Augsburg Fortress

Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice

Saving Faith: How American Christianity Can Reclaim Its Prophetic Voice

Survey data and anecdotal evidence agree that Christianity is losing its hold on American life. The Roman Catholic hierarchy struggles to regain its credibility following the pedophilia scandals, mainline Protestantism wrestles with issues of sexual identity and attrition, and white evangelicalism has merged with the far-right precincts of the Republican Party. Moral authority, it seems, is hard to come by, with all three of the major Christian traditions--Roman Catholicism, mainline Protestantism, and white evangelicalism--facing a crisis of credibility.

Finger-pointing abounds. Many people of faith blame the rampant secularization of society in recent decades, while critics contend that Christians themselves, or at least their leaders, are blind to their own shortcomings. Some of the proposed remedies--an appeal to nostalgia, an attempt to undermine the separation of church and state, trying to throttle religious diversity, and asserting the supposed "Christian" origins of the nation--are historically misguided and would only deepen the crisis facing Christianity.

Saving Faith argues that any attempt to arrest the decline of Christianity in America must first reckon with the past, especially America's "original sin" of racism, with which Christians have been far too complicit. Christians also need to turn to the Bible, from the creation accounts of Genesis and the prophetic calls for justice, to the words of Jesus, the Word of God. We can also profit from the examples of Christians in earlier days, especially those in the nineteenth century who advocated for the abolition of slavery, for prison reform, for public education, for women's equality, and against the ravages of unbridled capitalism. The Social Gospel remains a worthy example, and the Chicago Declaration of Evangelical Social Concern sought to remind evangelicals of their once-robust prophetic voice.

Prophetic Christianity, affirming Jesus as the Word of God, renounces temporal power in favor of speaking from the margins.

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  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Hardcover
  • ISBN 9781506488066
  • eBook ISBN 9781506488073
  • Dimensions 5.25 x 7.25
  • Pages 104
  • Publication Date September 12, 2023


Randall Balmer is, all at once, one of our most discerning scholars about religion, one of the most passionate voices within his tradition, and one great storyteller. Saving Faith is both a gift and a challenge. Like Pope Francis, Balmer calls for a prophetic Christianity that "positions itself at the margins." Paradoxically, it is from the margins that faith can have its most transformative effect.

J. Dionne Jr., author, Our Divided Political Heart: The Battle for the American Idea in an Age of Discontent, and coauthor of 100% Democracy: The Case for Universal Voting

Widely known and much respected, the master storyteller Professor Randall Balmer offers his readers what we have come to expect--a clear-eyed and carefully researched historical perspective of American Christianity. In Saving Faith, he diagnoses the multipronged disease of greed, politicization, and racism that has spread to infect multiple strands of Christianity, from evangelicalism to Roman Catholicism. But lest we lose hope and give up on a deeply flawed American religious tradition or accept that this is the "norm," Balmer offers us a prescription to make a sick Christianity healthy. The medicine to cure Christianity will require multiple doses over time. It will cause pain in the interim and will require sacrifice, love, bridge-building, and reestablishing the separation of church and state. While the cure will not be easy, what will emerge is a healthy, restored religion that is prophetic, principled, and disentangled from the world. Balmer offers Christians a way out of a troubling past and present and shows us that hope is warranted.

Kristy Nabhan-Warren, associate vice president of research, and professor and Figge Chair of Catholic Studies, University of Iowa

There is no more incisive, prolific, and enlivening interpreter of American religion than Randall Balmer. Saving Faith is a well-documented sermon from history that proves the point. In it new villains and heroes will be discovered, as Balmer explains why we are at an inflection point unlike any other, with evangelical megachurches, mainline Protestants, and Catholics each experiencing crises of their own making. His breathtaking explication of the American Christian rush toward ecumenism while growth was happening for exclusive--not inclusive--churches is alone worth the price of the book. He finishes this tour de force with a concise walk through the American founders' faith, with many surprises. To some this may read like a stinging indictment of Christianity in America, but to others it is the long-awaited healing treatment that we have needed.

Rob Wilson-Black, president and CEO, Faith & Politics Institute