In a clear, concise manner, this useful guidebook traces the history of religion in America and the roots of today’s Christian denominations.Twisting the classic analogy of America as a melting pot, Stephenson describes the country and its 1,200 different denominations “more as a big pot of chunky stew,” an image he uses often. Broadly defining a denomination as people who’ve rallied around a movement, Stephenson explores the founding, theology and current practices of today’s denominations. He does a fine job summarizing vast swaths of biblical history. While building a framework for his sketches of today’s denominations, he covers major belief elements, such as the doctrine of predestination, central to Calvinism, as well as its alternative, Arminianism, which says all men can be saved. Stephenson also covers key religious events such as the first and second Great Awakenings. Noting the propensity of American Christians to latch onto fads, he says we became a nation of fundamentalists and fanatics, a “mix and match people with a pick and choose attitude about everything.” The meat of the book is a section devoted to denominations themselves, arranged alphabetically from Adventist to Yahweh. Who knew there were 27 subdenominations of Baptists? And while Stephenson includes the Roman Catholic Church in his list of denominations, he acknowledges that others see it as its own separate religion. His well-written book is hindered only by occasional typos, e.g., “alter” instead of “altar” and Luther’s “95 Thesis” instead of “95 Theses.” Such errors aside, it’s enlightening to learn, for instance, that today’s Church of the Nazarenes came out of the Wesleyan Holiness movement. And for readers who’ve ever wondered, Stephenson explains that Aimee Semple McPherson’s Foursquare Gospel Church is so named because McPherson’s habit was to preach in one corner of the sanctuary, then move to another corner until she had covered topics in all four.
Immensely readable, entertaining account of America’s Christian denominations.