Regardless, most of us are quite content to drift through life rather oblivious to either the earthly or eternal welfare of our neighbors. Carter was not. He went door to door trying to "share Christ" with strangers. He devoted one week each year to Habitat for Humanity projects. Through the Carter Center, he attempted to eradicate disease, poverty, and dictatorship around the world. Although he could not redeem his nation from the sins he believed had imprisoned it, Carter was always an ambassador for his Savior in a way that made nearly everyone around him uncomfortable, whether his unmarried staff members when he encouraged them to stop "living in sin" and get married, feminists who bristled at his staunch personal opposition to abortion, or politically conservative evangelicals who just could not believe that a follower of Jesus Christ would affiliate with donkeys instead of elephants. As Balmer laments, by the time of his presidency, Carter was already a rare breed.
Balmer correctly observes that progressive evangelicalism has made something of a public comeback, but it obviously strains credulity to imagine the second coming of Jimmy Carter succeeding in contemporary American politics. As Carter moves further into his own twilight, one hopes that Balmer's book partly redeems his standing among fellow believers. His politics and decision-making might not have always merited agreement, but Carter's honesty, integrity, and devotion to Jesus Christ demand our respect.
John G. Turner teaches the history of religion at George Mason University and is the author of Brigham Young: Pioneer Prophet (Belknap Press).