In a book that defines American Christianity and calls it independent of what the Scriptures teach, Bryan Wolfmueller, pastor of Hope Lutheran Church in Aurora, Colorado, certainly writes a dense, thoughtful book about his belief that American Christianity has failed. In this eleven-chapter book, Wolfmueller writes about how American Christianity’s central focus (the Christian) does not line up with the Scriptures’ main focus (Jesus Christ).
In his introduction, Wolfmueller both identifies American Christianity and discusses how Christians in America have gone “theologically nose-biind” (pp. 7-8). His thesis statement essentially states, “American Christanity fails because its yoke is wearisome”, which contradicts what the Scriptures say in Matthew 11:28-30 (NASB):
28 “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Wolfmueller writes this book in an attempt to “rouse us from our theological nose-blindness, to awaken our theological awareness. We sound the alarm against the false teaching and dangerous practices of American Christianity” (p. 10). Is he successful in this attempt? This book review attempts to answer those questions.
DEFINITION OF AMERICAN CHRISTIANITY
Because the term “American Christianity” is such a broad term, one must consider Wolfmueller’s definition of it in order to best understand both that and the rest of his book. In his introduction, Wolfmueller defines American Christianity as the following:
American Christianity does not refer to a specific denomination or church body, nor does it refer to a specific person or teaching. This category is broader than Southern Baptist, this-or-that mainline denomination, or even American Evangelicalism. With “American Christianity,” I intend to identify a few of the broad theological trends that reach into the American church across denominations and, in one way or another. draw her attention away from Jesus and His word of comfort and life.
American Christianity is a collection of theological trends that, while they define certain church bodies, touch all of them. The four characteristics of American Christianity are revivalism, pietism, mysticism, and enthusiasm.
When reading this book, one must clearly understand what is meant by American Christianity. Thankfully, Wolfmueller gives a clear identification.
In chapter one, Wolfmueller examines the aformementioned characteristics of revivalism, pietism, mysticism and enthusiasm (pp. 11-37). In chapter two, Wolfmueller considers “what it means to know that God speaks and that His speaking is in His Word” (p. 39). In doing so, he explains the Scriptures’ inerrancy, infallibility, inspiration, clarity, sufficiency and efficacy (pp. 40-49). Furthermore, he refutes both the “I’m spiritual, not religious” and “Basic Instruction Before Leaving Earth” stances. He also explains how “American Christianity fails to teach the centrality of the Gospel in the Bible” (pp. 38-39, 48-50). In chapter three, Wolfmueller compares what the Scriptures teach about sin with what American Christianity teaches about sin (pp. 57-71). Wolfmueller spends much of chapter four explaining how the Scriptures focus on Christ whereas American Christianity focuses on the Christian (pp. 72-90).
In chapter five, Wolfmueller considers “justification, the preaching of the Gospel, and the profound benefits the Lord has for us in this preaching” (pp. 91-117). In chapter six, he focuses on the ordinances of the Scriptures (specifically, baptism and the Lord’s Supper) and how American Christianity sees them (pp. 118-140). Chapter seven focuses on both the “how of good works” and how American Christianity “is confused on the how, the what, and the why of our good works” (pp. 141-167). In chapter eight, Wolfmueller, in his description of the “gift of a neighbor and the beginning of love”, explains several things: he discusses the doctrine of vocation (probably the best part of his book) and how it defines our good works, he explains the problems of relationship theology, and he notes how “our Christian life of love is a life of humble repentance” (pp. 168-191).
Three chapters and an appendix that discusses both the Book of Concord and the Lutheran Confessions concludes Wolfmueller’s book. In chapter nine, Wolfmueller spends much time discussing what the Bible says about prayer (pp. 192-206). In chapter ten, he explains how American Christianity “is particularly caught up in a view of the last things called dispensational premillennialism” (pp. 207-231). He concludes his “chapter” part of the book with an explanation of how the Gospel is “always a surprise” (pp. 232-243). In doing so, he calls American Christianity a “theological wasteland” that had no hope for him since there “was no Gospel” (pp. 232-233). After this, he gives an introduction to the Book of Concord and Lutheran Confessions in a concluding appendix (pp. 244-250).
Wolfmueller does a fine job in sounding the alarm against the dangerous teachings of American Christianity. While it is not the simplest read (the book was dense enough for me to start reading Judge Not by Todd Friel in an effort to read something simpler), he does a good job in his Scripture usage throughout the book. Although I disagree with both his stance on the end times and his view/rationale of infant baptism, I would still recommend this as a good, alarm-sounding read given his depth in sounding the alarm against American Christianity.