Jesus Made in America
Jesus is as American as baseball and apple pie.
But how this came to be is a complex story--one that Stephen Nichols tells with care and ease. Beginning with the Puritans, he leads readers through the various cultural epochs of American history, showing at each stage how American notions of Jesus were shaped by the cultural sensibilities of the times, often with unfortunate results.
Always fascinating and often humorous, Jesus Made in America offers a frank assessment of the story of Christianity in America, including the present. For those interested in the cultural implications of that story, this book is a must-read.
"I hate to say it, but Nichols is right: 'Too often American evangelicals have settled for a Christology that can be reduced to a bumper sticker.' My hope and prayer for this book is that our leading preachers will read it, learn from Nichols about the profound Christian heritage of reflection on the natures and person of Christ, and work to edify their audiences with meaty biblical preaching about this most important doctrine. I am more optimistic than Nichols about the potential of recent cultural trends to fortify such efforts--especially the recent emphasis on Jesus' concern for the poor. But I applaud Nichols's attempt to take us beyond our own little worlds and help us learn from other people, past and present, about the excellency of Christ."
"Stephen J. Nichols loves Jesus and he loves America, but he does not love the way that many Americans have repackaged Jesus to conform to their own cultural assumptions. With the learning of a first-rate historian, the spiritual bearings of an orthodox theologian and the passion of a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ, Nichols charts his way through the American religious experience from the Puritans to the present. Evangelicals who assume that distorted and undeveloped Christologies are just a problem among theological liberals particularly need to read this book. The real Jesus might have us attend first to a beam in our own eye."
"Could it be that in their 'personal relationship with Jesus' evangelicals in the United States have gotten the better end of the deal? This is certainly one question that readers can plausibly take away from Stephen Nichols's imaginative and knowledgeable study of evangelical conceptions of Jesus. As he shows, 'having Jesus in my heart' often means reducing the eternal Son of God to the proportions of believers' limited imaginations more than it does being conformed to the image of God revealed in Christ. As somber and difficult as that lesson may be to receive, Nichols packages it in a lively narrative that is sure to entertain even while hitting the reader right between the eyes."
"This is a fascinating historical chronicle of the many different ways we have attempted to 'Americanize' Jesus. But reading it is also an important spiritual exercise. Stephen Nichols points us beyond the distorted images of Jesus that so easily tempt us to the reality of a Savior who is the Lord of the nations."
"Stephen Nichols's account of how Jesus has been perceived throughout American history is long on wisdom and short on tedium. His lively account is especially noteworthy as it explains what the nation's first presidents made of Jesus and how he has been depicted by some of its most popular movie producers. Not the least of the book's many merits is Nichols's ability to sort through the extraordinary mix of cultural nonsense and profound theological insight that make up this story."
"Nichols's critique will provoke thought and lively discussion on issues that today's Christians need to consider."
"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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
One of the most engaging, informative books I've read this year.
. . .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.
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.
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."
"I would highly recommend the book, which can teach us a great deal about American culture and how we view Christ. It really is worth picking up a copy."
1. The Puritan Christ: Image and Word in Early New England
2. Jesus for a New Republic: The Politics and Piety of Franklin, Jefferson, Washington and Paine
3. Gentle Jesus, Meek and Mild: Nineteenth-Century Makeovers from the Frontier to Victorian Culture
4. Jesus, Hero for the Modern World: Harry Emerson Fosdick, J. Gresham Machen and the Real Meaning of Christmas
5. Jesus on Vinyl: From the Jesus People to Contemporary Christian Music
6. Jesus on the Big Screen: The Passion for Hollywood
7. Jesus on a Bracelet: Christ, Commodification and Consumer Culture
8. Jesus on the Right Wing: Christ and Politics in America
Epilogue: Jesus and the Gospel in the Twenty-First Century