Book Review: The Shaping of America

The Shaping of America by John Warwick Montgomery

Bethany House Publishers, 1976

More required reading list for this.  Published on the occasion of our country’s bicentennial, Montgomery attempts to diagnose and trace the malaise facing America 40 years ago, a malaise engendered by the exhaustion of the energy and confidence that characterized our nation’s founding through the early 20th century.  This confidence and optimism was fueled by both religion and secularism in their own ways, and yet both strains have run their course, leaving us wonder where to go from here.  Montgomery’s analysis is typically wide-ranging and erudite.  He’ll dance you through history and literature and the arts sketching a disillusionment that still exists today, 40 years later, though more deeply.

Although he indicates that he has ideas about the way forward, out of inertia and disillusionment, his analysis and diagnosis is far more satisfying than his prognosis.  Essentially, he calls on Christians to re-engage, to renounce the isolationist tendencies that our religious forefathers brought with them and that continues in their evangelical descendants.  Christians need to be engaged – intellectually, culturally, socially, politically – in the life of this country.  And not the trite, bumper-sticker theology that so often passes for Christianity.  Rather a Christianity grounded in Scripture and a clear identity both of humanity and our condition, as well as the God who created, redeemed, and is still at work sanctifying us.  This is all true, but it is a complicated mess to sort through, obviously, as 40 years later little has changed other than growing worse.  His prescription remains just as valid and elusive today as it was in 1976.  But it will require further time to correct the listing drift of the Church in America.

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