History professor Matthew Bowman observes in his wise and absorbing new book...that the term 'Christian' in American history 'always resists collapse into a single definition' ... In deeply-researched chapters ranging across the whole of American history but concentrating on the last 100 years, Bowman takes readers through an impressively wide-ranging examination of the many roles Christianity has played in society. The major phases of Catholic and Protestant interaction with local and national politics are described in lean, accessible prose (needless to say, a book on this subject could easily be four times the length of the 300 pages it gets here), and the narrative's tension always derives from the constant fluctuations of public reaction to the presence of organized religion on the national stage—particularly in the 21st century.
Bowman navigates...contradictions and oppositions with clarity and concision. Bowman’s book is not merely for those curious about American history. The definition of Christian is more pressing than ever, with mainstream evangelicals aligning with President Donald Trump, himself a notorious hedonist who some have improbably labeled a champion of Christianity ... Bowman does not take sides in this debate ... Rather, his approach is to illustrate that there has always been intense public debate over the word. The result is a fascinating examination of the twists and turns in American Christianity, showing that the current state of political/religious alignment was not necessarily inevitable, nor even probable.
The first chapter nicely captures the futility of assuming there to be a single genuinely 'Christian' viewpoint on a phenomenon as complex and multifaceted as a national election ... Mr. Bowman’s book illuminates one contemporary mystery—at least for liberals in the Northeast and on the West Coast: the support of evangelical leaders for Donald Trump. How could people who care about personal faith and upright moral behavior plump for Trump? To them, Mr. Bowman writes, 'Trump’s belief or lack thereof in Christian orthodoxy mattered less than his commitment to Christian civilization as they imagined it.'