The History of Christianity in the United States

Article excerpt

THE HISTORY OF CHRISTIANITY IN THE UNITED STATES. Nancy Koester, Minneapolis, MN: Fortress, 2007. Pp. 239 + xvi, pb, $18.00. Reviewed by J. Harold Ellens.

Nancy Koester is an ordained ELCA pastor, author of Journeying Through Lent With Luke, is preparing a biography of Harriet Beecher Stowe, and has taught for many years at Luther Seminary. Her book is built chronologically in 8 chapters, treating the story of our country from Colonial times to reflections on the new millennium and 21st century. She begins with a cursory treatment of Native American religions, the early Catholic missions, and the Protestant settlements and their relationship to the rise of slavery, particularly in the Southern States. Her treatment of the interaction of the Enlightenment and the Great Awakening is instructive and leads to the role of religion in the American Revolution, together with its influence upon the shaping of the Constitution.

Koester sees the role of religion to have been generative in the westward expansion, in frontier psychology, and the rise of unprecedented uniquely American fundamentalist sects. Perhaps her proposal to write a biography of H. B. Stowe should not surprise us since the author perceives the role of religion to have been crucial in the resolution of slavery issues, the interpretation of the Civil War in American idealism, and the development of the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. Koester's treatment of the rise of the Social Gospel in the early 20th century, together with movements for religious ecumenism, and the fundamentalist revival movements of that time, is thoughtful though brief. …