While there are countless angles from which to approach Tim Alberta’s incisive forthcoming book, The Kingdom, The Power, and The Glory, I determined the most honest starting point would be to follow Alberta’s example: by making it personal.

I’m a neophyte in the world of Protestantism, with my wife and I deciding just this past spring to start attending a non-denominational church near our home in Virginia. I grew up Catholic in New England, born just a few years before The Boston Globe published its landmark investigation into clerical sex abuse that roiled my archdiocese for years to come. In middle school, I was baptized in the Latter-day Saint church before spending most of high school in a syncretic skeptical wilderness, marked by superficial forays into progressive Christian theology, Buddhism, and the like.

My experience of Protestantism through the first two decades of my life was limited to email exchanges with the late theologian Marcus Borg and brief attendance at an Episcopal church adjacent to my hometown’s common. In college, I occasionally attended a Bible study organized by a friend who was active in Chi Alpha Campus Ministry, but my frame of reference for Protestantism was decidedly limited, with evangelical an abstraction confined to the South.

I include this prologue for two reasons: First, to acknowledge that, despite joy in my new church family, I write this review as someone who still feels like an observer, slowly getting acquainted with a less familiar world. Second, I have wrestled with the extremes of how to relate faith to politics.

In mid-college, I returned to the Roman Catholic Church. With convert zeal, I gravitated toward traditionalism and integration (“integralism”) of church and state, with the latter subordinate to the former, formally or informally. In its more simplistic form, this consisted of a longing for the mirage of halcyon days of Catholic monarchy; later, it manifested in a fascination with the rise of neo-integralism, which seemed to add intellectual heft to preexisting proclivities.

Unlike the intermingling of evangelical Christianity and politics that Alberta recounts, I was not unflinchingly moored to a single party. And as one might expect of a college student, my own views on faith and politics were, retrospectively, mired in contradictions.

Yet, despite my own unfamiliarity with Protestantism, I could not help but feel a kinship with the story Alberta tells: A faith writ large wrestling, consciously or not, with its own insecurities about the world at large.

Alberta covers the moral failures of American Protestants in depth. His in-depth account of a conformist, fear-driven culture at Liberty University is poignant and cautionary, serving as an avatar of the broader issues confronting politically-infused evangelical Christianity. His account of the Southern Baptist Convention’s reckoning with sexual abuse is also penetrating.

The book is at its best in shedding light on how American evangelicals have confronted – and continue to navigate – the relationship between faith and politics. Across his travels, Alberta recounts a colorful cast of characters and churches. This includes congregations that appear to be filled with more guns than Bibles; stages filled with hucksters and conspiracy snake oil salesmen selling anger on the cheap (or not so cheap, depending on the conference); and many others. Even if these examples can be dismissed as on the fringes of society, the fringes still matter.

Alberta tells the stories of numerous pastors struggling to cope with a vocal minority of congregants aggressively pushing back on any perceived departure from conservative – or all too often, Trumpian – political orthodoxy. In other cases, pastors have embraced the political altar call as a marketing tool to grow their respective flocks. Churches are torn apart, congregants leaving en masse. While cautioning that this is not the story of every church in America, it is impossible to read Alberta’s account without being struck by the wake of destruction left in recent years.

Stepping back, Alberta traces the story of the Religious Right from the latter half of the 20th century to today, highlighting those individuals, like Jerry Falwell, Sr., who grew increasingly convinced of the need for a politicized Christianity – a faith armed for a culture war.

While criticism of Falwell Sr. (and Jr.) is a well-trodden path, there is a legitimate question at the heart of American Christianity which the Religious Right arose to answer: How should Christians engage the cultural and political landscape of the country at large that seems to be departing from Christian values?

One response is to seek to leverage political power. But Alberta, both on his own and through his interviews, raises several objections. I’ll mention two.

The first is the closing words of the book, a verse from Second Corinthians: “So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” Broadly, the church has lost sight of the heavenly end to which it aspires, the victory which Christ has won, by turning politics – and more fundamentally, winning – into an end unto itself.

The second is that politicized Christianity has won some battles, while losing the war. By shedding concerns about a president’s character, for example, the purveyors of politicized Christianity diminish the church’s moral witness. Indeed, Alberta cites a multitude of statistics on the erosion of American Christianity.

In one interview, Alberta questions Pastor Robert Jeffress about how many evangelical leaders and congregants could rationalize moral compromises with politicians and other political actors. He offered two words in response: “Under siege.”

This illuminates one of the central tensions of politicized Christianity, for both Protestants and Catholics: There is a strong temptation to harness political means for religious ends by using state power to push back against encroaching secular culture. Putting aside theological qualms, there is a practical difficulty with this modus operandi as Christianity declines – a decline that Alberta links closely with Christianity’s politicization. Put more bluntly: The logic of politicized faith is self-destructive, with the besieged culture warriors hemorrhaging numbers, further reifying a fear-based political faith.

So, what is the answer to the legitimate question the Religious Right tried, and failed, to address? From where I stand today, I would eschew both Christian nationalism and integralism, but also quietism. The starting point, as Alberta suggests in his close, is to fix on those unseen, eternal things, confidently reasserting a Gospel-centered witness distinct from the things of this world.