I came to the book at a result of reading _Jonathan Edwards: A life_ by Marsden. M.Noll like G.Marsden has made my short list of i-must-read-them authors. This is perhaps my 5th book by him i've run across and looked at during my year's study of the issues in the creation-evolution-design(CED) debate. It is, to me, a rather important book for it puts together several issues i have been thinking about but had not related, in particular slavery and evolution being, in the conservative Christian community, similiar issues revolving around the interpretation of Scripture, i intend to follow up this idea. Furthermore, the very systematic way he goes about building a case for the influences of republican ideals on Reformed theology interests me as a very concrete example of the way the cultural matrix determines religious thought. Noll doesn't use the term "American captivity of the Christian Church" but the critical ideas are presented to make such a case.
It's a rather long (450pages) book, with a complex structure and at times detailed arguments, so i find myself wondering to whom to recommend it. Because of it's historical nature and subject material, simply reading the chapters that most interest you is not as good an option as it would be in reading a collection of essays. So if you simply want to get a taste of the book i would read the first 20 or so pages which are the introduction to both the book, how Noll approaches his subject and what he intends to show with this scholarly research. I found chapters 18 and 19 the most interesting: chapter 18 "The 'Bible Alone' and a Reformed, Literal Hermeneutic", and
chapter 19 "The Bible and Slavery", i have several long quotes from these chapters on my extended review at: www.livejournal.com/users/rmwilliamsjr/84610.html
. I think if someone is adequately motivated that the book is accessible to anyone with an interest in history but if your knowledge of the time period or of the theologies discussed is inadequate you will wonder what the fuss is all about, perhaps many secular people will wonder that in any case.
The theme of the book is not hard to summarize. It is that forces of the political life of the US, in particular, republicanism, Whiggery, the demand for equality, had a very important influence on the evolution of each American Christian theology. So too did several cultural influences in the philosophic sphere: common sense moral reasoning via the Scottish enlightenment, an anti-authoritarianism that reached out to all authorities-kings, priests, intellectuals, elites, these too influenced the evolving theology. But the influence was not just a one-way street, but rather in the search for converts the churches became a dominant influence in the culture, not just themselves but the myriad voluntary organizations they gave rise to. So by the Civil War we have a voluntary church, disestablished where those in Europe were not, filled with republicans, certain that their common sense will rightly interpret the Bible, and their morality derived thusly will support a glorious city-on-the-hill that they envisioned for the US. But the devil is in the details, and this is where the book gets really interesting. How do these forces relate? How does theology evolve, why and who is doing what thinking and writing? All done with a scholarly professor's mind, tying together the years of research with a joy and exuberance that is catching. Thanks M. Noll for another most excellent read.......