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From the author of the widely acclaimed A Place at the Table, this is a major work, passionately outspoken and cogently reasoned, that exposes the great danger posed to Christianity today by fundamentalism.The time is past, says Bruce Bawer, when denominational names and other traditional labels provided an accurate reflection of Christian America's religious beliefs and pFrom the author of the widely acclaimed A Place at the Table, this is a major work, passionately outspoken and cogently reasoned, that exposes the great danger posed to Christianity today by fundamentalism.The time is past, says Bruce Bawer, when denominational names and other traditional labels provided an accurate reflection of Christian America's religious beliefs and practices. The meaningful distinction today is not between Protestant and Catholic, or Baptist and Episcopalian, but rather between "legalistic" and "nonlegalistic" religion, between the Church of Law and the Church of Love. On one side is the fundamentalist right, which draws a sharp distinction between "saved" and "unsaved" and worships a God of wrath and judgment; on the other are more mainstream Christians who view all humankind as children of a loving God who calls them to break down barriers of hate, prejudice, and distrust.Pointing out that the supposedly "traditional" beliefs of American fundamentalism--about which most mainstream Christians, clergy included, know shockingly little--are in fact of relatively recent origin, are distinctively American in many ways, and are dramatically at odds with the values that Jesus actually spread, Bawer fascinatingly demonstrates the way in which these beliefs have increasingly come to supplant genuinely fundamental Christian tenets in the American church and to become synonymous with Christianity in the minds of many people.Stealing Jesus is the ringing testament of a man who is equally disturbed by the notion of an America without Christianity and the notion of an American Christianity without love and compassion....

Title : Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity
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ISBN : 9780609802229
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Number of Pages : 352 Pages
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Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity Reviews

