The Future of Christianity: From Rhetoric to Community
Rider, Caitlin C.
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In her book, Sundays in America: A Yearlong Road Trip in Search of Christian Faith, author Suzanne Strempek Shea visits fifty-five different Christian churches, seeking - as her title states -"Christian Faith." But why? Why would one choose to spend a year driving and flying all around the country visiting different churches on Sundays just to leave right after and do it again the next week? Shea explains in the opening pages of her book that as a child she sat on her Polish grandfather's lap and learned, among other things, the word for "God" in Polish, the fate of Protestants, and what would happen to her if she ever went in a Protestant church (namely that the ceiling would collapse on her). She then goes on to explain how the sexual abuse scandal in the Catholic church combined with her being diagnosed with breast cancer led her away from the church and, to some extent, her personal faith. . She goes on to explain how this experience sparked the idea in her head of making a "pilgrimage of sorts" around the country to finally find out just what goes on in those churches I grew up forbidden to enter, and understand what makes for devotion to a religious community. Rather than sit quietly by myself in an empty church, I would, for a day, be part of a congregation once again I will take Shea's individual journey for Christian faith and for community and apply it not, however, by evaluating various churches to see what it is about their methods and services that attract or deter people from coming there, but by looking at the phenomenon of Christian popular literature. In analyzing the books that are included here I will consider what role the authors' theological views (on a scale from liberal to conservative) have on their message, along with the impact that the presentation, style, and form of their works can have on someone who is either considering reading them or who has bought and begun reading the book. It must be understood that my analysis is not one of the veracity of these individual authors' biblical claims; that is the work for someone else. My aim is rather to read their texts critically while keeping in mind who it is that generally makes up their audience: laypersons, not scholars of Christianity. I will examine how the authors try to influence me as a reader. To this end I will be critical of the points where their arguments seem disjointed, inconclusive, and the like, even though I will not be criticizing their biblical interpretations at the level of biblical scholar. It must also be clear that while my analogy was to an "average person perusing the Christianity section" and presumably picking something up solely on the basis of personal interest, this process was not the one I followed in the selection of the books with which this paper concerns itself.