Monday, November 17, 2008
I recently finished reading a book that I really enjoyed. The book is entitled Jesus Made in America and is written by Stephen J. Nichols. It's a book that I think every Christian in the U.S. should read. Many of the Nichols' major points are things I have seen and felt, too, but he expresses them much better than I ever could. The book has eight chapters and is basically split in two distinct parts. The first four chapters focus on the history of Christianity in America and how Jesus has been viewed differently from the Puritans until now. The second half of the book (last 8 chapters) focuses on how Jesus has been used, abused, and debased in our culture, specifically through music, film and television, merchandise, and politics. I've selected a few passages that I found particularly relevant.
"Jesus, like most cultural heroes, is malleable....But there is something peculiar to the tendency to contemporize in American evangelicalism.....American evangelicals reflexively harbor suspicions of tradition. In fact, most tend toward being rabidly antitradition. Consequently, the past is overlooked as a significant source of direction. This leaves American evangelicals more vulnerable than most when it comes to cultural pressures and influences. In absence of tradition, we tend to make up a new one, one not tested by time and more or less constructed by individuals or by a limited community....This is the tendency of Americans in general to be not only amnesiacs of the past but to be amnesiacs who aren't necessarily looking to be cured." pp. 10-11 (emphasis mine)
On Contemporary Christian Music:
"All of these songs focus not on any act of God in history, not on the concrete events of Christ's life and death and resurrection. These songs all lack exactly what Jon Fischer lamented as a lamented as a great loss, linking Jesus' love not to anything done in history, but to the personal experiences of feeling Jesus near, of feeling him close during those hard times. Like a good boyfriend, Jesus shows up at the right moment, says the right thing and knows how to hug. Take out the name Jesus that occurs from time to time and these songs could be sung to a boyfriend....It becomes hard to not see triteness in much of the lyrics of CCM when so many artists speak so glibly and vaguley of the love of Christ, reducing it to romantic notions and mere personal experience. It also becomes hard not to see how this love sung by Christian artists is on par with the way love is handeled in the non-Christian songs adolescents also listen to....The longing to express a deep devotion to God is laudable. But caution enters in when that longing coms in a theological vacuum." pp.140-142
Importance of Nicaean and Chalceonian Creeds:
"American evangelicals have sterling proficiency in the realm of subjective and experiential. But not all of the answers to life's questions come from within or com from our own time. If American evangelicalism will ever land on that crucial life-giving Christology it will have to deal with the fifth-century council of Chalcedon as well as that fourth-century one at Nicaea....The Bible and these councils save us from our limited perspectives and our cultural static. In one sense, then, we can answer the question concerning how we construct or deposit of faith in the twenty-first century by telling ourselves that we don't have to start from scratch....These creeds and the biblical texts they are fashioned from provide the church with its perennial theology, which the church in any country in any century simply cannot afford to live without. From the vantage point of the past, we can cast a more critical eye on the present." pp.224-225.
"To start, it may be helpful to listen to Scripture first, then to tradition, then to experience rather than the more typical reversal of that order. Listening to tradition means not relying on our own resources to solve all of our own problems or answer all of our questions. It takes humility to look to the past. And it takes humility to submit to Scripture." p. 225.