GOING PUBLIC, Christian Responsibility in a Divided America, by Lawrence E. Adams, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Brazos Press, 2002. 192 pages, Index, Notes. Softcover, $18.99. ISBN 1-58743-030-4.
Are the people of the United States of America polarized, both politically and morally? Lawrence Adams, who holds two positions associated with the University of Virginia, assuming that the answer is obviously “yes,” addresses the questions of the public role of the church and how the church can have a voice in the public square. The book, addressed primarily to the conservative Christian community, also asks if it is necessary for society to have a common ethic; is such even possible? His goal is to encourage Christians to understand the American culture so as to engage public life responsibly. The book was done as part of a research fellowship under the auspices of the university’s Post-Modernity Project.
There is much to admire about this book; the author writes clearly and with passion. The polarization argument is developed well, although much is taken for granted. I believe, in ascribing certain moral positions as obviously “Christian” and other positions as obviously not “Christian.” But this is a consequence of his writing for a designated target audience. On page 63, for instance, he expresses his personal unhappiness with the American society’s opting for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” and argues for a state which ought to be one “existing primarily for the glory of God, and to see his will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
When I came to the above in my reading, I wondered if the author would speak at all of religious pluralism. Somewhat to my surprise, he did not. Indeed, the survey data he cites speaks of America as being made of just five religious groups, evangelical and mainline Protestants, orthodox and progressive Catholics, and secularists. In the world of Adams, it appears, Muslims, Mormons, Jews, American Indians and a host of other minority groups do not even exist. This oversight weakens many of the author’s arguments.
Because Adams’ book is recent (2002), it is worth a read, but it is not a “keeper.” Geoffrey Layman’s THE GREAT DIVIDE, 2001, addresses the issues better, if not with the insights that came from the election of 2000. And the book by Robert Fowler, RELIGION AND POLITICS IN AMERICA, 1999, is another recommended read in this interest area. Although not reviewed here, both of these ARE keepers in my own library.
Reviewed by John W. Burgeson, Stephen Minister, First Presbyterian Church,
Durango, CO 81301 for PERSPECTIVES, the quarterly journal of the American Scientific Association. Submitted Oct 2002.