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Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ [Paperback]

By Stephen J. Nichols (Author)
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Item description for Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ by Stephen J. Nichols...

Explores the evolution of Christianity in American culture from the seventeenth through the early twenty-first centuries, examining how American notions of Jesus were shaped by cultural sensibilities during different periods in history.

Publishers Description
Jesus is as American as baseball and apple pie. But how this came to be is a complex story--one that Stephen Nichols tells with care and ease. Beginning with the Puritans, he leads readers through the various cultural epochs of American history, showing at each stage how American notions of Jesus were shaped by the cultural sensibilities of the times, often with unfortunate results. Always fascinating and often humorous, Jesus Made in America offers a frank assessment of the story of Christianity in America, including the present. For those interested in the cultural implications of that story, this book is a must-read.

From Publishers Weekly
After complimenting the Puritans for a vibrant spirituality grounded in sound biblical and church theology, Lancaster Bible College professor Nichols shows how subsequent generations of Americans have reduced Jesus to whatever best fits their needs. The book demonstrates in humorous detail how Jesus has proved to be a malleable figure in American culture and politics, from Jefferson's moral-exemplar Jesus to the manly Jesus of Billy Sunday, or from a trivialized Precious Moments Jesus to Focus on the Family's Republican Jesus. Nichols contends that reducing Jesus in this way is harmful. Although the book spotlights the Jesus of American evangelicalism, its chapters on contemporary images of and ideas about Jesus are filled with references that any modern American reader will recognize. For nonevangelical Americans, bemused by the proliferation of Jesus paraphernalia among believers, such discussion offers welcome perspective. Nichols's critique may not persuade his fellow evangelicals to tune out the ubiquitous Jesus is my boyfriend songs or turn off Veggie Tales. But his call to humbly accept that Jesus is more complex than a slogan or plaything strikes a chord. (May) Copyright 2008 Reed Business Information.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ by Stephen J. Nichols has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Publishers Weekly - 03/24/2008 page 67

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Item Specifications...

Studio: IVP Academic
Pages   237
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.66" Width: 6.08" Height: 0.7"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   May 1, 2008
Publisher   IVP-InterVarsity Press
ISBN  0830828494  
ISBN13  9780830828494  

Availability  1 units.
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More About Stephen J. Nichols

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Stephen J. Nichols (PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary) serves as the president of Reformation Bible College and chief academic officer of Ligonier Ministries. He is an editor of the Theologians on the Christian Life series and also hosts the weekly podcast 5 Minutes in Church History.

Eric T. Brandt (MA, Wheaton College) is an instructional designer and adjunct professor of church history at Reformation Bible College in Sanford, Florida. Eric and his wife, Megan, live in Lake Mary, Florida.

Stephen J. Nichols currently resides in the state of Pennsylvania. Stephen J. Nichols was born in 1970.

Stephen J. Nichols has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Theologians on the Christian Life

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Reviews - What do customers think about Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to the Passion of the Christ?

Cultural adaption of Christianity is apparently not OK  Dec 10, 2009
I heard excerpts of an early chapter of this book being read over the radio while on a long drive across the northern plains, and I was intrigued enough to buy the book when I got home. Mr. Nichols pinpoints the early planting of the seeds of neo-liberal Christianity in our nation's colonial history, as a reaction to the Puritans; he rightly points out some of the cultural prejudicial misconceptions about Puritans who took a truly renunciate view of government and politics and kept their focus on Christ and His teachings.

As a bit of a blinded patriot who had truly believed much of our country's foundation was established on Christian principles, the exposure of the hypocrisy of (many of) our founding fathers left me red-faced. Nichols then describes the culturalization of Jesus through our nation's history: the meek, effeminate Jesus of the Victorian era, followed by the overly masculinized Jesus of Teddy Roosevelt's America. But around that same time, the counter-Puritan movement began to fully take root in America through the Rockefeller-funded ministry of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who tried to turn Jesus into an American industrialist with wonderful principles rather than the scriptures' supernatural Man-God who came to save us from our sins.

The second half of Nichols' book concentrates on the modern Jesus Movement. Although Nichols describes himself as an American evangelical, he seems pretty well set against any and all commercial efforts undertaken by the evangelical community, such as the Christian music and film industries (he is careful not to bite the hand that feeds him, the Christian book industry). He points out several examples of entrepreneurs who have targeted the Christian market with theologically dubious product, but he doesn't stop there and seems to take delight in pillorying any Christians who are commercially successful.

To some extent I get it: sometimes we have let Jesus' house be turned into a den of thieves. But it begs the questions: How do Christians counteract the strong anti-Christian forces at work in America? And, are Christians to abandon the film and music industries?

For instance, Nichols has no tolerance for any film whose screenplay doesn't come straight from scripture, but as any filmmaker would tell you, scripture doesn't make a very compelling screenplay (nor was it ever meant to). In the end, Nichols' main argument is against experiential evangelization, but if cultural adaptation is experiential, it makes me wonder what is acceptable. Also, the authorities Nichols uses to prove his points are not from the ranks of respected evangelicals but rather liberal theologians like Martin Marty or (often) any secular writer who has a bone to pick with evangelicals.

It reminds me of a specific scriptural anecdote (Matthew 19:13-14; Mark 10:13-16; Luke 18:15-17) where people were bringing their children to Jesus for prayer. The disciples rebuked these people; apparently, like Nichols, they didn't approve of the experiential approach. Jesus, in turn, rebuked the disciples. Nowhere in Jewish scripture did it say that the Kingdom of God belonged to those with the innocent minds of children, but Jesus stated that for them at that time. The same situation came up with the woman in Luke 7:36-50. Jesus was OK with their spontaneous - albeit non-scriptural - expressions of devotion.

Missionaries in foreign lands often seek to relate the Gospel to the culture of the people they're trying to reach. Apparently Nichols feels that shouldn't ever happen in America. My takeaway from the book was: Puritans good, anything else bad. "Jesus Made in America" is an interesting read, and while it has some constructive history challenges for us, it's also a little disappointing to see this kind of destructive nitpicking coming from within the evangelical movement.
Read, Mark, and Digest  Oct 15, 2009
Since there are many long reviews already, I will keep this brief.

Nichols has written a book that all Christians ought to read and ponder. This book is well written and offers many provocative insights. One of its biggest benefits is demonstrating how a growing knowledge of history can aid Christian growth.
Jesus Was a Jew  Nov 18, 2008
Within the past decade there have been several good books written and released that examine the place of Jesus in America, e.g. JESUS IN AMERICA by Richard Wightman Fox and AMERICAN JESUS by Stephen Prothero. Stephen Nichols' book, JESUS MADE IN AMERICA is somewhat similar to those books, but a bit more focused. Instead of the focused audience being the reading public at large or Christians in general, the book is aimed more squarely at evangelical Christians. That's not to say a Christian who isn't an evangelical can't take something away from the book. However, the thrust of the book is aimed at illustrating how evangelicals in particular have forgotten the Son of God they profess and have been corrupted by the very culture they have been trying to create, redeem, and engage.

The book has an introduction and an epilogue. It is divided into eight chapters which are basically split by theme into two sections. The first section of the book (the first four chapters) examines the way Jesus has been viewed by American Christians through four different periods of American history: from the Christ-center and Word-rooted Jesus of the Puritans to the enlightened and more humanistic Jesus of the 18th Century to the image-based Jesus of the 19th Century to the Jesus of the modern era who is altered to fit whatever need and image you want of him. Got milk? Try Jesus, instead. He does the body and soul good.

The second section of the book (the last four chapters) examines how Jesus has been used, abused, altered, and debased in our culture. Each of the chapters focuses on a particular area: music, film and television, merchandise, and politics.

I really enjoyed JESUS MADE IN AMERICA. The book addresses many concerns and issues I have had with the modern contemporary Church, but raises them in a much more eloquent way than any other book I have yet, read. But Nichols isn't just a complainer, he offers suggestions on what needs to happen for the Church in America to re-center and regain its focus. The book is also contemporary and discusses not only fads from a century and decade ago, but tidbits that are still quite current (kudos from Nichols for bringing Will Ferrell and TALLADEGA NIGHTS into the discussion).

Overall, JESUS MADE IN AMERICA is a highly enlightening, informative, and entertaining book about the way Jesus has been viewed in America, particularly by evangelical Christians, and what needs to happen in order for evangelicals to become refocused on the Christ whose message they profess to be spreading. Even though some of the points that the book raises will probably offend some evangelical Christians (I have some friends who really need to pay attention to the points about tradition and the importance of having traditions), it is a book that I highly recommend for anyone who is a Christian, particularly anyone who considers themselves an evangelical, or has an interest in Christianity.
Great Review and Analysis  Nov 13, 2008
I originally resisted picking up Jesus: Made In America, in large part because I wasn't interested in reading about how badly the American evangelical culture has treated Jesus. I was pretty sure I was already on the same page with the author. I then heard an interview with Nichols on Mars Hill Audio and was impressed to pick up the book. The bottom line is that we need to be acutely aware of where we have superimposed our cultural and situational biases on the scriptural Jesus and turned him into the kind of Jesus we feel comfortable with.

The first few chapters were filled with great historical insight and analysis. As I read I was enlightened about where the images of Jesus I was accustomed to came from and the points of view to which they owed their form and shape. I especially enjoyed the Billy Sunday Jesus who was portrayed as the manliest man among the manliest of men. He would stand out in a lumberjack convention, and be able to take on any one of them. This portrayal recalled to mind some of the contemporary images of Jesus in books aimed at Christian men.

