"Going Public: Christian Responsibility in a Divided America" by Lawrence E. Adams and "Christianity Incorporated: How Big Business Is Buying the Church" by Michael L. Budde & Robert W. Brimlow

Wednesday, June 6th 2007
Sep/Oct 2002

Time was when the Protestant publishing world was clearly divided between evangelical and mainline readers and authors. Over the last decade, this division has become less discernible and these recent books from Brazos Press, a division of Baker Book House, are representative of the trend. According to its own publicity material, Brazos is "an ecumenical confessional Christian publishing house … grounded in the Great Tradition common to Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anabaptist, confessionally oriented mainline Protestant, and Protestant evangelical Christianity." One way of interpreting this is to say that this division of Baker will no longer be exclusively an evangelical press. But Baker is not alone here. For many years other evangelical publishers, such as Eerdmans and Zondervan, have been attracting mainline Protestant authors and readers, while mainline Protestant presses such as Augsburg, Westminster/John Knox, and Abingdon have been publishing evangelical authors.

Perhaps these changes in Protestant publishing help to account for the conflicting messages from these thoughtful books from Brazos about the role of the church in public life. The book by Lawrence E. Adams, an Episcopalian political scientist who conducts research at the University of Virginia, is a modest call for the church to participate in the cultivation of a common civic culture in the United States. His conception of the church is not clearly defined, thus leaving the reader unsure if Adams is referring to individual Christians as a community, to the corporate church as ministry of Word and Sacrament, or to denominational organizations. But Adams is clear that his call for the church's engagement of public life is not an argument for more Christians in politics. Instead, it is a plea for greater systematic reflection, on the basis of biblical teaching, theological understanding, and political philosophy, by Christians about the divisions that exist within the United States and whether their faith may cultivate a commitment to the common good which, Adams argues, is necessary for civic public life. He argues that electing Christian politicians will make little difference if it generates greater partisan division. Adams's intent is not to prescribe a way for Christians to do this, but to offer a set of questions and resources to assist believers in their engagement with public life.

A decidedly different argument issues from Christianity Incorporated, a book by two Roman Catholic laymen, Michael L. Budde and Robert W. Brimlow, associated with the Ekklesia Project. In a biting analysis of the various ways in which the authors believe the gospel has become a product for sale and distribution on the market of goods and services, from spiritual chaplains for corporations, military chaplains, the marketing and retailing of Roman Catholic kitsch, the big business of funerals, burials, and memorials, to official Roman Catholic and Protestant statements on politics and economics, this book follows Stanley Hauerwas's notion of the church as a radically separate political community that manifests God's kingdom in practices that are different from free markets or liberal democracy. The following sentence, from the chapter on the growing interest of corporations in spirituality, summarizes well the book's basic point: "By telling employees that spirituality properly pursued makes for happy corporate functionaries, a wealthy firm, and a stronger nation, corporations further absorption of Christianity by the capitalist worldview and culture, in the process robbing the church of its prophetic and eschatological qualities" (50). As a call for the church to be the church and, in particular, to resist a utilitarian understanding of the gospel, the authors make any number of legitimate and thoughtful points. But in their understanding of the realization of God's kingdom this side of glory, their critique falls short. In addition, as a book published by the same press as Adam's Going Public, these authors take a decidedly different approach to the problem of the common good, one that apparently leaves little overlap between citizenship in the kingdom of God and citizenship in the kingdom of man.

The temptation is to attribute the disparity between these two books to the seemingly eclectic mission of their publisher. However well readers resist this temptation, the editors at Brazos deserve credit for finding authors capable of making worthwhile arguments on these important subjects.

Wednesday, June 6th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

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