In the past
decade, it seems like young adults have been fleeing church as if there was an
active shooter in the sanctuary. I am privileged to remain friends with former
university students on social media. I see some have left evangelical churches
and some declare themselves atheists. I interact with older friends across the
USA whose adult children have given up their evangelical beliefs. Some felt
welcomed in mainline congregations but others appear to be in some vague
spiritual place that I couldn’t quite locate.
McLaren appears in tune with the times in his 2022 book, Do I Stay Christian. Years ago a friend introduced me to McLaren with a gift of A
Generous Orthodoxy. I liked his idea of inclusivity. I see in Do I Stay
Christian that Brian has moved on. He’d be familiar with my opening quotes
and paragraph. I’d call this book A Generous Spirituality.
Stay Christian has
three parts. Part I is the opening salvo. McLaren offers us 10 reasons to answer
his question with a solid, “No!” If you just read the list of chapter titles,
you will likely see some familiar reasons to leave a lot of Christian churches.
McLaren echoes the well-honed attacks of the high profile atheists that burst
upon book lists following 911.
have a sordid past riddled with stories of hateful attitudes, horrifying
torture of dissidents, and murderous attacks on unbelievers spanning centuries.
It’s even worse if we dare to read about Christian violence toward other
Christians who believe differently. McLaren takes on the dominating white male
patriarchy, their unmerciful ideas and acts, their greed, and their toxic
theologies. McLaren is a keen observer. He dubs the mysterious lack of changed
lives into anything resembling the compassionate and justice seeking Jesus as “LTS”
– lack of transformation syndrome. McLaren also gives a nod to the
distressing anti-intellectual and anti-science rhetoric commonly experienced by
me and my colleagues. In his own words:
I see a
similar vigilance regarding science. Where science helps our cause, we trumpet
it. Where it challenges us in any way, we condemn it as godless, as demonic, as
an example of the “philosophy and empty deceit” I was warned about in
Colossians 2:8. In the course of my lifetime, my fellow Christians have
invested a lot of energy in pitting our theology against biology, anthropology,
geology, astronomy, physics, psychology, psychiatry, and sociology. (p. 69).
will find McLaren’s “Yes” response to his opening challenge, Do I Stay Christian?
in Part II. Brian offers readers several reasons, which may resonate with some
more than others. You get the feeling he empathizes deeply with those who are
pondering a life without faith. He suggests we might stay Christian so we could
make life-enhancing changes, promote a new vision of the faith, consider how the
large group of people called Christians could make the future better for
humanity, and remember the life-giving focus of our founder. I pause here to
reflect on his Jesus thoughts because that’s where McLaren offers his
perspective as a student of literature. He sheds light on the stories of Jesus
woven into a legend. It’s these stories which offer us an image of compassion
and spiritual meaning beyond the stifling literalism and afterlife escapism that
hide down-to-earth life-transforming stories.
presents us with an analogy. “We don’t let the assumptions of our ancestors
about anatomy, psychology, medicine, or physics dominate our thinking and work
in these fields today.” (p. 145) Thus, Christians should be free to understand
God in a new way. Christians should be free to leave the old God concepts and
old metaphors behind.
Part III is
Brain’s DIY response full of suggestions on ways disheartened and disillusioned
Christians can remain Christian. He doesn’t preach. Instead, he reassures all
readers of his love and desire to remain friends regardless of their choice
about staying Christian. He suggests some readers may be at a different stage
in their life. They may only need to leave a constricted form of Christianity
on their “journey of growth and development.” McLaren writes about the process
of deconstruction and reconstruction. He doesn’t have the process all figured
out but there are suggestions on removing the “original sin” idea and revising
the harmful images of heaven and hell. He also suggests Christians may follow
the example of “coming out” as a new kind of Christian similar to the way LGBTQ
persons announced their identities.
reading McLaren’s Do I Stay Christian, I’m wondering about its
effectiveness. I’m pretty sure it’s not for those who are happy in their
Catholic or evangelical congregations. It’s not for those enjoying their
enthusiastic worship in Charismatic and Pentecostal churches. I’m not even sure
it would help progressive Christians—especially those who have moved on from
constricted forms of faith. And I’m not sure if it will help those who’ve
decided to identify as atheists, agnostics, or nones.
