Book Review: America’s Four Gods by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader
Paul Froese & Christopher Bader, America’s Four Gods: What We Say About God and What it Says About Us, New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
As the title of the book suggests, Paul Froese and Christopher Bader—professors of sociology at Baylor—undertake a survey of Americans' conception of God. In the introduction they comment that in their research they found one’s answers on the nature of God often reflected much about one's own personality. Bader and Froese even conclude their opening chapter by suggesting that what people believe about God is more determinative for their lives than their race, socio-economic status, political allegiance, or any other factor. This is not to say that these things do not shape religious beliefs, but “a person’s image of God proves more important to their worldview than all of these demographic characteristics combined” (57). This leads them to two controlling questions that form the four “gods” that Americans worship:
1. To what extent does God interact with the world?
2. To what extent does God judge the world?
Using these questions Froese and Bader catagorized their survey data into four groups, each one believing in a different god: the Authoritative God, the Benevolent God, the Critical God, or the Distant God. After establishing these four categories the authors go on to explain how these groups view contemporary social and ethical questions in order to illustrate how their view of God shapes their worldviews. For example, those with the Authoritative and Benevolent gods have higher moral standards because God is more intimately involved in the world. Those with Distant and Critical gods tended to believe God was less involved in moral questions, making them more relativistic. The authors go on to explore survey data and how the four groups answered questions on science, money, God’s responsibility and evil, and God’s plan for the future and his action in the past.
Bader and Froese have produced a very interesting study and those who are involved in working with people should be aware of the four poles that they mention because the survey data shows these beliefs are widespread.
There are certain inconsistencies, however, with the classification system. For example, throughout the book I was left wondering where a Reformed Christian would be classified. After completing the survey that is contained in the back of the book, I found that I would be grouped with the Authoritative God. Yet, those whom Bader and Froese associated with this position were Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, and Westboro Baptist Church; individuals whom Reformed Christians would not identify as spokespersons for their doctrine of God. Another example of such a questionable classification is when Bader and Froese suggest that those with more reserved worship styles generally believe in a Distant God while those who believe in an engaged God have more expressive worship services. Such a judgment seems an unfortunate generalization. Reformed churches do not worship in a liturgically structured way because God is distant, but rather because he is intimately involved and has given what Confessions call the Regulative Principle of Worship.
In conclusion, while unconvinced that these four “gods” leave room for the God worshipped by Reformed Christians, this book presents important data demonstrating how Americans view God. Knowing how many in America view God, it ought to motivate Reformed churches and Christians to offer the Trinitarian, full-orbed doctrine of God contained in the Scripture and Confessions of Reformed Churches.