  • Skylar Burris
    2018-11-20 03:42

    I've spent many years worshipping in both mainline and evangelical churches. I've known both "types" of Christians well. I'm familiar with the stereotypes each has of the other, as well as with the reality, which is considerably more complex. My own theological understanding lies somewhere between the two. So I nodded at some of the things Bawer had to say and bristled at others. Unfortunately, the bristling won out, and I abandoned the book before I had quite completed it. Of evangelicals, Bawer says: * They don't believe in reading the Bible intelligently. * They think God loves ONLY the saved. * They don't believe the mind is a gift from God. * Oh, yes, and they, "in effect…worship evil." I have never heard one of my evangelical friends or family members suggest that Lutherans and Episcopalians "worship evil," yet Bawer doesn't seem to have much trouble making such a statement while simultaneously lambasting evangelicals for (1) their intolerance and (2) their belief that they're right about what it means to be a Christian. Bawer is a kind of restorationist. Like all Christians claiming to be the true Christians who have interpreted Christianity rightly where others have interpreted it wrongly, he goes back to Christ and the "first Christians" for his support. Christ, he argues, would have been more like a mainliner (he uses the term "nonlegalist") than an evangelical ("legalist"). Christ would not insist people not practice homosexual sex any more than he would insist they not combine fabrics. In Bawer's view, though, apparently the first TRUE Christians didn't necessarily include Paul, Peter, Mark, Luke, John, or Matthew. Christ was not born of a virgin (an idea "cooked up by ancient men who idolized virginity") and he did not literally rise from the dead (a dishonest dogma a Christian must "struggle" to believe). Basically, as far as the Bible goes, if Jesus didn't say it Himself, it doesn't count, and even if Jesus DID say it, it still doesn't necessarily count, because, if you don't like it, you can always assume it's a "later extrapolation." If anyone thinks the current rift brewing in the mainline denominations between conservatives and liberals is, for conservatives, primarily about hatred of homosexuality, all they need to do is read Bawer to see what it is REALLY about. And what it is really about is whether we, as Christians have done for nearly 2,000 years, continue to teach the actual divinity and Resurrection of Jesus Christ, or instead come to regard him as some kind of an inspiring metaphor for God. Bawer knows the divide isn't about the politics of homosexuality or any other kind of politics. It's about these two groups' "essential understanding of the nature of God, the role of the church, and the meaning of human life." Of course, he thinks the liberals have the right understanding and the conservatives have the wrong one. And even though he knows what the divide is essentially about, he doesn't seem to get why, beyond intolerance and self-righteousness, conservatives would care about such things. The real issue for me, and I would venture to say a great many evangelicals, is not, "Should we, as Christians, move beyond the previous 2,000 years of Christian moral teaching about sex," but, rather, "Is there any significant difference between being a Christian and being a secular person who does community service? And if there is no essential difference, what is the point of worshipping Christ at all?" That is, I don't think Bawer understands the average Evangelical Christian's concern about reducing Jesus to a nice guy who came to say and do some nice things and then, inexplicably, died a not-so-nice death, after which he may have been raised again – or not – because it doesn't matter if he was. After all, nice guys die all the time. Apparently my belief in a literal resurrection, unlike Bawer's belief in the idea that "salvation…is a matter of finding one's way to a psychological…place in which one can triumphantly…put one's own individual existence into the 'Resurrection perspective'" (whatever that means), is NOT "an honest struggle, a struggle to embrace something worthy and true." He seems to suspect that all other Christians are just faking belief in the literal Resurrection. Well, believe it or not, but believing in the Resurrection has never been a "struggle" for me. Believing in a literal group of wise men following a literal star to a house and depositing gold and myrrh? Maybe. But the Resurrection? No. This event is the whole reason I'm a Christian. As Paul says, "And if Christ be not raised, your faith is in vain." For me, Bawer completely misses the point when he says, "the Resurrection makes Jesus' life and teaching ultimately irrelevant…it is as if Jesus, during his ministry, had just been killing time until the main event." No, the Resurrection is the thing that makes Jesus' life and teachings highly relevant. What's wrong with asking: If you can't accept the Resurrection, why are you worshipping Christ? It seems to me a reasonable question. For myself, if I didn't believe in the Resurrection, if I didn't believe Jesus was God incarnate, I'd likely convert to some form of Judaism. It's not as if Christ, when it comes to PRACTICAL teaching, said anything that hasn't been said, more or less, by some other rabbi at some other point either before or after him. Why worship a rabbi? Why worship a prophet? Why worship a man, even if you think that man was closer to God than any other man? Why bow down to him and sing hymns to him and build churches to him and pray in his name? If you want to say you admire Christ and that he gave you unique insight into God and that his teachings about loving God and your neighbor are vital and true, fine, but why WORSHIP him? Why stay in the Church and try to get other Christians to abandon their insistence that centuries old doctrines about the divinity and Resurrection of Christ matter if you are actually going to worship him? I don't think asking this question of liberal Christians is particularly intolerant. It's just rational.Despite all his talk of evangelical intolerance, Bawer repeatedly looks down on other faith experiences if they don't happen to be like his. I wish liberal Christians such as Bawer would stop saying, "We're right because we're tolerant and you're narrow." The argument has never really been a question of tolerance or inclusivity, but of truth – and BOTH sides (certainly no less the liberal Christian than the conservative Christian) believe they have it. The liberal Christian would be more honest if he said, "I'm no less intolerant than conservative Christians, I just happen to be right." Both sides will welcome anyone who shows up to worship, it's just that who shows up differs. So the evangelicals word their invitation differently, and they attract more Indians and Hispanics and Arabs and Koreans and Africans and poor people than the mainliners; the mainliners attract more gays and rich white liberals. Does that make the mainline more inclusive? The real test of liberal Christian tolerance is not--can you embrace a gay man, but--can you embrace a fundamentalist (or even an evangelical)? As Christ says, "If you love them that love you, what thank have ye?" What tolerance preachers don't seem to realize is that you can really only "tolerate" that which you disapporve of. To say you think there is nothing wrong with homosexual sex, and then to claim you "tolerate" homosexuals, is absurd. What effort does your "tolerance" require of you? If the measure of conservative tolerance is to never disapprove of homosexual sex or liberal theology, to never say anyone might be wrong in his religious beliefs, then shouldn't the measure of liberal tolerance be to never disapprove of conservative Christians, and never say conservative Christians are wrong in their beliefs or that they are "worshipping evil"? But of course "never disagreeing" is a poor definition of tolerance to begin with. Tolerance is not believing someone is right, it's being kind to him EVEN WHEN you believe he is wrong. And Bawer is not kind to evangelicals. This is not to say Bawer doesn't make some good points. Quite a bit of what he says are things, if you took them out of the surrounding anti-evangelical context, even many evangelicals would nod at. And I can agree that there's plenty to criticize in evangelicalism. Bawer also plays a special role in trying to reach out to those liberals who eschew religion rather than recognizing its essential character. He also does a great job of emphasizing the importance of allowing Americans, who are woefully ignorant on this topic, to have an education in religious history: "In a diverse country where most children attend public schools, it's not easy to find an objective way to teach religion. Yet to omit it, for this reason, almost entirely from history education is to distort history beyond recognition. And it isn't just history. Pre-Romantic European literature, art, and music were to a large extent about Christianity."