So who is
this book likely to help?
I think McLaren has a good sense of his audience. To
use a church door analogy, I suggest there may be four groups standing by such doors who might find Do I Stay Christian
worth a read. One group is saving themselves from the toxic fumes of brimstone
altars and may need to know there are cozy homes where Christians welcome all
humans and invest their energy in promoting the common good. Second, are those
looking out the door of faith and considering walking away for good—perhaps
like a couple thinking a divorce is best for both parties. Third, there might
be those who have recently left the doors of faith and are having second
thoughts. Perhaps they are grieving their loss and missing friends and wonder
if they could return to a new home in the same community. A fourth group
consists of caring parents who seriously wonder about their children’s spirituality
and are interested to learn how they might appreciate the children’s
disenchantment with the old time religion and find ways to remain connected or
even work together on common purposes.
Those of us interested in the psychology of religion might find his ideas suggest hypotheses related to conversion - deconversion experiences and spiritual struggles. I suggest both topics could be of interest to clinicians and researchers.
Cite this review
Sutton, G. S. (2022, December 27). Do I stay Christian? A review. International Journal of Book Reviews. Retrieved from https://suttonreviews.suttong.com/2022/12/do-i-stay-christian-review.html
B.D. (2022). Do I stay Christian: A guide for the doubters, the
disappointed, and the disillusioned. New York: St. Martin’s.
the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love
The Sins of Scripture
continues to be relevant to topics that divide American Christians into two
major war camps over such subjects as biblical authority, the equality of
women, same-sex relationships, and doctrinal distinctions that mark boundaries
divides his 32 short chapters into eight sections within 298 pages of a highly
readable work. Section 1 is crucial to his discussion of other topics because
he challenges the view of some Christians that the Bible is the Word of God
although they retain the right to interpret God’s Word in their own way. Like
other writers (e.g., Borg, 2001;
Spong argues against biblical literalism when reading the sacred text of
Christianity. He offers problematic examples like ancient perspectives on
mental illness and improbable stories like the one about a floating axe-head.
2, Spong attacks the problem of global overpopulation encouraged by Christians
who use biblical texts to object to birth control. The title of chapter 6 serves
as a conclusion, “Bad Theology Creates Bad Ecology.”
the focus of section 3. Spong traces the history of sexism in the Bible and
Christian history. He comments on the texts that point to women as the source
of evil and verses concerning women’s blood and purity.
Section 4 addresses
homophobia, which continues to divide Christians into affirming and rejecting
camps. Spong reviews the familiar Leviticus and Romans texts as well as the misused
is the subject of Section 5. Building on a discussion of the trite “Spare the
Rod” advice, Spong discusses domestic violence and perceptions of God as a
harsh judge who lacks compassion.
ironically—since Jesus and his apostles were Jews—Spong examines the Christian
roots of antisemitism in the New Testament texts. A fresh look at Judas
Iscariot concludes this analysis in section 6.
7, Spong takes on the notion of exclusivity and argues for a vibrant Christian spirituality
that is beyond creeds and demonstrates respect for people of other faiths.
section 8, Spong presents an overview of the Bible as a developing epic, which
expanded over the centuries as the Jewish tribes became a nation, went into
exile, and reshaped their story as they heard from one prophet after another.
Christians continue and expand the epic as they begin to see Jesus in this
evolving historic context. Spong concludes with his vision of what comes next
in this epic story.
writers have covered similar topics in an effort to help people better
understand the ancient texts in context. The Sins of Scripture will help
progressive Christians better understand how their approach to the Bible and
the Christian life differs from evangelicals and those who read many sections
of the Bible as if God wrote laws to govern today’s society. It’s not the kind
of book to gain favor with evangelicals unless they are disenchanted with some
of the strident rhetoric.
Spong has accurately focused on the battleground issue of how to view the
collection of works called the Bible. There is a sharp difference between those
who view the Bible as a sacred anthology to be taken seriously but not
necessarily literally and those who claim the Bible to be the Word of God
as if to discount human authors.
