Book Review, “Has American Christianity Failed?”

Wolfmueller, Bryan. Has American Christianity Failed? 2016. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

When you are surrounded by a smell, you eventually go ‘nose-blind.’ You stop smelling what those outside your environment can smell. Your nose starts to ignore those common everyday smells…Christians in America have gone theologically nose-blind. (pg. 7)

That, in part, is how Pastor Wolfmueller – a pastor of the LCMS congregation Hope Lutheran in Aurora, Colorado – opens his 2016 book. Wolfmueller writes from the perspective of one who’s come out of American Evangelical Christianity to those currently suffering at its hands, burned out by it demands, and broken by its failed promises. Wolfmueller’s chief charge against “American Christianity,” is that it robs the Christian of the Gospel. Instead being concerned primarily about what Christ did for us on the cross, American Christianity places its focus on the individual. Instead of building its hope on the objective reality that Christ has secured the forgiveness of sins for the whole world, in American Christianity this objective reality is replaced by subjective feelings. Certainty from outside oneself is replaced by self-security.

The result is that, in American Christianity, one is always teetering between two extremes: pride and despair. With its emphasis on internal feelings and one’s own fulfilling of the Law, American Christianity grooms its followers into Pharisees. When the Christian faith is all about me: my faith, my testimony, my witness, my repentance, my love for God, my progression in the faith – it’s easy for the me to become so big it blocks out the Son. But, on the flip side, the more one truly focuses on himself, it’s also easy to see how great our sin actually is: our lack our repentance and our constantly repeated failure to cure ourselves of sin. What should be offered to one who realizes these things is the comfort of the Gospel. But, instead, American Christianity urges that we dust ourselves off and start again. This inevitably leads to despair and, eventually, despair of the Gospel – unbelief.

Pastor Wolfmueller writes for those broken by the failed promises of American Evangelicalism, but he also includes those who may have become blind to its influences – even within Lutheranism. He names and answers four characteristic influences of Evangelicalism that, because we also still bear the Old Adam, also affect Lutheranism: revivalism, pietism, mysticism, and enthusiasm. Each of these “isms” moves the focus of the Christian away from the cross and to oneself.

But there is hope. There was hope for Pastor Wolfmueller, and there is for all those broken by the demands of the Law. That hope is Jesus Christ and the complete and totally free forgiveness of sins found in Him. His grace demands nothing in return, only faith. You’ll find this and much more in this wonderful and refreshing book. Pastor Wolfmueller, as expected, is well-versed in the Catechism; His book also serves as a great refresher for those who haven’t been through it in a while. It also covers major topics like good works and the end times (which receives an entire chapter).

If this sounds interesting to you, get hold of me and you can borrow my copy. It’s also easily available through Amazon and CPH, in paper and digitally.

Pastor Swenson