolution, ran away from faith and saw religion as a roadblock to freedom, “revolutionary America embraced religion alongside liberty, reason and popular government.”  It is this harmony of religion and freedom that, according to Micklethwait and Wooldridge, set apart the United States from Europe and is still the dividing line today.

“By 1850, the Evangelical churches taken together employed twice as many people as the post office, then the most important instrument of the federal government.  They even delivered more letters...They formed societies of every kind—American Bible Society, the American Sunday School Union, the American Temperance Society and so on.”
The information I have provided thus far covers (very lightly and briefly) the first 70 pages of this magnificent book that runs 373 pages in length.

Even if you are just interested in history, this is a book worth reading.  You’ll learn about the amazing growth of the Methodist Church, the somewhat strange beginning of the Pentecostal Church, and the astounding size, scope, and influence of modern churches.  The rather odd story of Aimee Semple McPherson and the church legacy she left behind is also covered in God is Back.

Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Rick Warren, and James Dobson also play a role in the fascinating story told of Christianity in America.  You’ll learn about the astounding financial power of Christianity in America today and what two professional groups are the most active in and leaders of the Christian cause in the US.  I predict you’ll be surprised by the answer.

The pace doesn’t flag, the writing is excellent, and the story is amazing and encouraging.  You’ll be captivated and inspired.  Read this book!

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