One factor often
overlooked by Spong and other authors addressing biblical scholarship is the
role of human memory and cognitive biases in creating historical works—especially
those written years or decades after people experienced the referenced events. Fortunately,
this might be about to change as evangelical scholar Craig Keener recently gave
a nod to the work of Elizabeth Loftus in his 2019
commentary on the gospels.
I found the
Spong’s book supportive of my efforts in A
House Divided. Although I read The Sins of Scripture years after
writing A House Divided, Spong’s work generally supports my presentation
of progressive perspectives on women and people who identify as LGBTQ+. I would
add that the psychology of disgust is an important factor in the difficulties
some have with blood and same-sex sex.
a scholarly review of Jesus’ life and times. Marcus Borg carefully examines the
gospels and the small amount of extrabiblical sources to help us understand Jesus' mission in the context of his life as a Jew from a small town under Roman
domination. Borg acknowledges that all historical studies involve a degree of
subjectivity, which he tempers by providing cogent reasons for his perspective
thus allowing readers to form their judgment about his interpretation of the gospels and other available records.
It is no
secret that Christians are “A House Divided” about many matters. This is
notably evident in the United States. And this is the author’s context. Borg begins
by providing us with a perspective on divided Christianity. Instead of focusing on
denominations, he refers to two broad views or paradigms. His terms (in
parentheses) are different from the more familiar conservative (an earlier Christian
paradigm) and progressive (an emerging Christian paradigm). He further
identifies the conservatives as fundamentalists, evangelicals, and Pentecostals and links them to the political right. In contrast, he presents the emerging paradigm
as the “emergent church” and “neotraditional Christianity.”
presentation of Jesus’ life varies with the perspective of people writing from
one of the two aforementioned major Christian paradigms. On the one hand, the earlier paradigm
focuses on Jesus’ saving death on the cross, his divinity, and his moral teaching. When
teaching about his life, these earlier paradigm Christians interpret the texts in a literal or
near literal way.
Christians hold a view Borg calls “historical-metaphorical.” His short summary
“...the pre-Easter Jesus was a Jewish mystic, healer, wisdom teacher, and
prophet of the kingdom of God; he proclaimed the immediacy of access to God and
the kingdom of God; he challenged the domination system, was executed by the
authorities, and then vindicated by God.”
Borg does not deny the importance of
appreciating the “post-Easter Jesus” but Borg does want us to understand Jesus
as a first century Jewish man who revealed God’s passion for the world as distinct from the way his
followers wrote about Jesus as Son of God, Messiah, and Lord long after the resurrection.
Early in the book we
see the two divisions when it comes to beliefs about Jesus life as described in the
gospels. Early Christians developed a set of creeds or statements of faith. Modern conservatives expect Christians to affirm these beliefs, which are indicative of what
it means to be a Christian. These beliefs include Jesus as the Son of God, born
of a virgin, and eternally existent as God. Borg refers to this understanding
of belief as “belief that,” which means belief in Jesus is a matter of
believing statements about him.
In contrast, Borg’s view is that an older
understanding of the word belief is more accurate. That is, the word belief meant a focus on a person
in the sense of being faithful and loyal to the person you follow. In this
view, to believe in Jesus is to follow his way in contrast to affirming characteristics about Jesus.
presents Jesus as if you were taking a class by a master teacher who offers us
a grand overview providing the context of Jewish life at a time when Romans
ruled the Jews' homeland. He then explains his historical method of examining the
scriptures, considers human memory, and how to treat testimonies of historical
events. Next he explains how we should understand metaphorical language in the
gospels—we should consider the language as “more-than-literal.”
explained the scholarly methods, Borg tells Jesus’ story from birth to death
and the resurrection appearances. We learn about Jewish life and the meaning of phrases like “kingdom
of heaven” and “eternal life.” We gain an appreciation of Jewish perspectives
on wisdom and the wisdom Jesus presented in parables and short sayings. Wisdom
also includes an understanding of the way to live life—the familiar two ways of
broad or narrow. The broad way means the way most of us live our lives. Borg unpacks the narrow way in a series of
contrasts to the broad way by exploring such common pursuits as wealth and honor.
As the Jesus' story nears an end, we learn more about Jesus’ confrontation of the Roman
domination system and the symbolic language of the gospels in telling the story
of the crucifixion. Finally, Borg interprets the texts telling of Jesus resurrection
appearances beginning with the first comments on the event written by the
apostle Paul before the first gospels were written.
