(RNS) — When three different publishers announced last year they would all produce books about President Trump's faith, some wags took to social media to say, wow, those are going to be short books.
But just because Trump has not made a habit of spending much time in church doesn't mean there isn't much to say about him and faith.
In time for Thursday's National Prayer Breakfast (Feb. 8), two of those books are now available and the other, "The Faith of Donald J. Trump," is available for preorder before its Feb. 13 release date. Together they offer 700 pages on the 45th president and religion — his own, his staunchest supporters' and the role faith played in his election.
Here is a look at the three books:
'The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography' by David Brody and Scott Lamb (Broadside Books)
From the outset, the authors of "The Faith of Donald J. Trump: A Spiritual Biography" make clear they don't intend to answer the question of whether Trump is a Christian or any of its evangelical variations — whether he is "born again" or "headed for heaven.” Instead, they write, they are mostly concerned with understanding and explaining the president’s worldview.
Co-authors David Brody, chief political correspondent for CBN News, and Scott Lamb, columnist for The Washington Times and vice president of special literary projects at Liberty University, set out to do this in two parts (and more than 300 pages). The first reads like a history of Protestant Christianity, sprinkled with biographical details about Trump and his ancestors, whose lives have intersected with some of the United States' most notable churches and preachers. That includes Trump’s own relationships with preachers Norman Vincent Peale and Paula White.
The second part follows Brody's reporting for CBN News, from Trump's announcement of his candidacy for president in June 2015 to his first few months in the White House.
Most of those stories are by now familiar, and the book acknowledges that some might sit uncomfortably with evangelicals: Trump’s oft-trotted-out confirmation photo and family Bible; his claim he has never asked for forgiveness; his “little wine” and “little cracker”; “Two Corinthians”; his spat with Pope Francis; the "Access Hollywood" tape; how asking religious leaders for their endorsements convinced him to destroy the Johnson Amendment; his change of heart on abortion rights; the #NeverTrump movement and how white evangelicals overwhelmingly voted for Trump anyway; that viral photo of evangelical leaders praying over the president in the Oval Office.
Still, the first write-up of “The Faith of Donald J. Trump,” from New York Magazine, describes the book’s tone as “increasingly hagiographic.”
The book also documents prophecies that Trump would win the election and testimonies about his faith from prominent evangelical supporters, including Vice President Mike Pence. It notes his “Protestant work ethic” and “regular tendency to seek prayer and spiritual guidance.” Brody shares personal anecdotes, such as Trump calling to ask him his favorite Bible verses after he demurred when asked the same question in an interview, or Trump inquiring about his marriage over dinner in New York.
And the book circles back to the question its authors at the outset said they wouldn’t answer: “When believers in Jesus Christ enter heaven, they’re going to be surprised by who they see and who they don’t see."
— Emily McFarlan Miller
'Choosing Donald Trump: God, Anger, Hope, and Why Christian Conservatives Supported Him' by Stephen Mansfield (Baker Books)
Over the 195-page "Choosing Donald Trump," author Stephen Mansfield explains how faith leaders have shaped the president and how more than 80 percent of white evangelical voters came to back him. It is an often critical look at the man and the supporters who have surrounded him.
Mansfield cites the early influences on Trump's life, noting that "power-of-positive-thinking" minister Norman Vincent Peale, whose Marble Collegiate Church he attended in New York, was more supportive of Trump than his hard-driving dad. "Peale became the loving mentor and father figure that Fred Trump, Donald's father, could never be."
And despite efforts by Trump's praying mother to inculcate him with faith, Mansfield said "his religion was power, vengeance, and, notably, himself." Mansfield, who has written about other presidents and presidential candidates, recounts Trump's "ignorance and inexperience" in things religious while noting his ability to be subdued at times when ministers pray for him.
Mansfield spends a chapter on Peale, followed by one on Florida prosperity gospel preacher Paula White, who befriended Trump after he called her unexpectedly in 2002 after seeing her on TV. Eventually her connections with national religious leaders "helped deliver the Oval Office into Donald Trump's hands."
The author also delves into the reasons for conservatives' support, often rooted in their displeasure with President Obama and hopes that his successor could "restore what had been lost" in their view — politics that featured their anti-abortion and anti-gay perspectives: "Their anger, justified or not, won the day."
Mansfield also posits that Trump made it to the White House because he is a "product of his times" — along with many Americans who have lied, stayed away from church, been unfaithful in relationships or made racist or bigoted statements.
Religious conservatives now "own" the president, the author says, and that comes with risks: "They will be made to answer for the mores, the methods, and the machinations of the Trump administration. They will never be allowed to forget that they are in part responsible for placing the name Trump alongside names such as Washington and Lincoln, Roosevelt and Reagan."
In the end, Mansfield's message seems to be more about the supporters than the president. He writes that it remains to be seen if they will exercise some "prophetic distance" so they can speak the proverbial truth to power.
— Adelle M. Banks
'God and Donald Trump' by Stephen E. Strang (FrontLine)
"God and Donald Trump" by Stephen Strang, the Christian media mogul, is the shortest of the new books on Trump's faith, but it is the only one to frame Trump's election through the Pentecostal belief that God works through supernatural signs, wonders and prophesies to control world events.
And, according to Strang, God hand-picked Trump to save America:
"Donald Trump is certainly no theologian, and he has been described by some observers as a 'baby Christian' at best. But Christian leaders I respect have told me he is a chosen vessel being used by God despite his flaws. Like General Patton, they said, he is a man with a heaven-sent mission ... "
The book recounts the rise of the evangelical voting bloc from the Reagan era to the 2016 election from a religious Trump voter's point of view: " ... we each thanked God in our own way that Hillary Clinton was not going to be the next commander in chief."
God, Strang writes, had a plan to put a reality TV star in the White House.
To wit: Chuck Pierce, "a prophet I respect," said God told him in a four-hour "visitation" that Trump would be president. A retired firefighter, Mark Taylor, said God told him Trump would become president and preside over a widespread revival of Christianity. And a "Catholic holy man" in Italy said God told him he wanted Trump to be the leader of the free world — though the man died after making the prediction.
Strang, who holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from the University of Florida, exults over Trump's win with religious fervor. It's "miraculous," an "answer to prayer," and his critics are an "unpatriotic" "rabble."
Yet the notes section of the book reveals many of Strang's sources are the same "liberal mainstream media" he spends much of the book deriding, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, NPR, Time and Think Progress.
Christian media — including Strang's own Charisma magazine — have warmly received the book. Christian Broadcasting Network gave it a positive spread.
The "lamestream" media have been less kind. Gordon Haber, reviewing the book for Religion Dispatches, said, "'God and Trump' is a terrible book, but it is an important book, in its way, for those of us struggling to understand how Christians can support a moral cretin like President Trump."
— Kimberly Winston