Book Review – The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea by David Dark

Listening is more and more a lost art. In an age where people can plug in their ear buds and tune out anything and anyone they don’t like or don’t agree with, how does dialog occur? What are the dangers of losing touch with those who disagree, and building your life on the assumption that you have an air-tight lock on truth?

David Dark takes on this topic admirably. This is not an easy book to read because of Dark’s particular prose style, which while affable is oftentimes convoluted. Particularly, Dark wonders, shouldn’t Biblical Christians find themselves called to a different form of behavior than the pop culture of talking-heads? Aren’t Biblical Christians called to testify to a truth that we only know in part – a truth that we see at best only “dimly”? And if our grasp on truth is so dim, shouldn’t we be too careful about demonizing those that are earnestly attempting to describe truth yet coming to different conclusions? How would Jesus talk?

Dark utilizes politicians, authors, songwriters, and popular culture figures who call us towards a deeper honesty that rejects the sound-bite sized truth as inadequate and every bit as dangerous as a lie in many cases. Truth is a slippery thing we can never get an adequate grip on, and this should drive us towards the humility and love that are to be hallmarks of Biblical Christians.

Dark’s writing is one challenge in reading this. Another is the particular cultural elements that he chooses to draw into the discussion. If you aren’t much of a reader or into blues singers, you may find that a lot of his analysis eludes you. This may mean you end up skimming or skipping most of the second half of the book. Don’t feel bad. That’s exactly what I did a few years ago on my first read through this book. While I forced myself not to skip over it this time, I can’t say that the second half of the text was particularly enlightening or helpful beyond the most general of themes. Some of it I got because I was familiar with the stories or authors or singers he chose to illustrate his points. Much of it went by me because I haven’t read or followed what and who he talked about.

The other problem I have with this book is that the core theme could be stated pretty well in just a few pages. Dark’s introductory comments go on for more than a few pages and adequately address the topic. The rest of the book is explication, and not necessarily a lot of value-add (at least for me) given how hard it is to wade through his prose. His suggestion that our large-scale national dialogs ought to be conducted more like a meeting of friends at the Waffle House who sit and talk and may not agree but disagree with politeness and love (and with great passion) because they know they’ll be talking to those people again the very next week is well taken and highly important. I wish he had incorporated this metaphor more consistently.

If Truth is out there, it’s going to take the best in all of us to make the most sense out of it, and even then we’re still going to fall far short. In the meantime, how we treat one another is every bit as important (or more so) than the particular solutions we seek to implement. Polarizing thought and commentary ultimately is counterproductive because it effectively keeps us from hearing the Truth as it might possibly be found or expressed even by those we don’t like or disagree with profoundly in some areas. A little humility more clearly lives out the American ideas of “all men created equal” than insisting that only those who think like me are equal. 

2 Responses to “Book Review – The Gospel According to America: A Meditation on a God-Blessed, Christ-Haunted Idea by David Dark”

  1. Carl Henning Says:

    Well, Paul, I finally finished reading this book which I got shortly after reading your review. Yes, it was a tough read and yes, I missed some of the singer references. But I especially like the relating of current (and not-so-current) culture to faith. I even preached once on some country music and its relationship to faith. I don’t recommend this book for the faint-hearted, but I found many quotes for some future week at Carl’s Quote of the Day.

  2. Paul Nelson Says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed it – after a fashion.  No, it’s not for the faint of heart but he does have some fantastic quotable material in there!  

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