Jesus is worth
reading by Christians who want to learn more about the life of Jesus from a
scholar who understands the gospels in their historical context and takes a
humble stance when presenting the reasons for his views.
also worth reading by atheists, agnostics, and people of other religions who
wish to understand Christianity and how Christians can be divided over matters
of faith and practice.
What's missing is a full appreciating of Jesus' character. Jesus appears to be a somber and witty character. There is evidence of compassion. What we don't see is a man who enjoys family, loves to laugh and joke with friends, and feels the exhilaration of romantic love. That's not the fault of the author who avoids speculating about matters not included in the gospels.
additional importance is an understanding of how Jesus and the first Christians
mixed faith and politics. As Borg writes, the Christian story is not just
personal; it is also political. Jesus and his followers presented a way of life
that was different from the Jewish establishment and perceived as a threat to
the domination system enforced by the Roman rulers in Judea. When Jesus' life is seen this way, it is no surprise that the earthly rulers attempted to silence him. Clearly they failed. As people continue to experience Jesus as a healer, teacher, exorcist, savior, and Lord.
Jesus is a contemporary figure in American history. Europeans brought their story of Jesus to the Americas. Although the story is fading from an active role in American culture, a substantial percentage of Americans continue to embrace one or the other of the two paradigms, which affects how Americans love, work, fight, vote, and of course, worship.
related book: A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures
Bloody violence, talking animals, mysterious beings, rules
for slave holders, and managing your bodily fluids challenge anyone who makes a
New Year’s resolution to read the Bible. I could have used a book like The
Bible Tells Me So when I was a teenager attempting to make sense of this holy book I was dutifully bound to read. And in those days, the Bible sounded even
more removed from my reality in the language of Shakespeare.
Even with modern translations, some old stories still sound
quite strange and leave an intelligent inquirer wondering about what kind of God
kicks people out of their home for eating a bit of fruit, changes his mind
about creating people because they’ve turned out so bad, or orders his people
to kill an entire tribe of other people so his tribe can have their land?
Peter Enns offers some answers in seven easy-to-read
chapters. The problem with the Bible isn’t the Bible. The problem contemporary
readers face is understanding a collection of ancient texts free from a
defensive posture created by religious leaders who do not take challenges
lightly. In Chapter 1, Enns invites us to interact with the text and
appreciate how ancient people understood God and their spiritual journey.
The bloodthirsty warrior God appears in Chapter 2.
He’s the one who scared the hell out of children who, like me, grew up in
fundamentalist homes. You knew God meant business, because he killed, or
ordered the killing of, men, women, and children who were from other tribes.
And he even killed off his own people when they stepped out of line (remember the flood and other stories). By the
time we get to Jesus’ talk about a loving heavenly father, we may wonder what
kind of love are we talking about?
So, how does Pete deal with the big killer question?
“God never told the Israelites
to kill the Canaanites. The Israelites believed that God told them to kill the
I’ll comment on this later. It’s a big deal.
Chapter 3 is about ancient stories. Enns reminds
readers that people tell and retell old stories based on imperfect memories and
how the storyteller interpreted past events. The stories were told with a
purpose that gave meaning to their present time and served “to persuade,
motivate, and inspire.” (1085)
Peter offers a number of examples of different narratives
about similar events from the Gospels and the Old Testament. He helps readers
think about the big picture by explaining that the Old Testament was written
during the period of the monarchy and exile. The early origins stories
introduce the main story, which is Israel’s monarchy, exile, and return.
In Chapter 4, Peter explains why the Bible isn’t an
owner’s manual explaining how to do life. Examples from what appear to be
conflicting advice in Proverbs help make the point that wisdom is needed to
deal with particular situations.
