Thinking Out Loud

August 7, 2017

The Making of the Presidential Victory

The last two years of U.S. politics are summed up so succinctly in the book’s introduction that from the outset, you have a good idea where Stephen Mansfield stands. It’s no small thing that the author of The Faith of George W. Bush and The Faith of Barack Obama doesn’t call this book The Faith of Donald Trump. For him, the jury is still out on the subject, and whatever faith exists is, to say the least, enigmatic.

When Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him releases in less than 60 days, I have no doubt that this book will be of interest not just in the U.S., but to a global audience fascinated with all things Trump.  Kudos to Evangelical publisher Baker Books for courage in publishing a book which somewhat questions the wisdom of Evangelical American voters.

This is the theme of the book. The vast majority of Stephen Mansfield’s  titles are biographical in nature, but this title is more about the juxtaposition of the Presidential candidate to the constituency which seemed to embrace him wholeheartedly, a mystery which horrifies Christians in the rest of the world. Richard Rohr recently tweeted, “The evangelical support of Trump will be an indictment against its validity as a Christian movement for generations to come.”

As to the faith of the President, did the author have anything to work with? Surprisingly so. Trump’s religious awareness was shaped by the life and ministry of Norman Vincent Peale, with whom the family had a strong connection. But his personal values were shaped by the drive and competitive spirit with which news-watchers are all too familiar. If anything, before coming into political prominence, his life was areligious — I made that word up — and if it was Peale who shaped his parents’ life, it would be Paula White that would spark some type of spiritual awakening in his own.

Any student of voting patterns knows that each period in political history is a reaction to the period which preceded it, so a chapter each is given to President Obama, as well as to Hillary Clinton. But as Mansfield notes, the book isn’t a biography or analysis of the electoral statistics as much as an examination of the religious or spiritual factors that were in play as the November, 2016 election dawned…

…It was never my intention to read this book, let alone read parts of it twice. Living on the other side of the U.S. border, I tend to be dismissive of Christian books that seem to be American-centric. The merging of doctrinal or Biblical studies with U.S. politics especially grates. But like the rest of the world, those in my country are captivated by the unfolding saga that is the 45th Presidency, in the same way one slows down when passing a roadside accident.

Writing and publishing a book like this in the middle of an ongoing narrative must have been and continue to be a challenge, but I believe that by its October 3rd release date, this will be the right book for the right time. Included in the 208 page hardcover is a section, “Donald Trump in His Own Words,” featuring a couple of speech transcripts; as well as extensive endnotes and bibliography.

An advance copy of Choosing Donald Trump was provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc.

April 19, 2010

ReChurch: A Book About Healing, Restoration and Renewal

After more than a decade of writing about the lives of others, author Stephen Mansfield looks at his own experience, and in the process delivers what must certainly be his most significant book to date.

ReChurch:  Healing Your Way Back to the People of God is aimed directly at the all-too-common condition in which individuals find themselves estranged from a local church they love, and had found a place of service.   The book is also written in such a way that it functions on another level for pastors who find themselves in this identical situation.

If the book offers one thing — and it certainly offers much more — it is empathy.   Mansfield has been there personally and also offers the examples of history as well as Biblical stories of people who know what is like to be wounded, or to be outcast.

I’m reminded of an experience I had in the Syrian Desert.  I was speaking with an Arab friend of how foreign the desert is to me and how — raised as an Army brat in Germany and now living in Tennessee — lush hills and flowing rivers are more to my liking.  My friend took humorous offense and began extolling the glories of the “desert under God.”   Waving his arms in what I am sure were ancient ways, he said, “There is as much life in the desert as there is in the sea, but you must know where to find it.”

I cannot judge whether he was right about the physical desert because I have worked hard to spend as little time there as possible.   I am sure, however, that he is right about spiritual deserts.  In other words, during our dry and painful spiritual seasons, there is much life to be found, be we have to find it in places we have never considered before, digging for it in ways we have not yet tried.

Using a masterful economy of words, he allows also that sometimes we are victims of things beyond our control, while at other times we form recurring patterns in our journey.   He also avoids situations where want to lash out at those who have ambushed us, realizing that God may have had a part in all that happened; all the while recognizing that these choices may run counter to our natural instincts:

I grew to hate sermons on forgiveness, even my own.   They convicted me, true, and I did the things I was asked to do to deal with my offense and hurt.  But it seldom worked and I soon came to understand that there was a stronghold in my soul.  It seemed as though my inner life was coated with Velcro that trapped hurt and offense and held it tight.   Though I thought of myself as a fairly loving person, I could never let the impact of being wronged go.  I fed it.  I fantasized about it.  I even used it to fuel my intensity in sports or my efforts to rise in the world.  Because I could not let what offended me go, I used it as fuel and this only caused it to attach more firmly to that Velcro of my soul.

Relate?  I know I do.   The final chapter, “Coming Home,” deals with the recovery process, using covenant theology as a way of rethinking what the Church is and what should guide our decisions to reconnect.

ReChurch is available in hardcover from Tyndale under the Barna imprint, and in the foreword, George Barna shares his own personal experience with all that this book entails.   My one regret is that the book was so concise that I have liked to dwell longer in some of its subjects rather than the 166 digest-sized pages; however this work is really a pivotal, transitional title for Mansfield, and I’ll grant him a very high recommendation, on the condition he promises to write more of the same.

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