I also thought the chapter on Contemporary Christian Music was well done and well cited. Recently, I have become wary of the triteness of CCM and what passes for lyrics. Nichols does a great job of uncovering the genesis of the music we get to listen to today, and how its current incarnation is a result of over-commercialization and the power of the dollar. Certainly there is a higher calling in music aimed at glorifying God than selling t-shirts at summer concert series.

Though it was well cited, the footnotes were a little hard to follow. More often than not, instead of a footnote at the end of each reference, a paragraph would end with one footnote and contain a handful of references. That little issue aside, I thought this was a wonderful and enlightening read and useful to anyone concerned with accurately understanding and portraying the Jesus of Scripture.

How We Americans Remake Jesus in Our Image  Oct 19, 2008
Allow me to break standard book-reviewing protocol and simply sum up my thoughts on Jesus Made in America: A Cultural History from the Puritans to The Passion of the Christ (IVP, 2008) by Stephen Nichols: One of the most engaging, informative books I've read this year. In fact, I'll be surprised if this book doesn't make my annual Top Ten list of "favorite reads."

Jesus Made in America is not a history of Jesus Christ. Looking at the cover, one might expect to find a novel that tells the story of Jesus in a contemporary setting. No, Jesus Made in America is mainly about America, specifically - how Americans tend to remake Jesus in our own image and to service whatever needs or promote whatever causes we believe are important. Listen to Nichols:

"The history of the American evangelical Jesus reveals that such complexities as the two natures of Christ have often been brushed aside, either on purpose or out of expediency. Too often his deity has been eclipsed by his humanity, and occasionally the reverse is true. Too often American evangelicals have settled for a Christology that can be reduced to a bumper sticker. Too often devotion to Jesus has eclipsed theologizing about Jesus. Today's American evangelicals may be quick to speak of their love for Jesus, even wearing their devotion on their sleeve, literally in the case of WWJD bracelets. But they may not be so quick to articulate an orthodox view of the object of their devotion. Their devotion is commendable, but the lack of a rigorous theology behind it means that a generation of contemporary evangelicals is living off of borrowed capital. This quest for the historical Jesus of American evangelicalism is not just a story of the past; it perhaps will help us understand the present, and it might even be a parable for the future. This parable teaches us that Jesus is not actually made in America. He is made and remade and remade again. What will next year's model look like?" (18)

Nichols sets the bar high by devoting his opening chapter to the Puritan view of Christ. By drawing on the theology of Jonathan Edwards adn the lesser known Edward Taylor, Nichols shows how the Puritans combined a fervent devotion to Christ with a fervent desire to know more about Christ. Overall, his picture of the Puritans helps put an end to some of the unfair generalizations made about the Puritan period. And yet, Nichols does not view the Puritans through rose-colored glasses. He criticizes their propensity to act in unChristlike ways. (41)

Next, Nichols turns to the Jesus of the Founding Fathers. Here, he takes issue with the evangelicals who see their reflection in the beliefs of the founders. Nichols shows from their letters and writings how Jefferson, Franklin, and even Washington and Adams were all basically Deists (though some were more orthodox than others, of course). The Jesus of the founders was focused on virtue, not theology... on morals, not salvation.

With the foundation of the American view of Jesus set (through the pious orthodoxy of the Puritans and the Deistic, individualistic ideals of the Founders), Nichols then takes us through the previous two centuries of Christian life in America. He shows how Jesus was viewed by the frontier people as tough, casting off all ecclesiastical authority. He describes the meek and mild Jesus of Victorian culture in the late 1800's. He watches the rise of liberalism in the early 1900's, making Jesus out to be a "hero for the modern world."

The last four chapters hit closer to home. Nichols devotes space to the Contemporary Christian music scene, the portrayal of Jesus in Hollywood movies, the consumerist impulse that markets and sells Jesus "stuff," and the alignment of Jesus with the Religious Right or Left (depending upon the politician). (My only quibble with Nichols is that he seems to be more enamored with Jim Wallis than James Dobson. But I could be reading him wrong.)

The point of Nichols' book? Jesus is the patron saint of everything. Every culture, in some way, seeks to mold Jesus into its own image. We are all susceptible to the danger. And yet, we can avoid the excessiveness of our own versions of Jesus by listening to Scripture first, tradition second, and experience third (instead of reversing that order, which is often the case in American spirituality).

Nichols encourages us to uphold Jesus in all his glorious complexity, not shrinking back from theological reflection. He helps us learn from the mistakes of those in the past, while offering words of wisdom for those of us seeking to be faithful to Jesus in the present.

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