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A Short History of Our Ever-Growing Deity

by Matthew Paul Turner

Pub Date: Aug. 19th, 2014
ISBN: 978-1455547340
Publisher: Jericho Books/Hachette

Turner (Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost, 2010, etc.) surveys the American molding and remolding of God to fit our often curious convictions, a tradition as natively ingrained as “playing baseball, cruising strip mall parking lots, and popping antidepressants.”

God is ambiguous and protean, meaning many things to many people—“Jehovah, Jesus, or Allah to believing in Nature, a ‘Spirit Mother,’ or some other grand presence that usually enjoys silence and book clubs”—writes the author in this engaging history that turns a penetrating eye on how God has been shaped to fit the varieties of faith in America, a land in which nearly 80 percent of us identify with a God. This brand of the divine began with the Puritans and their sui generis God—“a sovereign, doctrinally stout, damnation-prone deity”—celebrating a Calvinist embrace of our personal roles in education and enterprise (namely, worldly goods), which spawned Roger Williams’ reactive take on the protection under law of all religious sects. Jonathan Edwards promoted for his followers a God of glory, beauty and divinity, though also one “ready to toss their meaningless sin-ridden souls into a black hole of fiery torment.” Thomas Jefferson, unsurprisingly, magnified God’s ethical wisdom, yet there was also a God of slavery, as well as a Quaker abolitionist God. Turner’s writing has the quality of a primer, with clear language and ideas that are bandied about without getting bogged down in agnostic and atheistic approaches. The author also displays a playfulness that doesn’t obscure where he falls on doctrinal issues: “Evangelicals are quick to give Jesus the glory when your plan succeeds, but it is never Jesus’s fault when your plan fails. Because Jesus never fails. You do. Somehow, a large portion of America’s evangelicals have become convinced that this process is the ideal Christian life.”

An energetic presentation of our complicated relationship with God, whom we have welcomed with “open arms, congressional protection, free speech, and tax-exempt status.”