H T N o n f i c t i o n American Exceptionalism and Civil
Religion: Reassessing the History of an
By John D. Wilsey.
Nov. 2015. 240p. illus. InterVarsity/IVP Academic, paper,
$22 (9780830840946). 261.70973.
The notion that America is an exceptional
nation, different and better than others, is a
heritage of the English North America of the
Puritans and other seventeenth-century Protestant settlers. As Wilsey presents it, it comes
in two varieties: one closed, the other open.
Closed exceptionalism embraces nationalism
and such trappings as manifest destiny, racism, and imperialism; though its rationale is
Christian, it is ultimately not ethically Christian. The open version is rooted in justice
and equality; it avoids dogma, depending
for sustenance not on Christian theology,
but on a denominationally neutral civil religion. The history of these two conceptions is
more of the closed than the open, as Wilsey’s
chronological tracing of their fortunes attests
as it incidentally sketches such nearly forgotten but fascinating figures as the “filibuster”
William Walker, journalist-propagandist
John L. O’Sullivan, and statesman John Foster Dulles. Such closed exceptionalists are
powerfully counterweighted by the central
exponent of open exceptionalism, Abraham
Lincoln. Engrossing intellectual history only
slightly undercut by some clotted prose and
Wilsey’s own, unavoidably exclusive Evangelical Christianity. —Ray Olson
Angel in Aisle 3: The True Story of a
Mysterious Vagrant, a Convicted Banker,
and the Unlikely Friendship That Saved
Both Their Lives.
By Kevin West and Frederick Edwards.
Nov. 2015. 240p. Howard, $24.99 (9781476794006);
e-book (9781476794013). 361.74.
Though West was a strong Christian, his
work in 1998 at a bank involved fraudulent
loans, and he resigned, taking over a small
grocery store in Ironton, Ohio, while he
waited for an indictment and prison. In the
small town where he lived, this was big news,
and many townsfolk shunned West; his wife,
Leesa; and their two small daughters. But
they carried on, now scraping by, even while
West began giving groceries to poor people
who couldn’t afford to buy them. But he
never suspected that one of the most raggedy
customers, Don, would turn his life around,
nor that he would also help Don, who had
brilliant and eye-opening biblical interpretations, many of which West reproduces here.
Don eventually moves into a senior-housing
unit, where he makes friends; and West goes
to prison, where he is able to share the religious insights Don gave him with the other
prisoners. Readers need not be Christian to
be inspired by the lessons shared here by West
and coauthor Edwards, especially the value of
learning to “look past the outer appearance of
strangers.” —Eloise Kinney
Angels: The Definitive Guide to Angels
from around the World.
By Marie-Ange Faugerolas.
Nov. 2015. 560p. Tarcher, $19.95 (9780399176401). 202.15.
Most religions have beings identified as an-
The Big Question: Why We Can’t
gels or invoke celestial beings that are similar,
so it’s no wonder the fascination with angels
continues unabated. For those who would
like to go a step further and get in touch with
their angels, Faugérolas provides a weighty
compendium that offers prayers, invocations,
and rituals designed to put us in contact with
the angelic. Naysayers may have a laugh over
instructions like “dip a cotton ball in violet
perfume” or “fill a white chalice with wa-
ter”—and the specificity of the instructions
for various meditations does at times seem
a bit much—but believers will appreciate
the exercises and the concisely stated goals
and look forward to the expected results. In
many cases, the meditations are not so differ-
ent from others found in books about other
spiritual paths including yoga or Zen. The
introductory information about angels across
religions and history covers everything from
angels in holy books, to those who’ve com-
muned with angels (Joan of Arc, Hildegard of
Bingen) and will get the uninitiated off to a
good start. —Ilene Cooper
Stop Talking about Science, Faith,
By Alister McGrath.
Nov. 2015. 272p. St. Martin’s, $28.00 (9781250077929);
e-book (9781466890244). 201.
Himself a militant atheist as a teen, McGrath
here challenges the twenty-first-century New
Atheists who—reprising his own adolescent
tactics—brandish modern science as a disproof
of religious faith. Comfortable in engaging
Darwinian evolution and quantum physics,
McGrath develops a perspective in which science and religion enrich rather than threaten