In his new book In God We Trust? A Challenge to American Evangelicals, Patrick Nachtigall takes on the notion that the United States is a Christian nation by looking at the country’s history and position in the world.
It’s an ambitious work, but Nachtigall is uniquely qualified to take it on. He is the Costa Rican adopted son of evangelical missionaries and a naturalized U.S. citizen. He has lived all over the world and works as a missions coordinator for the First Church of God (Anderson, Indiana).
In God We Trust? is a call to Americans to examine how their culture has affected their faith. Nachtigall posits that the United States has three gods — religious freedom, radical individualism, and materialism.
He also questions that the idea that the United States is — or ever has been — a Christian nation.
The book examines the fears evangelicals have regarding persecution and other nations and turns them on their head.
Why you might buy In God We Trust?:
Nachtigall is a student of history, and he is at his best explaining the United States’ roots. Anyone who wants a clear, engaging recap of the history of evangelicalism in America will find plenty of food for thought.
Nachtigall has a rare experience of the United States, as both insider and outsider. His love for the United States and for the evangelical church are apparent, and it is this love that gives him the ability to speak critically without ranting.
American seminary students and ministers, whether evangelical or not, should read this book. It calls into question much of what Americans assume about Christianity simply because of their worldview, and it holds those beliefs in contrast with other cultures.
If you’re afraid Christianity is dying, this book will hold out hope. Nachtigall places the decline of the American church in historical perspective and encourages churches to welcome the challenges they face this century.
Why you might not buy In God We Trust?:
If you’re not an evangelical Christian, this book may turn you off.
Nachtigall knows his audience and names it in the subtitle. While much of the book is relevant to mainline Protestants, Catholics, and non-religious people who are interested in evangelical history, the book includes some evangelical jargon and uses exclusively male pronouns in reference to God.
While Nachtigall is critical of much of evangelical theology, particularly the prosperity doctrine, he doesn’t clearly define his belief system, and he occasionally makes assumptions that the reader knows what he believes.
If you are an evangelical Christian and you don’t want to be challenged, don’t buy this book. It will challenge you. It is especially hard on materialism and the notion that the United States is a chosen nation. Most of the arguments are built on history, both contemporary and ancient, making it hard to argue with.
This book has tons of meat in a small package.
It’s well-written, if a bit repetitive. It’s definitely at its strongest when interpreting history.
The book slowed down for me when Nachtigall started addressing specific countries the U.S. feels threatened by and why those are fears are ungrounded. This may be because the information wasn’t new to me.
I hope Nachtigall will expand this book with more for Catholics, mainline Protestants and non-religious. There is much here that would help all Americans understand the history of religion in the U.S. and the unique part U.S. culture has played in shaping it.
In God We Trust? is published by Warner Press and has a suggested price of $16.99.
Full disclosure: I read In God We Trust? for free via Netgalley. I was not required to give a positive review. This is my honest opinion.