Jesus’ way of interpreting the Bible is the subject of
Chapter 5. Enns illustrates how Jesus gets creative when he interprets old
texts in terms of his present situation. This creative way of looking at the
old text was not unique to Jesus. But Jesus stood out based on his claims to
identity and authority. A quote offers a useful summary of Jesus’ way of
introducing new perspectives: “You have heard that it was said…but I say to
you…” is hard to square with a rulebook view of the Bible.” (2501)
In Chapter 6, Enns focuses attention on Jesus as the key
to understanding what the Old Testament is about. The gospel stories introduce
Jesus as the saviour of Israel—the one who will make good on the old promises
and the one who is superior to the Roman Caesar. He adds Paul’s interpretation
that the gentiles are now equal with the Jews before God and in Jesus all have
freedom from the old laws. This requires faith in Jesus that what sets people
apart as people of God is not circumcision but love evident in how people treat
Enns ends it all in Chapter 7. Readers are challenged
to make an “attitude adjustment.” On the one hand, Pete writes “The Bible
is God’s Word.” But on the other hand, he asserts: “The Bible is not,
never has been, and never will be the center of the Christian faith.” Enns
draws attention to God and God’s work in Jesus as the centre of faith.
I recommend The Bible Tells Me So to all those
Christians who have become disenchanted with literal, or near literal, interpretations of the Bible that produce feelings of being trapped, fearful,
guilty, and struggling to make sense of ancient perspectives on science,
history, and how God works in people’s lives. As a bonus, Pete’s writing is
easy to read, provocative, funny, and snarky.
I recall a Christian professor commenting on the horrible
murderous things God did to people in the Old Testament. I suggested, as a
psychologist, that it seems a lot like war propaganda. The stories governments
would come up with to convince their men to fight because God is on their side.
And to convince the enemy that they, and their gods, are no match for what our
God can do. Perhaps, it’s not unlike children having faith that when the chips
are down, they can count on their dad to whip the opposition. I don’t claim to
be right. And I was pleasantly surprised by the thoughtful reaction of the professor. It is hard to make sense of the God Jesus described as a loving
father if the same God is not exactly prolife a few centuries before Jesus. In short, Enn’s presentation of the Warrior God should be
helpful to those looking for an explanation that makes sense of the alleged atrocities.
Enns points about interpreting the old stories may also help
people avoid the futile efforts of trying to find ways to match biblical
understandings of the world and the universe to the ongoing discoveries of
modern science. Peter’s call for readers to be careful about their expectations
of the Bible is on point. Reading very old texts with expectations that they
are like contemporary history or science books doesn’t make sense.
Enn’s doesn’t say much about the fallibility of human memory
and that’s ok—his expertise lies elsewhere. He doesn’t ignore the fact of
problem memories. Fortunately, even evangelical scholars like Craig Keener are
aware of the limitations of memory established by psychological scientists like
Elizabeth Loftus. The problem of memory is just another important factor to
consider when reading ancient texts based on distant memories of events. The
limitations of human memory do not detract from the obvious history of the
Bible as an enduring source of inspiration unless readers insist that all the
writers had perfect memories.
I am inclined to give Enns some slack for his comments in Chapter
7, which I noted above. Considering the Bible as God’s Word and then
saying it is not the centre of faith is a bit of a stretch. So much depends on
how one interprets the phrase “God’s Word.”
In one sense, the notion that the Bible is God Word
suggests an untouchable sacred document that cannot be challenged. In fact, modern
fundamentalist and evangelical Christians have elevated the Bible to a lofty
place as if it were God. Of course, each Christian group reserves the right to
interpret God’s Word for their group creating a foundation for doubt about what
it might mean to say something is “God’s Word.”
I see Enns phrasing here as a way of taking the edge off his
unfundamentalist approach to biblical interpretation. Given the first six
chapters, Enns’ view of the Bible is not at all like the perspectives offered
by Christian fundamentalists and evangelicals. And that is why Enn’s book is
Enns, P. (2014). The Bible tells me so...why defending scripture has made us unable to read it. New York: Harper-Collins.
* The numbers in parentheses represent location numbers in
the Kindle Edition.
About Peter Enns
Peter Enns has a PhD from Harvard University along with
other degrees. His recent CV identifies his position as professor of Biblical
Studies at Eastern University in St. Davids, Pennsylvania.
