Tag Archives: Jesus and John Wayne

Favorite Faith-Based Nonfiction

(“…if she were not possessed of a fury.”)*

Continuing the Best of EatReadSleep Ten Year Celebration series!

I have been, as Dan Koch** would say, on a complicated faith journey, and whenever something significant (or truly miniscule) is happening in my life, I have to read all about it. This list contains titles that have been among the most impactful for me, although there were plenty of them that I read before this blog began, and others that I read when I was in a place of fear and kept to myself (see Pete Enns, below). There are also faith-based titles in the “Anti-Racist Reads” section, already posted. Bear in mind that I read many of these when I was deeply searching, somewhat depressed, or furious.

Click on the title for the full review.

Out of Sorts, by Sarah Bessey. Number one, no doubt about it. I read this and Bessey’s Jesus Feminist around the time of my mother’s passing and other global disasters, and it was exactly the right timing. This is sort of a long and complicated review.
Tell It Slant, by Eugene Peterson. I saw this one in a photo of Jon Foreman’s piano and brought the book with me on a family vacation to Virginia. Since it was a relaxed vacation, it got passed around to rave reviews.
Abba’s Child, by Brennan Manning. A deeply contemplative volume for those of us who need assurance of God’s love.
The New Copernicans, by David Seel, Jr. A different and more positive understanding of the faith of Millennials, those of us who think like Millennials, and why. To use a hackneyed phrase, a true paradigm shift.
Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez. She writes with a flaming sword. Since I reviewed this book, I have heard it mentioned all over the place, and for good reason. Essential.
Thin Places, by Tracey Balzer. A foray into the Celtic understanding of spirituality for this old Celt. I want to go on one of her trips to Iona!
The Divine Conspiracy, by Dallas Willard. A classic on discipleship and kingdom living now.
Surprised by Hope, by N.T. Wright, and also pretty much everything else he wrote. He is my go-to guy for solid teaching.
Running Scared, by Ed Welch. I read it myself one year, and then David and I taught it a few years later. If you are anxious or worried, I hope it helps you as much as it helped me.
Finding God in the Waves, by Mike McHargue. Science Mike threw out everything about faith, and then, spurred on by a divine vision, re-examined each little element and decided what he could truly believe. Tearing it down to bare bones.
What If Jesus Was Serious? By Skye Jethani. A radical little devotional for adults and families with teens. Cuts away religious trappings to get down to what Jesus really said (although I am confident that Jesus understood the subjunctive mood).
The Benedict Option, by Rod Dreher. Not that I agreed with him on everything, but we had a little book group on my back porch to discuss this one, and I have such fond memories of that group of ladies that the book warms my heart.
I blogged about Peter Enns’s book The Sin of Certainty, but this Bible professor’s book that really impacted me was How the Bible Actually Works, which I was probably afraid to write about at the time. A definite must-read.

Disclaimer: I own all of these books, which is not typical for this librarian, so you can see where I’m putting my book money. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not express those of my employer or anyone else.

* Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing. Benedict is speaking of Beatrice, whom he despises, and with whom, therefore, he falls madly in love.

**Dan Koch is the host of the You Have Permission podcast and is pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology, focusing on spiritual abuse. One of my favorite podcasts.

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Jesus and John Wayne, by Kristin Kobes Du Mez

If that title doesn’t grab you, the subtitle, How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation, surely will.  Dr. Du Mez is a historian at Calvin University, so writing a book with this theme took a great deal of courage. Although she does not hesitate to take on the recent political scene, particularly at the very beginning and end of the book, most of the volume develops the history of evangelicalism in the United States, starting in the early twentieth century.

kristin-kobes-du-mez-4Those of us who were late to the evangelical scene may not be aware that the evangelical movement has changed over the past century. During the second world war, fundamentalists and evangelicals came together to found the National Association of Evangelicals, which now encompasses 45,000 local churches in 40 denominations. Du Mez points out that denominational distinctives, which were important in the beginning, began to blur in favor of a more united and powerful coalition. Fundamentalism grew stronger, and then the reformed churches came to the fore in the past 30 years or so. She shows how the movement has consistently moved in a more misogynistic and politically right-wing direction, often forsaking doctrine for an increase in power, until, at this point in American history, the evangelical church is inextricably tangled with the Republican party, leaving it open to manipulation by right-wing politicians who presume that evangelicals will support their candidacy and policies.

One aspect of this history that surprised me was the rise of evangelical consumerism. It didn’t surprise me because I didn’t know it existed; rather, it surprised me to find that I was in the midst of it without noticing, like a fish in water. Everywhere we look, we can find t-shirts, mugs, wall signs, bumper stickers, and truckloads of trinkets with Bible verses or cute Christian sayings on them. This is not even including the books of varying quality, vacation packages, and media that call themselves “Christian.” Winning the white, middle-class, Christian market is a coup for any business, and the hedonism of our spending is purely American.

Du Mez also tracks the rise of parachurch organizations later in the twentieth century, particularly those concerning families and men. Almost all of the family ministries demanded male headship in the home, and many of the men’s ministries were based on military activities and physical training. Du Mez questions the relationship between Jesus’s teachings and guns. She points out that evangelicals, as a group, are reliably pro-war, and during George W. Bush’s presidency, 41% of evangelicals were in favor of torture, more than any other group in America. Furthermore, two-thirds of evangelicals do not believe that the United States should accept refugees, also more than any other group in the country. Both of these statistics are shocking for people who claim to read and believe the Bible, where Jesus preached love and nonviolence. There are also countless verses about caring for refugees. As she notes on page 321, “Despite evangelicals’ frequent claims that the Bible is the source of their social and political commitments, evangelicalism must be seen as a cultural and political movement rather than as a community defined chiefly by its theology.”*

john-wayne-2Somewhere along the way, evangelicals replaced Jesus with a John Wayne-like image of the perfect Christian man: rugged, arrogant, and domineering. While this could have been a reaction to the meek and mild Jesus with silky blond hair portrayed in popular paintings, there is a lot of daylight between those two images, and neither one is true. Du Mez shows that as the patriarchy grew stronger and stronger, the churches and parachurch organizations that adopted complementarianism most heartily began to leak reports of sexual abuse. Furthermore, the leaders across the entire movement were so close that they covered up for one another. Here, as in her entire history, the author is careful to present evidence. Throughout the book, from the 1980s onward, I knew all of the players, and she is not hesitant to name them. It was a shock. For decades, no one was forced to take responsibility, and in extreme cases, the victims were made to apologize. Finally, the #MeToo movement reached the church, and pastors and “Christian” leaders were called to account.

One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the evangelical movement today is how it has become unmoored from Jesus’s teaching and has taken on a separate identity that blends religious rules with politics and power. As the author notes on page 325, “For conservative white evangelicals steeped in the ideology, it can be difficult to extricate their faith, and their identity, from this larger cultural movement. As one man who grew up awash in evangelical masculinity and 1990s purity culture later reflected, ‘I lived and breathed these teachings, and they still shape me in ways I don’t understand even 20 years after rejecting them intellectually.’”*

There is so much more in these pages than I can relate here, and this is just one account of the cultural movement that has so many people running away from evangelicalism. Let us hope that they are not running away from Jesus.

Disclaimer: I read a library ebook of this title. Opinions expressed are solely my own and may not reflect those of my employer or anyone else.

*Since pagination is flexible in ebooks, the quotes may be found on different pages in print editions.

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Filed under Book Reviews, Christian Life