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Review: American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon

American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon
American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon by Stephen R. Prothero
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A well researched book on the concept of Jesus in American culture. Starts off with the surprising but documented claim that Colonial America was an unchurched place outside of New England. The various culture reinventions of Jesus were for the purpose of getting more people to believe in Him. This seemed to occur, but at the cost of more and more theology and doctrine.

The first part of the book, called resurrections, focuses on how US Christians reinvented and reinterpreted Jesus within the context of Christianity. Part two, reincarnations, focuses on how American Mormons, some black churches, Jews and Hindus gave the United States Jesus figures entirely divorced from Christianity.

Stephen Prothero is careful not to endorse any particular version of Jesus. He claims throughout the book that he only intends to lay out the various claims made for Jesus by Americans throughout our nation’s history and I think he does a good job of staying even handed.

I think Prothero’s book really explains how the United States can be both a nation where Jesus is an unavoidable national object of veneration and where our national elites have little discernible conduct that can be traced back to the Christ of the Bible. The book also uses historical context to explain why the loudest Christians in our country are far more likely to quote and venerate the Ten Commandments then the Sermon on the Mount.

But enough editorializing, I guess. In addition to a generous bibliography, American Jesus features a six page timeline of Jesus related events in America, over two pages of notes and an index. This book seems like it would be useful for cultural scholars while still being interesting for a general audience.

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