Religious faith was a driving force behind our greatest national reforms, such as the abolition of slavery and the civil rights movement. These "great awakenings" happened periodically at crucial times in our nation's history to propel us toward the common good. The time is ripe for another movement that will transform this country. With The Great Awakening, Wallis [rediscovers] our moral center and provides both the needed inspiration and a concrete plan to hold politics accountable and find solutions to our greatest challenges.--From publisher description.
Jim Wallis is an evangelical Christian preacher. His previous book was "God's Politics: Why the Right gets it wrong and the Left doesn't get it". The central message of the book is that religion should not be partisan. Religion is beyond left and right. Religion should affect the way people behave and make policy regardless of political views.
Personally I don't like his thesis that social change can come only through religion. I don't think that this is true. The influence that authors like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have had through their books shows that one can be socially active without a religious base for one's politics.
When I saw Wallace interviewed on The Daily Show, I was surprised and pleased that he acknowledged the existence of the nonreligious, which by some accounts makes up 14% of the population of the United States. I read this book expecting to find a little more exploration of the role of seculars in American society. Only a little - I didn't expect much - but I did expect some. Alas, I was disappointed. His acknowledgement of the nonreligious was confined to a total of two sentences. One near the beginning and one near the end.
I also thought that he was guilty of cherry-picking and selectivism. I'll give you an example to show what I mean.
The book quotes extensively from the Bible - as one would expect - and especially from the various epistles of Paul. Paul had some good things to say about helping one's fellow man, and how to behave in society. However, in the chapter on the status of women, there was not a single Biblical quote. Not one.
As we all know, the Bible is not silent on the status of women in society. In fact, Paul has some very strong ideas on the subject. However, these ideas are the complete opposite to what Wallis believes. Paul says "the head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man" (1 Cor 11:3) and "Let the woman learn in silence with all subjection. But I suffer not a woman to teach, nor to usurp authority over the man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression." (1 Tim 2:11-14).
This to me is cherry-picking. He is taking the nice bits of the Bible, and using them to support his thesis, but he is discarding the bits that don't agree with him.
However, I don't really object to that. He is extracting from the Bible what is essentially a good message. The world would indeed be a better place if every Christian cherry-picked in this way.
He speaks of "God's Kingdom". This is not heaven or any kind of rapture. It is the kingdom of God on earth. The Kingdom is a metaphor for the ideals of peace and tolerance that Wallis preaches in his own ministry. He wishes to bring the Kingdom of God to earth - which essentially means that he wishes that everyone would adhere to the ideals of peace and tolerance that was part of the teachings of Christ. He believes that Christians should be politically active and work as they are able to bring this goal about.
This is a good message, and I support Christians saying this. I would support it more if he acknowledged in the book what he acknowledged in the interview with Jon Stewart: that religion does not have a monopoly on morality.