Saturday, October 4, 2014

Our Great Big American God by Matthew Paul Turner

Does God need America? Has no other country done as much for God as America has? Does God need American Christians to fulfill His plan for the world (and Israel)?

Turner writes about the God of American Christianity. He is not the same God America had in 1630. How God was transformed into the American God of today is what this book is all about.

Turner takes us through the Puritan's vision (especially Winthrop) of what America might become, a utopia, the Promised Land. Cotton preached that going to America was “God's idea,” and twenty thousand did so between 1630 and 1640. But their God was the same God John Calvin knew.

Americans like Anne Hutchinson and Jonathan Edwards would change the concept of God so that “God began to morph into the American deity that many of us know today.” (51) “Because of Edwards, a knowledge-based Puritan God became a heart-focused American God, and rather than inviting people to know about God, Edwards became one of the first to invite people to experience God.” (56-57)

Turner continues with the influence of George Whitefield's revival preaching, the Revolution and the question of including God in the constitutional framework, Methodism changing America's God from Calvinist to Arminian, the rise of fundamentalism then dispensationalism (and the origin of the “rapture”), and most recently the influence of Billy Graham.

America's God has been elastic, shaped to fit a variety of ideas, marketed and manipulated. “Capitalism has shaped how Americans interact with the divine.” (92) Turner really puts today's popular Christian beliefs in perspective. Christians haven't always believed in a God who promotes capitalism or with whom one could have a personal relationship.

I am sure this book will irritate many, such as fundamentalists, of whom Turner is critical. “Fundamentalists use their faith to dictate the behavior of others. … When a fundamentalist isn't in control, they don't know how to act.” (119-120) But Turner is an equal opportunity critic. Just about all branches of contemporary American Christianity fall prey to his wit and sarcasm. Some may think Turner is irreverent, criticizing what has become holy to American Christians. I'd rather like to think that Turner is merely asking us to really consider the God we Americans know and be very sure He is the God of the Bible, not a god of our own making.

Matthew Paul Turner is the author of numerous books. Before he began writing and speaking full time, he served as editor of CCM (Contemporary Christian Music) magazine and music and entertainment editor of Crosswalk.com. He and his wife, along with their two children, live in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn more at www.MatthewPaulTurner.com.

Jericho Books (an imprint of Hachette Book Group, Inc), 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.
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