A man by the name of Martin Marty is a man I would enjoy knowing. I am perhaps conditioned by the overtones of his name—Marty Marion was my all-time favorite shortstop, and “Marty” is one of my all-time favorite movies. And now Martin Marty has clinched my prejudgments of him by writing a delightful book, The New Shape of American Religion.
We have a sufficiency of books on the organization man, exurbia, and the seeking of status, and with the exception of Babson and Zever’s Can These Bones Live? I can think of no other writer who has brought these questions of society over into the field of the church as clearly as Marty. He has the unquestioned ability to see our church in our times and to bring his critical mind to bear on the problems and dangers of the church with great clarity, pungency, and excellence. He abhors the church in the grey flannel suit.
There has been what Marty calls an “erosion,” as the things of this world blur the distinctions of Christianity, until no one knows where Christianity stops and modern society begins. This would be all to the good if our Christianity had so invaded society that the two had become one. But the opposite has taken place. One has the eerie feeling that society has changed Christianity into something that can be defined only as religion-in-general in which the object of worship is God-in-general. The question Marty raises is whether we have not created a new religion of God-in-general which dominates not only American society, but all the churches. Surprisingly enough, he finds this influence in Catholic and Jewish churches as well as in Protestant. “In God we trust,” but apparently this God in whom we trust has been created by and ...1
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