  • Jim
    2018-11-09 01:35

    Bruce Bawer sets out the way that fundamentalist churches have laid exclusive claim to the label "Christian" and have twisted Jesus's teaching of love and redemption to one of punishment and exclusivity. Bawer argues that "fundametalist" Christianity is more accurately termed legalist Christianity. This religious approach is marked by an obsessive insistence on absolute obedience to moralistic rules and theological correctness, at the expense of Jesus's commandment to love. Bawer lays out the history of legalistic Christianity, showing how it is rooted in a reaction against modernism, both in the churches and in the broader culture. Rather than being a return to tradition, Bawer shows that fundamentalism is a form of religious radicalism. This radicalization has sped up in the late 20th century, a process well-illustrated by developments in the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest of fundamentalist denominations. The SBC was taken over by extremists who forced a shift away from the stress on individual conscience and equality of members to an insistence on doctrinal obedience and the submission of wives to husbands, parishioners to pastors. Religious radicalization was applied to politics in the form of the so-called Religious Right. Bawer argues that they have infused politics with "unchristian rancor, disinformation, and scare tactics". Rather than practicing a politics informed by their beliefs, the Religious Right seeks to restrict other people's civil rights in the name of religion. He shows that, from its very beginning, political fundamentalism has been based in a politics of exclusion. He quotes Ralph Reed, former director of the Christian Coalition, as saying that the Religious Right did not grow out of the anti-abortion movement, as is commonly thought. Instead, the Religious Right began its life as an organized political movement when the Carter administration required Christian schools in the South, as a condition of their tax-free status, to show that the schools had not been formed to maintain a segregated school environment.Many fundamentalists are convinced that they are the only true Christians and that only their beliefs are valid. Through misreadings and distortions of history, they think that America was founded with their system of belief as its basis. They believe that it is their mission to use the power of the state to compel modern American society must conform to fundamentalist Christian morality. Pat Robertson has characterized the constitutional provision against state-imposed religion as "a lie of the left". In an example of the truism that politics makes for strange bedfellows, fundamentalist Christians have made common cause with neo-conservatives in an effort to dominate the conservative movement and the Republican party. This alliance is ironic, given that many neo-cons are northeastern, Jewish, and intellectual. One might wonder what they make of Bailey Smith, former president of the SBC, who said, "God Almighty does not hear the prayer of a Jew."As a gay man, Bawer focuses much of his book on fundamentalist attitudes toward homosexuality, which are generally hostile(to say the least). Bawer sees this as part of the fundamentalists' narrow take on morality and a hostility toward difference. Some critics have written that Bawer spends too much time on gay issues, but given the centrality of homosexuality in current fundamentalist thinking, I think Bawer is justified. Since he wrote this book in the mid-1990s, fundamentalists have focused a lot of effort on opposing gay marriage. (Sometimes, the fundamentalist obsession with homosexuality attains the level of self-parody, as it did when Jerry Falwell warned us of the gay Teletubby or when James Dobson, notorious for burning Harry Potter books, outed Spongebob and Patrick.)Bawer criticizes secularists - journalists, liberals, and academics - for being ignorant of the nature of religion in America. He characterizes liberal elites as assuming that American society is mainly secular (reflective of themselves) and for buying into the idea that religious conservatives are representative of all Christians. It is rare in popular culture for religious life to be taken seriously. Bawer sees this attitude as creating a spiritual vacuum in American culture that has been filled by fundamentalism.This book resonated with me a lot, because it reflected a lot of what I had to deal with, growing up.When I was seven, my family moved to an area with a strong Southern Baptist presence, an island of Bible-belt Southerners in the Upper Midwest. My elementary school was a battleground between Team Jesus and the forces of Satan. By the time I was in 3rd grade, I was convinced I was going to hell. I was afraid that the Episcopal and Methodist churches where we sporadically attended holiday services, what with their talk of compassion and love, weren't going to save me. Since my parents weren't going to take me to a tent revival, I decided that my hope was in daily Bible reading. I discovered that my classmates' understanding of the Gospels was on the level of the Weekly World News and that their theology was akin to second-rate scientology. Their conception of Jesus was mostly a celestial combination of Saddam Hussein and a professional wrestler.Like Bawer, I came to believe that the teachings of Jesus are the crux of Christianity; everything else is extra.