Kobes Du Mez begins and ends her assault on militaristic white American
evangelical men with their contemporary sociopolitical leader, former
president, Donald Trump.
the Introduction we learn the short doctrinal list of what it means to be a
Bible-believing evangelical, but the author posits that American evangelicals
are more than a set of theological statements. Instead, since the early 1900s
they have embraced a John Wayne view of what it means to be a Christian man—a
powerful warrior for country and God—a man who leads his troops into battle to
uphold the values of God’s chosen people, the Americans.
was the title, Jesus and John Wayne, that was off-putting. I didn’t grow
up with John Wayne films or a love of American westerns. I was after all
British and even after living in America, we were more likely to watch sitcoms on TV rather than see Westerns in the movies.
But my Canadian friend, Martin Mittlestadt, kept mentioning Jesus and John Wayne. I’m glad he
did. Here’s my review.
we follow the evangelical troops through history—mostly the last 50 years—we
learn about the power of high-profile white men whose vision of American
Christianity has dictated the distinctive roles that ordinary evangelical
Christian men and women should play if they want to make America great. According
to Du Mez, the current state of Christian America has been long in the making.
saddle up in Chapter 1 when Americans are off to fight in World War I for God
and country bolstered by the powerful voice of Billy Sunday and his contempt
for pacifists. After a few more pages, we learn that a group of fundamentalists (her label) formed the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. America was of course
at war battling evil empires, which fits well with the image of what makes America
Great. So far, I don’t see a problem. We British were fighters too and American
troops and fire power saved the day. What’s not to like?
evangelicals would embrace a handsome “All-American” man, Billy Graham, as an
unofficial leader. His rise to prominence was fuelled by the media and the conversion
of cowboy Stuart Hamblen. Graham supported a growing evangelical network that
included Wheaton College, Fuller Seminary, the National Religious Broadcasters,
Campus Crusade for Christ, and the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, to name a
few well-known evangelical outposts.
Graham hardly seemed like an extremist. True, his views on women are outdated
but they weren’t unusual for the 1950s. And even looking back, he hardly seems
like an aggressive religious bully. I’m not riding with the same posse yet.
entry into politics had a rough start with President Truman, but he encouraged
WWII hero Dwight D. Eisenhower to run for president. He did. And Ike invited Billy to help with
religious support, which he did. Thus, early on, we see the link between white
evangelicals and conservative politics. I get this as an important connection but, we British liked Ike too.
author pauses to backtrack a bit to trace the rise of John Wayne as his movies
showed boys how to become swaggering men with a funny accent and led them to
embrace a fierce anticommunist conservatism. Now I remember my boyhood friends trying
to walk and say stuff like John Wayne did. I don’t know what they said but one old quote
captures a lot of meaning:
everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”
Mez brings Jesus and John Wayne together in a quote from Baptist Alan Bean:
“The unspoken mantra of post-war evangelicalism was
simple: Jesus can save your soul; but John Wayne will save your ass.”
in the 1970s
now and learning about women.
Morgan writes a bestseller defining evangelical womanhood in The Total
Woman. I remember that book, but I never read it. Apparently, evangelical women learn the
secret of a happy Christian marriage, which involves treating their men like
kings, catering to their needs, and admiring their masculinity. The biblical fix
for marital strife: wives living in submission to their husbands—including sex.
My wife says she had a hard time with the old traditional marriage vows in 1973—that bit about “to obey.”
Anyway, we pledged our troths and we're still married.
Mez takes us on a rough ride through the manifest destiny of evangelical history.
Story after story reveals generation after generation of white evangelical men
preaching a gospel of male headship in the home, in the pulpit, and in society.
Of course, men as preachers is normal in church, where men have ruled for
nearly 2,000 years.
the genealogy in the gospel according to Du Mez. In the beginning, God
called Billy Graham and he begot Franklin who lived as a fundamentalist leader unto the present. Jerry
Falwell begot Jerry Falwell who declined in influence after Jesus and John Wayne was published. James
Dobson dared to discipline and created a family-values empire characterized by
strong men, disciplined children, and loving wives. Bill Gothard begat a decades-long
ministry promoting men as leaders in a god-to-man chain of command. By the 1980s,
Tim and Beverly LaHaye joined with Jerry Falwell and they created the foundations
for the Religious Right. The Moral Majority was born at the end of the 70s in
time to support the highly popular Hollywood Cowboy, Ronald Reagan and the Christian
conference warrior favourite, Oliver North.
that’s not all. Some golden oldies from the 80s were: Phyllis Schlafly, R. J.
