Sharon Hodde Miller is a scholar and a serious follower of Christ as far as I can tell, and her thorough study of the scripture shows. Contray to the title’s hint, Miller is not attacking decency and civility. Exploring various manifestations of what she terms ‘Bible-belt’ Christianity, she peels away the bright, shiny exterior to reveal what is often a heart of self-absorption masked in cheery, upbeat words and actions epitomized in typical American religious life. Among these is a beadazzled, Disneyland utopia that avoids difficult issues despite the urging of Christ to follow him and take up his cross. Cynicism, which has bitterness at its core can often be covered with a false veneer of niceness. Miller cites the ‘quiet aggression of niceness’ suggesting that there is a passive-aggressive foundation to much of what passes as just being nice. In other words, we are acting nice beacause it will get us something in return.
Several highlights in the book stand out. In God’s words to the prophet Ezekiel, who is asked to confront evil with the following promise, “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint,” Miller admonishes that telling hard truths with a soft heart is the Christian’s responsibility. There are times when we must tell difficult things to those we love. Likewise, the extraordinary story of the martyrdom of second century Christians Perpetua and Felicity gives perspective and inspiration to modern American Christians who have as yet endured no real persecution. The difficult choice to leave familybehind as they were mauled by wild animals for not renouncing their faith makes that typical American Christianity seem quite shallow.
I puzzled at the title as I read, because there is so much material included that flies far afield from the ‘niceness’ theme. At times, I wondered if a more appropriate title for this book might be “Beyond the Surface of Modern Christianity,” or perhaps, “An Alternative to Disneyland Christianity.”
One detail for the publisher: I was disappointed by the light font choice, as I found it difficult to read in the evening light.
I was given a copy of this book by Baker Books in return for my honest opinion.