  • Emiko
    2018-10-20 23:26

    Like Bawer, I am a self-professed gay believer who’s looking to find a voice for unity and acceptance in the “Church”. Unfortunately, I found his book disappointing. I could simply leave it by saying it’s out of date and divisive, but I feel it needs addressing. If his intent is to persuade anyone from the conservative “other side” to consider parting from their fold, he or she wouldn't be able to get past the first chapter. His blatant bias is summarized in his attempt to classify conservative vs. liberal Christians as “The Church of Law” vs. “The Church of Love,” the later referring to the liberal groups represented in his Episcopalian association, but also the Anglican Church, United Methodist Church, United Church of Christ, some Presbyterians, Lutherans and Quakers. He does permit (albeit scantily) some conservatives under “The Church of Law” are capable of love. This alone tempted me to close the book, but I continued to read the first three chapters.Sadly, Bawer does what I think our society largely does, including many conservative Christians—mistakenly incorporate conservative Christianity as fundamentalism. As Dean G. Pruitt and Sung Hee Kim keenly point out, Islamists are not the same as Islamic people. Likewise, Christian fundamentalists are not the same as conservative Christians who, in general, hold to traditional views. As well, a charismatic Christian is not the same as a Pentecostal, and the Baptist church is too wide-ranging to stereotype easily. I am not dismissing the overlap in the spectrum; however, the oversimplification only continues the presumptions and intolerance that offends many Christians. That said, even Bawer points out most evangelical Christians desire unity in Christ. Distinction matters little upon first meetings, unless further association is needed. Even then, it is often enough to say we are brothers and sisters in Christ. And yet Bawer, as a proponent of his “Church of Love”, seems to miss this as he lumps all conservatives together as unthinking and unconcerned, at best.Unfortunately, Bawer and many conservative Christians dismiss how the epitome of religiosity is represented in the extreme ideology of any religion as an "-ist" or an “-ism”. However, I can see where Bawer is coming from since I've witnessed Christians mistakenly claim their title as fundamentalists and not see the tie. In other words, while some are opposed to fundamentalism, they will still consider themselves as a fundamentalist. Consequently, this only perpetuates society's cynical view of them. Too often I've witnessed conservative Christians holding to certain fundamentals as tenets or creeds (such as the Apostle’s Creed (also sung by the late, great Rich Mullins)), believing it makes them a fundamentalist. The misunderstanding is not surprising considering the difficulty in untangling the variety of beliefs within theological interpretations. Still, it’s as though fundamentalists are forgotten as holding doctrines as “the rules” or “law”, placing the words and letters over the intent and resulting in extremist views. Simply put, conservative Christians need to recall what the fundamentals are and recognize honoring them in union with the intent (heart) of the law does not make one a fundamentalist. It is not as though they need to be a part of a fundamentalism movement, like an Islamist in Islamism. I digress…Despite Bawer’s judgments to distinguish “the Church of Law” from “the Church of Love” while holding an outwardly narrow understanding of the other side, I may continue reading. Why? One reason is to practice engaging with others who do not share similar understanding or views. With that, I don’t want narrowly to read my favored authors with whom I agree with as a reliable source to gain "insight" about others from. While I was raised as a non-denominational evangelical, experiencing the spectrum between fundamental conservative views and more liberal ones, as well as charismatics, conservative Baptists, Arminialists and 5 pt. Calvinists (all within the same community), I have little understanding about Protestants on the “other side”, such as Bawer’s Episcopalian affiliation, beyond a partisan political label of “liberal” Christianity.In closing, I will match Bawer in his outwardly limited view and suggest his book seems appropriate for only two types of readers who can overlook his condescension: those who are drawn towards having their preconceived ideas about conservative Christians solidified; and those interested in learning about the history of the Episcopalian church.

  • Kathleen Dixon
    2018-10-20 23:50

    There's a very powerful paragraph here, which for me summarises the whole 'back to basics' necessary for Christianity to survive in a model that Jesus would be happy to walk in:(p.308-9) For Jesus' disciples, "the divinity of Jesus was not primarily a doctrine; it was an experience. The disciples felt in him something not of this world. They were sure about his manhood, but it was manhood suffused and irradiated. It subdued them, awed them, fascinated, and mastered them. The glory of their lives came to be that they had known him, loved him, believed in him. They did not start by believing in opinions about him, doctrines concerning him, they started by believing in him. The objective of their faith was not a theory; it was his personality, his life." Jesus opened up for them a truth about the universe, revealed to them "a universal force everywhere available and belonging to the substance of creation."I can't say any more. This book has been excellent reading, I have highlighted screeds and screeds, and have already used it in sermons.