Rushdoony, Howard Phillips, Gary North, Pat Robertson (God told him to run for
president), D. James Kennedy, Tony Perkins, Bill Bright, Ken Starr, Michael
Farris, Jesse Helms, John Ashcroft, Trent Lott, Richard DeVos, Elsa Prince,
Erik Prince, Wayne LaPierre, Richard Viguerie, Grover Norquist, Gary Bauer,
is the era of the televangelists and their sex scandals: Jim Bakker, Jimmy
Swaggart, Marvin Gorman. These evangelicals happen to be Pentecostals--a group I have studied a lot. I guess their moral failures required a mention.
Perhaps Du Mez wants us to see a preview of evangelicals gone wild, which will
might recall that the Clintons weren’t the kind of Christians loved by the
evangelical juggernaut. But Bill does provide justification for the Religious Right
to call attention to the need for men of character when choosing a president.
You can tell Du Mez is setting us up for a “go-figure” moment with The Donald.
the Christian culture war gets some powerful support from the likes of Bill
O’Reilly, Rush Limbaugh, and the cast at Fox News. Bill McCartney kicks off Promise
Keepers and a revival of Christian manhood. On the clergy front, John Piper and
Wayne Grudem explain “complementarianism”—that’s God’s design for the two sexes who
are equal before God but different when in comes to their gender roles. (In case you didn't know, evangelicals generally believe God created only two sexes and each matches their gender.)
component of the evangelical good news is that God has given his people sex to
enjoy. So, sex evangelists Josh McDowell and Josh Harris become popular. Sex
also gets a boost from the likes of Mark Driscoll on Mars. Stay tuned, the
purity ball will get tarnished by the end of the book.
the decades, high profile white evangelical men have one target or another to
galvanize the troops’ hunger for an enemy worthy of righteous anger and godly
hate. You know the phrase, “hate the sin” to which some add, “and love the
sinner.” Two persistent top ranked sins are abortion and same-sex
relationships. These two sins have stood the test of time when it comes to defining features of who is an American evangelical.
along the line, anti-abortion becomes pro-life. And, in one form or another, the
evangelicals in this litany will remind America about homosexuality—it’s
a word with considerable purchase unlike the preferred letters LGBTQ+. Du Mez repeats
the abortion and homosexual issues, perhaps because they occur so frequently in
the ongoing culture war, which has not yet ended. By my Kindle count of her book, abortion = 51 and homosexual = 32 occurrences.
replaced communism as the major threat to Christian America. Socialism is in
there somewhere too but Du Mez doesn’t make much of the socialism taunt.
evangelicals are rocked by the election of president Barack Obama—no surprise
this history leads up to the red-capped Donald Trump 2016 election triumph for
white evangelical Christians. Du Mez traces his rise in the primaries and the
powerful defences evangelical leaders deliver to cover outlandish comments and
hypermasculine sex-infused juicy stories in the media. We are reminded that 81%
of white evangelical voters carried Trump into the White House. What about his immorality…his
foul mouth, divorces, and Stormy’s sex? Du Mez recaps the evangelical defence.
I refer to John Wayne:
apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.”
the final chapter, Du Mez leaves the presidency to focus on the demise of
hypermasculine clergy. One after another, men fall from positions of authority. They
are tagged for their aggressive leadership or their sexual abuse. Du Mez strips
so many men of their moral robes that it seems like a sexual pandemic. They
stand before us naked as their violations of women, girls, and boys appear in
Mez concludes her cultural critique:
…understanding the catalyzing role militant
Christian masculinity has played over the past half century is critical to
understanding American evangelicalism today, and the nation’s fractured
political landscape. Appreciating how this ideology developed over time is also
essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might also be
Mez writes in an easy-to-read style as she weaves together quotes, survey data,
and historical events to show the close connection between white evangelical male leaders
and Republican politics, which culminated in their greatest moment in recent
history with a friend in the White House who served four years as a John Wayne-like cultural
warrior for their agenda. Like knights at the proverbial round table,
evangelicals finally had a king they could follow. They won a major battle and they remain in charge of vast cultural, religious, and geographic territory.
recommend Jesus and John Wayneto anyone who wants to understand the powerful
connection between militant white American evangelicals and their champion, former Bible-carrying President, Donald Trump. However,
I have a few thoughts about the psychosocial implications of her work.
