by Edwin A. Schwisow

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us
Reviewed by Edwin A. Schwisow

American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us, tells us that Adventism has thrived because of its uniquely American flexibility, picking up ideas and doctrines from many sources, adopting some, discarding others, in a form of religious free-enterprise that brought excitement and expectation. (Because the authors do not speculate on the role of inspiration in the creation of the church, this review, as well, will address only observable data.)

The book is based on two large scientific surveys conducted on religion and public life in America. These surveys, known as "Faith Matters," consist of a two-wave panel study, designed and conducted between July 2005 and early 2007. The authors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell are faculty members of Harvard and Notre Dame, respectively.

Like Adventism, Mormonism is seen in the book (and is discussed at some length) as a faith that has "adapted" several times in its rather short life. The LDS organization, 50 years into its existence, turned its back on polygamy; much more recently it repealed its exclusion of black males from the priesthood.

Adventism may have been even more flexible, toning back its early emotional fervor; working hard to shelve its view that Christ was a created being;  giving the cold shoulder to advent time-setting;  and working arduously (and not always successfully) to retrain its ministers to deliver Christ-focused messages.

Adventist readers may complain that the surveys cited in the book do not specifically break out Adventism, statistically. But the pages that define Adventism as a highly flexible American movement provide value to the Adventist thought leader. (This flexibility may explain, in part, Ellen White’s natural aversion to “conservatism,” against which she writes at some length. Adventist founders apparently believed strongly that faith was progressive and required flexibility as old views were retired and new truths revealed.)

Most of the 700-page book plays to the theme that religion in America today is largely non-denominational and that most Americans are far more loyal to their political parties than to any brand of church.

The book is written in accessible English and provides the inquisitive reader with a great deal of groundbreaking information of profound interest to any Adventist minister, evangelist, strategic planner, or lay thought-leader.
Published by Simon & Schuster, October 2010

Summary: American Grace: How Religion Unites and Divides Us is a blockbuster study that rarely happens more than once a decade in Christianity. Of particular interest to Adventism is the view that the church has prospered, primarily because of its all-American agility. It also shows that denominational labels no longer rally membership to action, as they did 50 years ago.

It suggests that Adventism in its early days thrived by sampling liberally from a great storehouse of available doctrine, selecting and discarding to arrive at “Present Truth.” That Adventism continues to thrive is a tribute to that early flexibility, though influences demanding conservatism may threaten that tradition, today.

Edited and posted by Timo Antero Onjukka 5/31/11