  • Michelle Margaret
    2018-11-17 21:29

    Admittedly, it has much to do with my close encounter with a Fundamentalist Christian boyfriend several years ago, but from start to finish I could barely put this book down. Though the contents are a bit stilted (the author is a homosexual liberal Episcopal), it is an incredibly well-researched volume, cohesively detailing the history of the Protestant movement in America from the Puritans and Founding Fathers to the megachurches and televangelists of the late 20th century. Bower clearly contrasts the Church of Law (orthodox) and the Church of Love (liberal), outlining their fundamentally different beliefs and divergent views on Jesus Christ. He draws from the work of Harry Emerson Fosdick, a 1920s Baptist minister and staunch modernist. Chapter three, "Darby's Kingdom," unveils the bizarre apocalyptic theology popularized by John Nelson Darby and others who lived in the early 1800s. Taken from the enigmatic Book of Revelation, the curious theory of "dispensational premillennialism," holds that Jesus will personally return to Earth and reign from Jerusalem for 1,000 years. Then, during the Rapture, he will lift all the "saved" disciples up in heaven and send the rest of the human race to eternal damnation. These archaic beliefs are still held by many sects of orthodox Christianity, including Mormons and Seventh-Day Adventists. Now, we liberals tend to disagree with this theory due to some time-tested scientific concepts like biology and physics. (But I guess if they are right, we are in big time trouble.)Chapter nine, "God's Generalissimo," contains Bawer’s facsinating analysis of Pat Robertson and his formation of the Christian Coalition. He rips to shreds any notion that the Coalition is good-natured by showing how it hypocritically relates to its members, though, among other things, propaganda-filled voter pamphlets distributed the Sunday before election day -- versus how it relates to the public, via CNN and other news media.In chapter eleven, "No More Gray," Bower attends a service at a conservative church in Georgia. It's a humorous yet chilling anecdote of a minister who speaks to his congregation like kindergardeners and even equates Jesus to a rich relative who has left them a huge financial inheritance. Bower notes, "A successful church service gives worshippers the feeling of having come closer to God, to one another, and to all Creation; of having shed at least some degree of self-concern and anxiety about death; and of having been filled, at least to some extent, with gratitude, love for all humankind and a desire to serve." He illustrates how black-and-white legalistic churches tend to do just the opposite and explains why they are growing at such an alarming rate.Chapter twelve, "A Lie Straight from the Devil," relays the story from a pamphlet designed to drop in children's candy bags on Halloween which the author discovered at a Christian bookstore. It contains a comic strip with two boys trick-or-treating. One gets hit by a car, dies and is pictured in Hell with Satan. When the other boy asserts that his friend really is in heaven because he was a good kid, the Sunday school teacher tells him, "That's a lie straight from the devil," because the dead boy had not been saved. Further, we are all sinners and can only get to heaven because of Jesus's sacrifice on the cross.Clearly, conservative Christians will hate this book (but they'll never read it anyway), and liberal Christians will probably ignore it in apathy. On the contrary! Stealing Jesus is required reading for any breathing being who believes that "the real Jesus was not about asserting power, judging or destroying; he was about love."

  • Sue
    2018-11-14 03:50

    Early on in this book, I had hope that the whole thing would be summed up from this quote on p. 59: "Theology is valuable to the extent that it represents the effort of an individual to capture his or her experience of God. . . .Theology is bad to the extent that it is prescriptive and official; theology that forces Christians to deny their own experience of God and to declare their allegiance to a set of propositions that may run contrary to that experience is destructive of true spirituality."Unfortunately, the more he goes on, the less control Bawer seems to have over his objectivity. He continuously posits his opinion as correct and the opinion of the fundamentalists as necessarily incorrect and it all seems very hypocritical. He never once entertains the thought that maybe, for some people, fundamentalism IS their experience of God. I agree with Bawer's views that religion should be about love and helping our fellow man, and the book contains many wonderful insights, but I'm a little concerned that he is committing the same sin for which he's condemned the fundamentalists: the "I'm right and you are oh-so-wrong" attitude.Take this quote from p. 210, when Bawer is leaving a legalistic Christian service in Georgia: ". . .the whole tone of the proceedings was so strikingly different from what a Christian service can and should be." Really? He goes on to describe what a Christian service SHOULD be like if the worshippers really want to be Christian and Christ-like. In the next paragraph, he basically says we should not blame the congregation of fundamentalist churches for attending such services - they are, after all, so hopelessly dumb. It was downhill from there, and turned into a gay man's rant against all the wrongs done to him by the church. Which I'm sure are true and valid, but not the apparent subject matter for this particular book. I guess I thought if he was going to preach "love thy neighbor" he would have started by loving the fundamentalists.Another great book that sheds light onto religious phenomena and the rise and fall of religious beliefs is Discovering God by Rodney Stark. This book was enlightening, worth two or three re-reads but leaves you without much hope of peace between the major world religions.

  • Rachel
    2018-11-02 20:49

    So I abandoned the beleif in Christianity a long time ago. And I'm not really sure where I got this book. I probably bought it on one of my trips to B&N back when I lived in CA and had money to burn on tons of books I would never get around to reading. Anyway it was on the shelf and I'm really running out of interesting things to read. COME ON PEOPLE! THink of something good for me to read! I'm thinking of trying to dig Choke out of my garage. It was Cindy's book and I think I still have it. She liked it. I have no idea what it's about though. Anyway, Back to Stealing Jesus (SJ) - it was written by a Gay man who left his church/beliefs partly because of his sexual orientation, then reconverted to Christianity 8 or so years later: Bruce BawerGrowing up in a church of law (as the author calls them) I could definitely identify with his assertions about the ideas/interpretations about the life and purpose of Christ, for different groups. There are of course many classifications for organized religion to fall into. But the distinction the author made was between churches (mainly dividing protestants into the two groups, but he also briefly mentions catholics, mormons, etc) difference in focus: Jesus' life, teachings, works etc, vs those churches that focus on his death and the doctrine that rose from it ie: virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, literal ressurection, premillenial dispensationalism (some will rise up to meet Christ in the 2nd coming and everyone else will suffer for 1000 years I think? don't quote me on that) etc. Anyway, it was an extremely interesting book. And I have to say I didn't even know, growing up with the literalist view of Christianity, that there are churches that claim the name of Christianity and follow his teachings without asking you to profess your belief that every word of the Bible is inspired truth, or that you believe Mary was a virgin or that God reqquires some kind of bloody atonement for us to come home. One negative - I didn't like how the author assumed that to buy into these doctinal ideas you had to be part of the extremely uneducated southern underclass (he hounded a lot on the Southern Baptists and their dogmatic ideas - I didn't like that very much). I know there is a huge undereducated population in our country. But I also know a LOT of very intelligent, educated people who buy into all the modern science we know of today, and still eblieve in some of those doctines that seem to defy our knowledge. They're not stupid. I understand it because I was raised with it.But a lot of the book is great. And the last chapter so beautifully sums up a lot of what I feel about Christianity currently. It made me cry.The author quotes Reinhold Niebuhr in an essay he wrote decades ago: Some people are atheists "because of a higher implicit theism than that professed by believers. They reject God because His name has been taken in vain, and they are unable to distinguish between His holiness and its profanation." then the author says "in other words, they rebel, both intellectually and morally, against what legalistic faiths have made of God."I guess this is exactly the problem I've always had. If Jesus came and ate dinner with prostitutes, was kind in his teachings to lawyers and all kinds of slimy bastards as well as the "good" people - he in fact made this the number one LAW: Love God and love your neighbor (and in theparable of the Good Samaritan, the neighbor to love was the despised foreigner, not the fellow believer who attends weekly worship with you). So if this was the Jesus on earth, then WHY would he come back and allow millions to suffer and die and burn in hell, be separate from our father etc, all because of some luck of heritage? Who cares who the good people are. If they don't subscribe to my same set of end-times dogma, they're going to burn in hell while I sit at the right hand of God. What kind of god is THAT? I don't think it's the kind Jesus showed us. I really don't. The book was eye-opening. It made me think about God and faith in a new light. And in fact, I think I"m going to read the synoptic gospels. Just Matthew Mark and Luke. Not John.Just a thought: I guess I think that in a time when there was no science, these men, thes followers of Jesus, experienced something so different and so amazing to them that the only way they could express the difference of Jesus and his ideas, was to say he was divine. I don't think he was really conceived in spirit to a virgin. And if he was, then why does Josephs lineage to David mean a damn thing in the bible? LOL

  • Geneva
    2018-11-09 00:26

    Oh I don't know... it gave me interesting avenues of things to think about, which I'm still thinking about, but a lot of it seemed very knee-jerk: less meditative than I would like and more reactive, which I guess is the point. Mr. Bawer's knee jerks in the same general direction as mine, but I think I was hoping this book would be more research-heavy and less ranty. Still, though, I'm glad I read it.

  • Geoff
    2018-10-26 01:47

    I disagree with Bruce Bawers need to cling to the christian faith. However, he is able to make a strong case against a christianity hi-jacked by right wing nuts who are bent on taking America and faith "back for Jesus." This was also one of the many books that I read leading to my exit from the christian faith.

  • James
    2018-11-05 00:36

    Bruce Bawer does a thorough and persuasive job of showing how today's fundamentalist movement betrays the principles Jesus taught and is working to hijack Christianity for its own selfish and worldly purposes. Must reading for anyone concerned about where American culture is going.

  • Jason
    2018-11-14 23:34

    This was an excellent critique of the last hundred years as Christian Fundamentalism has developed and contorted the eteachings of Jesus from that of love for all to a dogma of exclusion and hate.

  • Hans Halvorson
    2018-10-28 21:23

    The only reason I gave this book four stars (and not five) is because I'm a dialectician, and I've been trained to nitpick about everything. There were a couple of places in the book where I thought Bawer had created a false dilemma, or that he wasn't subjecting his own point of view to critical scrutiny. In short, the book had a couple of dialectically soft spots.And yet, the book paints a very attractive picture of "The Church of Love" (what evangelical Christians would call the "mainstream church" or "liberal Christianity"). If you think that the mainstream church is just a bunch of cowards and sell-outs, then I challenge you to read this book (in a spirit of charity). And if you think that Christians are ignorant and morally blind, then I challenge you too to read this book (in a spirit of charity).

  • Travis
    2018-11-14 02:32

    When I first realized how long ago this was written, I was kind of bummed out, but it turned out to be really not an issue at all. This gives a good look at the history of fundamentalism in the US from its beginnings to the late '90s when the book was written. Obviously things have only gotten worse since then, so I am interested in reading something more up to date that deals with the same subject. Although the author seems to believe that all religions are good, it did feel like he thinks everyone should be some sort of religious, which was annoying and is the main thing that kept me from giving it five stars. It's really engagingly written and although I was raised in a fundamentalist church myself, there was a lot I wasn't aware of outside of my own church, so I learned a lot.

  • Astrid
    2018-11-09 21:25

    I read this book shortly after leaving a Christian group that came close to those the author is describing. This was over twenty years ago. Even though this book isn't perfect and I don't necessarily agree with everything... it was such an important book to me at that time and is still on my shelf. It helped me to understand more about the kind of worldview I had been involved with and lived in/with for too long.

