The latest review of Charles Lindbergh: A Religious Biography of America’s Most Infamous Pilot is also one of the most generous:
Any Lindbergh biographer faces a challenge: to tell the truth about the past, both the good and the bad, with both empathy and unflinching honesty. Christopher Gehrz, a history professor at Bethel University in St. Paul, Minnesota, succeeds brilliantly. His biography is crisply written, deeply researched, and cogently argued. Jacket blurbs are not always a good index of what lies ahead, but in this case they are. One rarely sees so many, so glowing, and from so many distinguished reviewers.
That’s pretty great to see, under any circumstances. But it’s especially gratifying given the site and source:
First, that review appears in the December 15th issue of The Christian Century, one of the most venerable religious periodicals in the United States and still essential reading for many mainline Protestants — and anyone else who appreciates its commitment “to thinking critically and living faithfully.”
(In fact, that magazine shows up in my book, as when its editorial page kinda-sorta defended Charles Lindbergh after his infamously anti-Semitic comments at a September 1941 America First rally in Des Moines, Iowa. Longtime Century editor Charles Clayton Morrison was an America First ally who had first written in support of Lindbergh’s anti-interventionism in August 1940.)
Then if it weren’t heady enough to see the Century‘s review of Charles Lindbergh slotted in between those for Meatpacking America, Kristy Nabhan-Warren’s acclaimed study of faith, work, and immigration in an Iowa town, and Light Perpetual, the brilliant new novel by Francis Spufford…
The reviewer who said such nice things about my book is Grant Wacker.
Now retired from Duke Divinity School but still an active scholar and writer, Grant is one of the most influential church historians of his generation. I don’t think we’ve ever met in person, but we got to know each other a bit after he was kind enough to submit a reflection on Hebrews 12 to our Faith and History devotional.
His contribution centered on a key moment in the life of Billy Graham, about whom Grant has published two much-honored biographies: America’s Pastor (Belknap/Harvard, 2014) and One Soul at a Time (Eerdmans, 2019 — for the same series as my book). I ultimately decided not to start my book with the fictitious encounter between Graham and Lindbergh that I invented at one point in the writing process, but I certainly took inspiration from Grant’s evenhanded approach to telling the story of another famous American: someone more conventionally religious than Charles Lindbergh, but no less complicated.
To have a historian-biographer of that caliber read a book I’ve written about someone as vexing as Charles Lindbergh and conclude that I’d managed “to tell the truth about the past, both the good and the bad, with both empathy and unflinching honesty”… Well, it doesn’t get much better than that.
Click here to read the online version of the review, which is so much more than the paragraph quoted above. Grant not only offers an adroit summary of my version of the Lindbergh story, but went even beyond my argument to suggest other implications of Lindbergh’s spiritual quest. I’m grateful to him for taking the time to read and engage with my book, and to The Christian Century for publishing the resulting review.
By the way, in case there are any Century readers out there who happen to coordinate adult classes or forums… I’m about to give my first church-based talks on the book: in person later this month for a Presbyterian congregation; then via Zoom after New Year’s for some local Lutherans. Let me know if you’re interested in arranging either kind of event for your church.