Author: Pastor Bryan Wolfmueller
Publisher: Concordia Publishing House
Unlike many books I read, I cannot remember specifically where I had heard of this book first. I’ve known about Pastor Wolfmueller for some time now, and I love listening to him on Issues, Etc, and his youtube channel, but I can’t remmeber who reccomended this book to me. Whoever you are, thank you. It took me longer to read than I would have liked, but that had more to do with my circumstances rather than the book’s content, which is engaging if long. Wolfmueller is thorough and kind in his book, just as he is in another of the other projects he has been a part of, and I am glad to have read it. Has American Christianity Failed? pinpoints and takes apart the major flaws found in most protestant denominations while gently but firmly guiding the reader back to the truth.
I wasn’t really sure what the book was going to be about at first. Honestly, I don’t think the title fits the thesis as well as I would like. The text largely reads like a modern catechism, laying out the basic tenants of the faith while also combatting the heresy infiltrating the churches. Perhaps I would include something about the wasteland of Protestantism today in the title. But regardless, while Wolfmueller focuses on the failures (heresy) of many denominations, this is a book full of hope. One could say many of the failures he points out could be found in other sects of Christianity from around the world, but this book wasn’t exactly written for them. It was for us who find ourselves in the wasteland of contemporary Protestantism in America, even those of us who are part of a confessional church yet have allowed false doctrine to creep in. This is the book for us, to break down those false teachings and find hope and truth once again.
Wolfmueller begins his teaching by explaining how American Christians have gone “nose blind” to false doctrine. We hear it from books, our friends, well-known preachers, and even sometimes our churches so often that we accept falsehood as truth. As he writes, our senses are so dulled that we don’t notice one crucial thing missing: Christ. Instead of rightly preaching Law and Gospel, American Christians teach and receive revivalism, pietism, mysticism, and enthusiasm. But rather than making us “right with God” or “come closer to Him,” the comfort of the Gospel has been stolen from us.
But Wolfmueller doesn’t leave us there! Instead, he brings his readers back from the empty moralizing of American Protestantism to the Gospel. And this is one of the many wonderful things about this book. I think calling it a modern-day catechism or enchiridion is appropriate, for he breaks down the heresies and points the reader toward the truth. He deals with doctrines on baptism, justification, how we hear God, prayer, the end times, the idolatry of spiritualism, and so much more. Sometimes he belabors the point, but it is always out of such joy and concern. Joy for the Gospel, and concern for those who feel they are without hope.
Wolfmueller shares how he was once part of this “mainline evangelicalism,” bouncing back and forth between pride and despair, fear and “feeling the Holy Spirit,” self-righteousness and apathy. And as he brought up these stories from his life, I often saw myself or was reminded of the cringe-worthy or despairing things I experienced when attending dozens of other protestant churches growing up. I remember the clap offering for Jesus, the lack of creeds, the absence of absolution, the conflict with communion, the wondering of the rapture, and the fear over the certainty of my salvation. And there is more besides, but of all the wonderful things about this book, the best is likely that Wolfmueller helps break down these misconceptions, doubts, fears, and pride so that we may have hope and life and light in the truth. We may have assurance in “I am baptized into Christ” and “forgiveness for you.”
A friend asked if this book would be good for a Bible study or small group, and I do think it would be. I think it would be good for our confirmation students to read, our high school students, our new converts, and those who have been around for decades. If I could suggest: in addition to reading the Bible, I would have students of all ages read the Small Catechism, the Large Catechism, this book, Chemnitz’s Enchiridion, and then the Book of Concord. I think this order will help with foundations, breaking down false presuppositions, and then building up sound doctrine in each generation. There were several times, too many times, that this book prodded my mind and heart where parts of those false teachings remained. I needed that, and I think to keep future trees from bearing bad fruit, we should prune them now in book studies.
This book is different than I thought it would be, but it is what we need for the current age and this place. I laughed while I read this book. I was forced to critically examine the teachings I had mistakenly accepted. I cringed at a good amount of the formatting (sorry, Pastor). But I cried, too, at heartbreaking and comforting moments. And I was comforted. American Christianity has failed to distinguish between Law and Gospel, and in doing so, has lost Christ and His promises, leaving so many with judgment, self-righteousness, and despair. But Past Wolfmueller has offered a call to return to what is true in his book. For all these reasons, Has American Christianity Failed? is a book I highly reccmend. This book is an oasis in the wasteland of American Christianity, and I hope you read and enjoy it.
Blessings to you and yours,
~Madelyn Rose Craig