  • Sarah B.
    2018-11-07 02:24

    As someone who is largely unfamiliar with the different denominations of Christianity in the U.S., I appreciated Bawer's division into two main types, which he calls "legalistic" and "nonlegalistic". Simply summarized, the legalistic denominations concentrate on God's authority, and tend to believe in strict adherence to (certain) doctrines, the literalness of Biblical scripture, the actual existence of Satan, and that God will bring only "saved" Christians into Heaven. These are the Christians who believe they need to defend themselves against secular humanism in the culture wars. Nonlegalistic Christians, on the other hand, believe in God's love for all humans, a socially and historically contextual understanding of the Bible, and the necessity for humans to use our (God-given) minds along with Jesus's teachings to sort out right from wrong. Bawer also goes into the history of Christianity in the U.S., including evidence that the nation's founding fathers were not legalistic Christians, and the rise of evangelical Christianity in the last few centuries.I found this book an emotionally difficult read, especially the part about the rise of Christian fundamentalism and the decline of moderate Christianity on the national political stage. As someone raising a child in Texas, a state so tainted by fundamentalism that I am considering homeschooling in order to protect my child from ultra-right-wing bias, these issues hit close to home. Reading about how calm, peaceful, accepting Christians have been out-shouted by political extremists makes for depressing reading. I was convinced by Bawer's arguments about the true message of Jesus and how strongly it differs from the ethics of, say, Pat Robertson or James Dobson. I understood Bawer's own position, which seems to be to follow Jesus's teachings closely and to develop a position of love and compassion for his fellow humans. What I still don't understand is the appeal of fundamentalism, or why someone would read the Bible and choose to see the messages of intolerance more clearly than the messages of love.On the positive side, I gained a greater appreciation both for moderate Christianity and for the Biblical passages about Jesus. I enjoy reading about other religions, and I feel I learned a lot from this book. If you can stomach its subject matter, this book is well-written and well-argued.

  • Marjorie Hakala
    2018-11-16 02:49

    I read this book when I was maybe fourteen and it was hugely influential for me. Bawer argues fiercely that fundamentalism--or legalism, as he calls it--is a betrayal of the Christian tradition. I was already sympathetic to begin with, but he won me over completely with all the chapters of history, with his takedown of the doctrine of atonement, with his willingness to jettison Paul when Paul didn't seem to be getting things right. This is a deeply Protestant book, in that Bawer takes his personal convictions more seriously than any doctrine that conflicts with them.I probably would gain something from rereading this book now that I'm an adult, but I'm wary. For one thing, Bawer is hugely us-vs.-them about fundamentalism; he recognizes that it's a mindset rather than a denomination, but lays out what denominations do and don't have a history of legalism with a clear eye to steering clear of those that do. For another, based on his website, he seems to have turned his focus of late to taking down radical Islam--and with it, the whole migration of Muslims to western European countries. This line of thinking makes me very nervous, but I'm afraid it's of a piece with the mindset on display in Stealing Jesus: that some people have it wrong, and those people must be stopped. I'd like to reread it to remind myself what he makes of figures like Luther and Wesley, whose ideas led to both especially strict and remarkably progressive theologies. I rather hope he was able to recognize this sort of split between followers of the same revolutionary.As a Marcus Borg/John Shelby Spong sort of Christian, I recognize the debt I owe this book and the philosophical kinship I have with its author, to a certain extent. I have a great respect for the personal journey he describes of finding a home in the Episcopal Church as a gay man whose mother insisted on letting him choose his religious affiliation. But I have to consider it these days as a rather ambiguous influence on the way I think.

  • Alex
    2018-11-13 20:49

    I really agree with Bawer's Christianity and his outlook in general. A couple things about his writing bothered me however, one was the first chapter where he seems to be intending to look at the historical biblical times as a theologian, which he is not (as he emphasizes himself in the intro). He over simplifies some interpretations to the point where they're no longer valid points which is delegitimizing to his whole purpose. The major thing however is that at parts he is very patronizing to middle and lower class Americans, the ones mainly attracted to fundamentalism and speaks about them and for them, not to them. He often leaves the reader feeling that these people have no agency in their lives and are just waiting for others to come make change happen.This is hardly a surprise as many liberal intellectuals have the habit if dropping into this vaguely condescending tone.I would definitely recommend this book to any American, or anyone interested in American politics.

  • Alicia Fox
    2018-10-25 04:39

    This book is essentially about how legalistic Christianity (e.g., what you see on 700 Club and from the likes of Mike Huckabee) developed over the course of the twentieth century. The author does a pretty good job of laying out the political history and changes in Christian philosophy that have resulted in religious doctrines which were once backwater beliefs developing and expanding into today's megachurches.If Bawer had stopped there, I'd easily give this book four stars. Where he loses me is in his rose-tinted-glasses characterizations of the earliest Christians and his brushing over the Puritans.All the same, if you're a Christian fundamentalist outsider or refugee looking to learn why issues like creationism are still popping up in 2015, this book should suit your needs.