Mez is a historian, and I am not. I won’t pretend to critique her work as
history. However, I am aware that the biblical authors praised the ancient
warriors who, credited God’s leadership as they killed the inhabitants of Canaan
and reached their promised land. And thanks to the evangelical’s American president, Israel’s
capital at Jerusalem was finally recognised with an embassy move. The history of the warrior God is
thousands of years old. And anyone familiar with Christianity knows evangelicals believe Jesus will
come again to ride a crimson tide of sinner’s blood in the final battle of
I think what’s missing from Du Mez castigation is an appreciation of the way
fundamentalists read the same sacred text known to Du Mez. John Wayne is a crusader
by another name. True, the gun is mightier than the sword. But in the hands of fundamentalists,
the sacred text is a powerful two-edged sword dividing truth from error, right
from wrong, good from evil. The sword cuts in two-ways.
doubt we would have a Jesus and John Wayne moment if Christianity did not have
a warrior God who, according to classic theology, never changes.
And I doubt we would have a large militant evangelical force if American clergy
learned to read the sacred text in a less fundamentalist manner.
fundamentalism is quite appealing. A clear-cut narrative separates good from
evil, fits ancient traditions, and reduces the need for that slow cognitive effort (see Kahneman) needed
to find nuances in old texts and contemporary issues. (More on the psychology of fundamentalism.) In my view, to undo the connection, Christian leaders will need to deal with the warrior God and consistently communicate more viable interpretations of the sacred text.
don’t see a lot of women in the battle. Du Mez does not ignore women’s voices. And of
course, she is a woman with a strong voice. Perhaps it’s not her fault. I mean,
the point is that evangelical women were good women if they submitted to a man’s
authority. However, there are evangelical women, many of whom are in the
Pentecostal and Charismatic tribes, who believe in equality (see pcpj position). If Du Mez revises her
work, I’d suggest she consider giving more time to evangelical women who don't affirm the submissive rhetoric.
3. My study of moral philosophy and psychology suggests the importance of emotion as vital to understanding the powerful forces at work beyond the beliefs documented in Jesus and John Wayne.Du Mez has aptly exposed the considerable downside of slavish support for the
moral virtues of authority, loyalty, and that which is sacred and pure without
a consideration of the importance of such virtues to a well-ordered society.
Her focus on the harm done to women and society as well as the damage caused by
inequality is noteworthy and should not be missed.
I suggest a broader moral
sense (see The Righteous Mind) and a recognition of the depth of emotion
giving rise to the powerful motivations she documents would provide a stronger basis for
considering how we might undo the damage of an extremely divided society. Fundamentalist morality is broadly based on foundations or authority, loyalty, and purity, which Du Mez does not fully consider as she focuses on the morality of equality and harm.
The conclusion leaves us wanting a solution. Consider this quote from the conclusion:
Appreciating how this ideology developed over time
is also essential for those who wish to dismantle it. What was once done might
also be undone.
agree that a cognitive appreciation of what happened is important to undoing
the harmful effects of vicious rhetoric, misguided “all in” obedience to
self-styled authorities who rob us of freedom even as they claim the banner of
freedom, and a shameful call to uphold that which is sacred and pure while
supporting immoral conduct with excuses and misplaced loyalty; however,
understanding does not lead to change as any psychotherapist knows. Galvanizing
action to change evangelical minds requires a strategy that recognizes the powerful role of human
emotions coupled with widely promoted militant interpretations of the Bible that give rise to unrighteous minds and the concomitant violent behaviour
that threatens the foundations of democracies.
now, it seems evangelical culture has been bifurcated. Fundamentalists have captured
more and more cultural territory including evangelical colleges and
universities. Many elites have escaped to find a home in progressive
Christianity leaving behind an unarmed remnant to anxiously survive in no man’s
Kristin Kobes Du Mez is a professor of history at Calvin
University and the author of A New Gospel for Women. She has written for the Washington Post, Christianity
Today, Christian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids,