Showing posts with label Christian fundamentalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Christian fundamentalism. Show all posts

Tuesday, December 27, 2022

Do I Stay Christian? A Review


Do I Stay Christian?

   By Brian D. McLaren


Reviewed by

  Geoffrey W. Sutton


“He’s an atheist now.”

“She came home from that church in tears.”

“We’re agnostic. We just don’t know.”


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.


Brian D. 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.


Do I 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.


Christians 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).



Readers 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.


McLaren 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.


After 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

Book Reference

McLaren, B.D. (2022). Do I stay Christian: A guide for the doubters, the disappointed, and the disillusioned. New York: St. Martin’s.

My copy was purchased on AMAZON


Author note

I am a retired psychologist and professor of psychology who writes about psychology and religion.

Links to Related Books





Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

  TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Tuesday, October 18, 2022

Sins of Scripture – Book Review


The Sins of Scripture:

Exposing the Bible’s Texts of Hate to Reveal the God of Love


     John Shelby Spong


  Reviewed by

     Geoffrey W. Sutton

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 of exclusivity.

Spong 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; Enns, 2014), 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.

In section 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.”

Women are 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 Sodom story.

Child abuse 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.

Perhaps 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.

In Section 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.

Finally, in 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.


Several 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.

I think 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.



Spong, J. S. (2005). The sins of scripture: Exposing the Bible’s texts of hate to reveal the God of love. San Francisco: Harper.  Available on AMAZON   and   GOOGLE


The author

John Shelby “Jack” Spong (1931-1921) was an American bishop in the Episcopal Church. He was the Bishop of Newark, NJ from 1979-2000. Highlights of his life can be found at


About my publications-

I am a psychologist who studies and writes about psychology and religion. You can find more of my works, including free articles below.

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 


Saturday, January 1, 2022

Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a book review



Uncovering the Life,

Teachings, and Relevance of     

a Religious Revolutionary


   Marcus Borg

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W.Sutton


Jesus” is 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.”

The current 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.

Emerging Christians hold a view Borg calls “historical-metaphorical.” His short summary is: 

“...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.

Borg 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.”

Having 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.

Jesus is 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. 

Perhaps of 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.

A related book: A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures

Buy on AMAZON    or  GOOGLE  and elsewhere


Cite this review

Sutton, G. W. (2022, January 1). Jesus-Life, teachings, revolutionary -a review. Sutton Reviews. Retrieved from


Borg, M.J. (2006). Jesus: Uncovering the life, teachings, and relevance of a religious revolutionary. New York: HarperCollins. [AMAZON]   [GOOGLE]



Other books presenting Progressive Christianity

About the author: Marcus Borg on GOOGLE     AMAZON

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 



Friday, April 23, 2021

The Bible Tells Me So- A Book Review






   Peter Enns

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

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 Canaanites.” (786*)

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 others.

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.

Ungodly Warrior

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.

Ancient Views

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.

God’s Word

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 worth reading.


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.

About the Reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a licensed psychologist with a PhD from the University of Missouri. He is the author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures.  He has worked as a clinician and research professor. Now he studies and writes about psychology and religion. He no longer provides clinical services.


Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton   

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 



Saturday, March 27, 2021

JESUS AND JOHN WAYNE - A book review




How White Evangelicals       

Corrupted a Faith and

Fractured a Nation


   Kristin Kobes Du Mez

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton


Kristin Kobes Du Mez begins and ends her assault on militaristic white American evangelical men with their contemporary sociopolitical leader, former president, Donald Trump.

In 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.

It 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.


As 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.

We 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?

Soon, 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.

Billy 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.

Graham’s 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.

Our 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:

“If everything isn’t black and white, I say, ‘Why the hell not?’”

Du 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.”


We’re in the 1970s now and learning about women.

Marabel 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.


Du 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.

Here’s 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.

And 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, Paul Weyrich.

This 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 come later.

You 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.

In the 1990s, 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.)

Another 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.

Through 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.

Somewhere 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.

After 911, Islam 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.

The evangelicals are rocked by the election of president Barack Obama—no surprise there.

All 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: 

“Never apologize and never explain – it’s a sign of weakness.”

In 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 the media.

Du 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 undone.


Some Thoughts

Du 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.

I recommend Jesus and John Wayne to 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.

1.  Du 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 humankind.

So, 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.

I 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.

Psychologically, 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.

2.  I 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.

4. 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.

I 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. 

For 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 land.

About Du Mez

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 PostChristianity TodayChristian Century, and Religion & Politics, among other publications. She lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

About this reviewer

Geoffrey W. Sutton is a psychologist, Emeritus Professor of Psychology, and author of A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures and over 100 publications.


Du Mez, K. K. (2020). Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation. Liveright: New York. AMAZON LINK

Book -- technical notes:

Introduction + 16 chapters + conclusion in 304 pages followed by acknowledgements, notes, end matter for 356 pages.

Related posts

A House Divided: Sexuality, Morality, and Christian Cultures (Reviews)

The Better Angels of our Nature

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

The Righteous Mind

The Bible Tells Me So...

Please check out my website

   and see my books on   AMAZON       or  GOOGLE STORE

Also, consider connecting with me on    FACEBOOK   Geoff W. Sutton    

   TWITTER  @Geoff.W.Sutton    

You can read many published articles at no charge:

  Academia   Geoff W Sutton     ResearchGate   Geoffrey W Sutton 

Dr. Kristin Du Mez on Jesus and John Wayne

An image I saw in a local store comes to mind.