Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt: A Theological Survival Guide for Youth, Parents and other Confused Presbyterians

By Ted V. Foote Jr. and P. Alex Thornburg
2000. Geneva. 80 pp. Pb. $12.95. ISBN 0-664-50109-5

Reviewed by Sallie Watson, Austin, Texas


"Being Presbyterian in the Bible Belt" is pithy, witty and well-organized. So much did I enjoy it that I bought five copies to give to my Austin, Texas, high school graduates this year. Although Ted and Alex claim the "Bible belt" as the arena for this, their first book together, I would recommend this book to my former youth groups in California and Utah in a heartbeat.

Not that such a helpful, accessible treatment of Reformed theology isn’t needed in the Bible Belt! But the day is upon us when Presbyterians are in the minority in many more places than just the South. This book is for anyone who is looking to understand and articulate better what they believe and why they believe it — as long as their sense of humor is intact! (I can say with all honesty that this is the first book I’ve read which mentions eschatology and Whoopi Goldberg in the same chapter.)

For starters, the book is visually attractive. Its ideas are punctuated with “road signs,” “sticky notes” and shadow boxes throughout. This feature works well with a multimedia generation which expects variety and shuns even the appearance of stagnation. Even the chapter titles are intriguing: “Are You Saved, or Are You Presbyterian?,” “Are You Going to Heaven or Tulsa?” and “When Will the World End, or Did It End in the 1960s?”

Fortunately, the book is far more than its graphics and gimmicks. Its brevity belies its depth of content. While it is indeed brief (which is also attractive to the generation it targets), it manages to “debug” Reformed essentials and big ideas in such a way that, rather than being off-putting, they are inviting.

Throughout the book, Ted and Alex weave in the elements of grace, gratitude, community and humility to undergird such tenets of Reformed faith as salvation, election and the authority of Scripture. Their definition of predestination — “one explanation of God in God’s relational greatness that does not ignore God’s great gift of human freedom — is perhaps the best and most helpful one that I’ve come across to date. Also, at the end of each chapter, questions which ask the reader, “So What Do You Think?” invite the reader into their conversations, to be partners in doing theology.

This volume seems to be crying for a leader’s guide to accompany it, not to mention at sequel. So, how about it, guys?