Made in America: The Shaping of Modern American Evangelicalism. By Michael Scott Horton. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1991. 198 pp. Cloth, $13.95.
This book by a young Reformed Episcopal minister in California reveals the weakness of the evangelical church at the close of the twentieth century. In eight chapters he tackles the ways in which a democratic, feeling-oriented, pragmatic, and individualistic culture has shaped the modern American church according to its own image. The book is brief, to the point, and hard-hitting. Michael Horton does not pull punches.
First of all he questions the concept of a “Christian America” and the popularly held notion that modern secular humanists have wrested the heritage of our forefathers. While there was a time when a biblical kind of morality was more prevalent, Horton demonstrates that many of our founding fathers were opposed to the biblical concept of a holy and sovereign God, and purposefully wrote the laws of the land to perpetuate the sovereign power of the human spirit. A “Christian America” never existed; it is time to let the concept die.
The weakness of modern evangelicalism is detailed well also. The Church has become, like the culture, market-driven rather than truthdriven, pragmatic rather than principle-based, and individualistic rather than corporate in focus. As a result we appear in the marketplace as one more sub-culture on the social landscape of America. We have lost sight of the biblical concept of the people of God as the representatives of the life-transforming Gospel of God.
This good and readable book is, however, marked by some noticeable flaws. Horton views the basic problem with American Christianity as a departure from Calvinism. In this assessment, he shows remarkably little acquaintance with the difference between Reformation theology and Reformedtheology. He seems to regard the Puritans as the only true successors of the Reformation and the truest representatives of biblical Christianity since the days of the apostles. This viewing of Calvinism as a seamless robe is not only historically inaccurate but theologically untenable. As a result, while Horton paints the present scene well, his analysis of what led us to this place in history is not as convincing. His frequent jabs at the Free Grace understanding of the Gospel (as on p. 83) are based on this narrow view that the Puritan theology of about 1650 is the only possible understanding of the Bible’s message. Thus he attempts to prove Lordship Salvation by the simple argument that “it’s what the Church has always believed”—a doubtful argument at best, blatantly reductionist at worst.
Coupled with this weakness, and contributing to it, is the fact that Horton relies almost entirely on secondary sources. A full 20% of the endnotes are divided between three authors (Martin Marty, Richard Hofstadter, and George Gallup). The reliance on secondary sources is an indication that the book is not so much a reflection on the theological declension in modern evangelicalism as a collection of the reflections of others.
The book fails to offer clear direction as to where we might go from here to recapture the kind of vibrant theological and corporate vitality that will reveal us as the living Body of Christ. Yet it does offer some analysis of the present scene that should be read and considered by Christians today. For that contribution this is a worthwhile book.
Grace Countryside Church
White Lake, MI