A Brief Review of
An American Gospel: On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God
by Erik Reece.
Reviewed by Chris Smith
An American Gospel:
On Family, History, and the Kingdom of God.
Hardcover: Riverhead Books, 2009.
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Erik Reece’s An American Gospel is a rich and poignant memoir of the author’s theological grappling. Reece was raised in a family of Christian fundamentalists, including a father who at age 33 was driven to suicide by the lethal combination of bipolar disorder and an oppressive, fundamentalist Christian faith that he saw as “a set of rules meant to inflict self-loathing”(32). When he himself reached the age of 33, Reece also hit a low point, having reached, in some sense, the end of religion and was compelled to launch out on a spiritual quest of his own. An American Gospel tells the story of that journey and the solace he found in the writings of William Byrd, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Walt Whitman, as well as the Gospel of Thomas. Reece’s wanderings have uncovered some deep truths about the religious psyche of the American people, revealing a faith that, although deeply literate in the Christian scriptures and tradition, is not in any orthodox sense, Christian. The story that he tells here is one that will resonate with many in the postmodern generations, pointing the way past that place where religion has broke down for the final time is left discarded on the side of the road. The narrative of Reece’s life that we encounter here and the American faith that he uncovers, is striking in that it is deeply rooted in the history and ethos of a place, and has at its heart a rich concern for being at peace with all creation. In these ways, Reece’s gospel is perhaps more Christ-like – and worthy of the Church’s attention – than most interpretations that explicitly bear the name of Christ. Although the gospel that Reece reveals here is not that of orthodox Christianity, his work is well-worth the Church’s attention for its eloquent critiques of Christianity as a religion (see the above review of Greg Boyd’s The Myth of the Christian Religion) and for the careful historical and literary work that he done in exploring the religious character of the American people.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com