Balmer (Religion/Barnard Coll.) compares the state of American Protestantism today with its boom in the '50s and suggests that a return to its antiestablishment and evangelical roots is needed. In 1950, Christian Century magazine ran a nationwide survey that resulted in 12 congregations being designated ""great churches"" and becoming the focus of a remarkable series of articles. Balmer offers us an account of his recent visits to these communities, devoting a chapter to each. He takes us to First Community Church, Columbus, Ohio, where he finds ""a kind of Jesus-helps-me-feel-good-about myself"" ethic and an easy alliance between middle-class life and mainline Protestantism. We visit First United Methodist, Orlando, Fla., where there has been both a decline in membership and an increase in staff. At Bellevue Baptist, Cordova, Tenn., the author is shown a video of the church's annual Celebrate America extravaganza, during which lines from the Declaration of Independence were interspersed with readings from the Bible; ""at the finale, red, white, and blue balloons descended from the rafters, the 'worship center' looked for all the world like the National Republican Convention."" In many cases, Balmer notices that ""diversity"" really means a lack of any clear beliefs, whereas a much-lauded sense of community turns out to signify ethnic homogeneity and a shared conservative outlook. Although he finds plenty to praise in these congregations, which have soldiered on through the vicissitudes of the post-'50s decades, Balmer (who is himself an evangelical) believes that a reversal of the general decline requires the mainline Protestants to learn from the evangelicals, distance themselves from the centers of power, and decide what they stand for. From the author of Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory (1989) and host of the PBS series of the same title, another incisive critique of the US religious scene.