For the Fourth: Four Books at the Crossroads of “God Bless” and “America”

God bless America.

Since the birth of our nation more than two centuries ago, Americans have continually struggled to work out how two of the most significant parts of our shared society— God and country; faith and patriotism; church and state — can fit together.

For the past 100 years, Eerdmans has been contributing to this often-vigorous discussion, publishing landmark books along the way, like Richard John Neuhaus’s The Naked Public Square: Religion and Democracy in America (1984) and John Howard Yoder’s The Politics of Jesus (1972).

You can browse a catalog of all our books on religion and politics on Edelweiss, but here are four recent titles that we think deserve a little extra attention this Independence Day.

From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin
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From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism
D. G. Hart

In this provocative account, D. G. Hart provides a fresh, lively, iconoclastic history of recent evangelical Christian engagement with conservative politics. Examining key evangelical political figures — from Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson to Billy Graham and Chuck Colson to Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis — Hart argues that American evangelicalism, from the right as much as the left, is (and always has been) a bad fit with classic political conservatism and its insistence on the limited role of government.

Hart predicts that, with such a tenuous relationship to the core principles of conservatism, evangelicals on the right are unlikely to remain politically conservative unless they finally accept the limited uses of politics to effect lasting social change.

It is (according to Bookist, at least) “maximally enlightening political-religious argumentation.”

The New Evangelicals
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The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good
Marcia Pally
Foreword by John Milbank

Over the past forty years the Religious Right has largely spoken for America’s evangelicals. But in this groundbreaking documentary portrait of Christians who have “left the Right” Marcia Pally reveals the “new evangelicals” — a growing movement that espouses antimilitaristic, anticonsumerist, and liberal democratic ideals and promotes poverty relief, immigration reform, and environmental stewardship. Combining shrewd analysis with a number of fascinating interviews, Pally creates a compelling snapshot of a significant trend that is likely to impact American politics for years to come.

Former ACLU president Nadine Strossen calls The New Evangelicals “a groundbreaking study of America’s religio-political landscape.”

Good and Bad Ways
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Good and Bad Ways to Think about Religion and Politics
Robert Benne

“There is nothing greater than indignation to stimulate a writer to write,” says Robert Benne, “and my outrage has been stirred mightily by reading so many wrongheaded ‘takes’ on how religion and politics ought to be related.”

Benne’s anger compelled him to present this clear argument for a more reasonable approach to the inevitable relationship between religion and politics. Secularists may call for a complete separation of church and state; left- and right-wing Christians alike may zealously (though often unintentionally) fuse them together — but neither approach really works.

Benne’s alternative — “critical engagement” — encourages church bodies and individual believers to step beyond the confusion and noisy rhetoric. He offers practical help in identifying core Christian convictions, deciding which of these can and should influence public policy, and translating those convictions into political action.

Migrations of the Holy
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Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church
William T. Cavanaugh

Whether one thinks that “religion” continues to fade or is making a comeback in the contemporary world, there is a common notion that “religion” went away somewhere, at least in the West. But William Cavanaugh argues that religious fervor never left — it only migrated toward a new object of worship. In Migrations of the Holy he examines the disconcerting modern transfer of sacred devotion from the church to the nation-state.

In these chapters Cavanaugh cautions readers to be wary of a rigid separation of religion and politics that boxes in the church and sends citizens instead to the state for hope, comfort, and salvation as they navigate the risks and pains of mortal life. When nationality becomes the primary source of identity and belonging, he warns, the state becomes the god and idol of its own religion, the language of nationalism becomes a liturgy, and devotees willingly sacrifice their lives to serve and defend their country.

Cavanaugh urges Christians to resist this form of idolatry, to unthink the inevitability of the nation-state and its dreary party politics, to embrace radical forms of political pluralism that privilege local communities — and to cling to an incarnational theology that weaves itself seamlessly and tangibly into all aspects of daily life and culture.

Click to browse our complete list of books on religion and politics.