  • Craig
    2018-11-13 23:40

    While I wholeheartedly agree with many of Bawer's basic arguments in this tome, it is not - at heart, - a well-argued discussion at all. He focuses on problems of the fundamentalist side, consistently maintaining that they ignore parts of the bible to make their points. And yet he turns around and ignores chunks of the bible to make his own points against them. The way it is presented comes across nearly as hypocritical as those he is attempting to argue against at many points in the book.Despite this, I do believe it is worth a read. I have many more thoughts about this one, but am having a hard time recently cementing those thoughts into words.Perhaps I will revisit this one. I would like to actually say something worthwhile about it.

  • E.d.
    2018-11-10 02:28

    I'm no theologian and I disagree with some of what Bawer says yet I was fascinated by his account of the war between liberal, mainline protestant churches and what he calls the church of law (conservative, fundamentalist, evangelical, mormon, pentecostal etc.) It was especially interesting to learn about the battle for hearts and minds waged in the first few decades of the 20th century by these two groups. Mainline protestantism seemed to have won until the church of law reared its ugly head in the 1970's.Even as a reader that is very much to the left of Bawer I can appreciate his outrage that "christian" has come to refer almost exclusively to judgemental, hectoring jerks.

  • Riley Cooper
    2018-11-08 01:46

    Despite being written 17 years ago, the book still has a lot of relevance in today's world. The underlying theme is timeless anyway, so it didn't bother me to be reading about several legalistic figures who have faded from the public eye since the book was written. The last chapter of the book turned out to be my favorite because the author presented his views about what is most important for those professing to be Christians to be concerned with. It's an intriguing - and surprisingly realistic - concept. If you don't have time to read the whole book, just reading the last chapter will be thought-provoking enough.

  • Denise
    2018-11-07 01:47

    I found this to be a thought-provoking book. It goes right to the question of what defines Christianty. Certain Christians have a narrow definition of the term, and would argue that many who call themselves Christians are not. Bawer argues that certain popular Christian leaders such as Pat Robertson that are not taken seriously by those outside the faith are not harmless, but dangerous because they influence so many minds that will not think for themselves. I would have liked to read more about Bawer's own beliefs; for example, he is such a critic of Biblical literalism that it is not clear if he believes in the Resurrection, or considers it central to Christianity.

  • Susan Carpenter
    2018-11-03 21:32

    Wow. We really are not taught about religions in America. I was never taught this in K-12 OR in college. Amazingly accurate book. Anyone with a real belief in the man we call Jesus Christ, with a real desire to actually attempt to follow this man's path, will benefit from the plethora of information and insight in this book. It is very current, very well researched, and a must read for anyone who has ever taken going to a christian/catholic church seriously. ("Christian" includes all varieties, all denominations.)

  • Cameron
    2018-11-02 02:49

    A passionate argument against the dangers of fundamentalism - especially in the Christian/evangelical world. Scathing and damning without quite crossing into the vindictive realm; this book made me think about some of the churches I've been in and just how far from the character of Jesus they had come. Sick of legalistic, judgmental Christianity? Give it a read.

  • Kelly
    2018-10-23 04:23

    It's easy to assume that all Christians think and act like the most extreme of their faith when all we see in the news media and entertainment is the extreme. Yet this book reminded me that there are Christians out there who believe that love is what it's all about -- not rules, not doctrines, not literalism. Love.

  • Peggy
    2018-10-31 00:29

    The subtitle says it all. Nothing could be truer from my understanding - both spiritually and intellectually - of Jesus Christ that "fundamentalist" Christians pervert and invert His message. It's time to throw off the yoke of the Pharisees again and let TRUE Christianity reign over this bleeding and battered world.

  • Will Holcomb
    2018-11-18 20:34

    The book did a great job laying out the path that led to the current view of religion and the Bible by the fundamentalist branch of Christianity. The example/metaphor he had at the end of the book, to me, really hit home as to what Christianity should be. It is about doing out of love what you believe is right not because of the reward or punishment.

  • Jakki
    2018-11-02 03:39

    Great reference book, helpful statistics and explanation of various terms I wasn't familiar with. Although written in 1997 the information still applicable for today. Conservative Christians will probably not like the book but a good read to understand how others out of the fundamentalist mind set think and feel.

  • PabloRodriguez
    2018-11-05 03:38

    I found this book very informative and easy to read. It shows the origins of fundamentalism and how it has come to power within American Christianity. I am considerably more conservative than the author and disagree with some of his ideas. Still a very worthwhile read.

  • Curtis
    2018-11-15 22:39

    I really liked this book because it did a great job of differentiating legalist Christianity from the true gospel of love taught by Jesus. The only downside was that it was written over 10 years ago and the cultural references were therefore somewhat dated.