The book does what the title suggests. Beginning with the Puritans and ending with modern Evangelicalism, Nichols traces the belief and doctrine of Christology in the American Church. At the end, I must admit, although we started off wrong, we have ended in horrendous fashion.
The Puritans, though primarily mocked today in America, at least cared about the text of Scripture, what it meant and what it means. The Puritans wanted a pure Christianity as laid out in Scripture. As a Baptist, I disagree with some of their conclusions and beliefs, but at least they took Scripture seriously and raised their children to be godly.
But since the Puritans, our Christology in America has only gotten worse. Nichols traces this history with a scholars mind, but with the skill of a great orator. He allows humor, but also careful Scriptural and historical critique of each movements main leaders, pastors, scholars, and events.
The chapter I found most insightful was the one on the Jesus People movement and Contemporary Christian Music. As someone that has spent much time following the bands, the history, the festivals, and everything else around Christian music and products, I was could not agree more with Nichols assessment.
Nichols makes a few points (and this will not be an exhaustive list) regarding this movement that has affected our culture's understanding of Christology. First, Nichols notes that much of the lyrics in the CCM world today can be confused with everyday romance songs. Sing words like "I need you," can be applied to both Jesus or your girlfriend. Nichols provides many many examples of this trait throughout the movement using many different bands of different genres. This trend has attributed to the "lackluster intellectual rife in American evangelicalism" (128)
Furthermore, Nichols points to the danger of consumerism. Christianity and her Christ has become nothing more than a product to sell rather than a Savior to worship. This trend has had horrendous results. Christian products emphasize the self mirroring many self-help books in the secular world. Furthermore, books on the atonement, theology, Church history, practical living, etc. are rather absent because they do not entertain quit as well as the Joel Osteens of the world.
One possible solution to these things, Nichols points out, can be seen from the CCM world itself. Artist Steve Camp once wrote his 107 Theses to Reform the CCM world. Nichols points out Theses 41: "Christian music, originally called Jesus Music, once fearlessly sang clearly about the gospel. Now it yodels of a Christ-less, watered down, pabulum-based, positive alternative, aura-fluff, cream of wheat, mush-kind-of-syrupy, God-as-my-girlfriend kind of thing." The solution, it would seem, would be to return to the gospel and let the music reflect the gospel. But then again, whenever Christianity is for sale, the gospel becomes less entertaining.
Nichols also looks at movies and plays of Christ. Here I want to mention two dangers he points out. First, no matter how hard we try, after viewing a movie about Christ, for example Mel Gibson's The Passion of Christ, whenever we come to the Gospels, we will view Jesus through the lens of that actor. I find myself doing this. Oftentimes I picture Jim Caveziel (The Passion of the Christ) or Henry Ian Cusick (The Gospel of John). To modernize Jesus can be dangerous.
Second, movies about Christ must emphasize Christ's humanity. It is very difficult to show the divinity of Christ on screen. For one, it is less entertaining because Christ becomes more of a superhero than a Jewish carpenter. Secondly, it gets to be a bit cheesy, Christ becomes a cheap magician. As a result, Americans are placing more emphasis on Christ's humanity over His divinity. As Christians, a healthy balance of both should be emphasized.
Although Nichols is not saying, "Thou shalt not watch such movies," his words do cause us to rethink the issue. I loved Gibson's film and found it incredible and a reminder of what Christ did because of my sin, but there are many dangers in it. As Christians, we should be more careful and discerning in what we view, what we take in, and how it affects our faith, our understanding of the gospel, and our theology.
I really enjoyed this book. More could be said and discussed. One good example would be the dual Nichols presents between Henry Emerson Fosdick and J. Greshem Mechen. But I will end the review here. Anyone interested in a scholarly, yet from someone not locked in a tower and down to earth, survey of American Christianity Christology since the Puritans, I can think of no one better than Stephen Nichols and this book. I had the pleasure of meeting him and talking with him. And I encourage everyone to give this book a try.