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The Independent Critic

 Book Review: American Idolatry by Andrew L. Whitehead 
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As a lifelong resident of Indiana, I take great comfort in the fact that "American Idolatry" author Andrew L. Whitehead is one of our own. A leading scholar on Christian nationalism in America and Associate Professor of Sociology at IUPUI, Whitehead's presence in what can often be a significantly fractured and divided state brings me great peace and also came to mind more than once as I worked my way through his upcoming "American Idolatry: How Christian Nationalism Betrays the Gospel and Threatens the Church."

If you don't believe in this basic statement, that "Christian nationalism betrays the gospel and threatens the church" then it's fair to say you'll either not resonate with "American Idolatry" or you'll find yourself defensive throughout. For those who accept this basic premise, however, "American Idolatry" is a fantastic introduction to the subject and a book that weaves together both academic and pastoral perspectives to make its many points. Extensively researched, "American Idolatry" is in most ways a scathing expose of Christian nationalism through both historical and contemporary lenses. While the book largely focuses on white Christian nationalism, it's a book with far-reaching implications and clear and concise messaging.

In the book, Whitehead shares his own journey and clearly illustrates how Christian nationalism threatens the spiritual lives of American Christians and the Christian church in America. While at times it reads as fundamental, especially for those of us (myself included) who've been in this discussion for quite some time, Whitehead's willingness to get back to basics is needed and admirable. He shows how Christians harm their neighbors when they embrace idols of power, fear, and violence. Using two key examples - racism and xenophobia - Whitehead demonstrates that these idols, and they are idols, violate core Christian beliefs. While Whitehead is relentless in his arguments, he also illuminates expressions of Christianity that live against Christian nationalism and offer a faithful path forward.

Whitehead encourages further conversations about Christian nationalism - what it threatens, how to face it, and why it is absolutely vital to do so.

As someone who has been engaged in similar discussions for many years, I at times found myself wishing that "American Idolatry" dug deeper. Yet, truthfully, it is this very discussion that needs to happen culturally and I'm honestly quite grateful that so much of what Whitehead writes about already felt familiar and fundamental to my own faith journey. At times a little bored, I also had to acknowledge feeling some sense of gratitude that I didn't consider much of "American Idolatry" to be revelatory.

However, in a contemporary America was Christian nationalism is seemingly on the rise a book like "American Idolatry" is incredibly needed and tremendously valuable. While the book is mostly academic in nature, Whitehead writes accessibly and makes the material relatable to one's daily life and faith journey.

At times, "American Idolatry" calls out the contemporary political scene and his words are bold, matter-of-fact, courageous, and yet grounded theologically and academically. You can argue with Whitehead, sure that's true, but academically you will be hard-pressed to refute his extensive knowledge and research on the subject of Christian nationalism.

"American Idolatry" is insightful, intelligent, and incredibly relevant to today's Christian church and today's political scene. With compassionate precision, Whitehead speaks the truth and then offers a promising path forward.

Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic