Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

Bruce Bawer
1997 Crown Publishers, Inc.
Book review by Paul Pellerito

Bruce Bawer's newest book proves to be as timely and eye-opening as his previous one, A Place at the Table. With this work, Bawer aims his critic's eye at one of the growing political influences in this country: The Religious Right.

While sticking to the true message of the Bible and Jesus' teachings, Bawer points out how Megachurches, Promise Keepers, and the Christian Coalition are cheating and indoctrinating their congregations to other more political and hateful views and in effect stealing Jesus from the rest of us.

Be not mistaken, this isn't light reading. Bawer challenges you to compare your faith to the messages of love, acceptance, and equality that Jesus presents us in the scripture. Stealing Jesus is a book that deserves the attention of the reader's heart and mind, and is recommendable to anyone who needs affirming of their faith in the face of the hate and intolerance of politicized Christianity.

By presenting a history of both "liberal" and "conservative" Christianity, Bawer successfully shows that so- called traditional denominations are not nearly as traditional as one might suspect. He tells us the roots of the modern-day evangelical movements, the birth of the frightening end-of-the-world scenarios being presented as we near the millennium, and how these traditionalist churches thrive on the hate and ignorance of the people in their church's pews. He shows how many of these "churches of law" have drawn their ideas and faith from the most legalistic and hateful passages of the bible, often citing Leviticus and Deuteronomy as laws that demand obedience from wives to their husbands, and unquestioning following of church doctrine. Bawer not only draws comparisons between churches that love and churches that hate, but profiles such political and religious personalities Pat Robertson and Ralph Reed, among others.

Bawer explains that the religion of these people and their followers is inspired by anti-intellectualism, insecurity, and the age we live in. Citing the passive, non-thinking culture that television has made some of us become, Bawer accurately describes Megachurches as a result of our culture and the sort of mindless "entertain me" mind-set that many Americans have. He also does a marvelous job at showing how the shortcomings that many men may face in our country have brought many of them to Promise Keepers, and exposes the exclusionary, anti-women movement disguised by their facade of love and acceptance. Bawer brings to light the fact that many Americans are feeling unsatisfied with their lives, unhappy with justice, the mainstream, and the state of the family today and therefore turn to legalistic Christianity as a way to have it all make sense. Legalism allows for strict answers, legalistic churches are churches where there is only one answer for each question, and no exceptions to any rule. Legalism, then, gives people seeking answers a place to turn, even though those answers may not be truly reflective of what Christianity is all about. He shows how the current religious movement is highly reactionary: widely ignorant and uneducated Americans uncomfortable with today's current issues turn to their religion for affirmation that they (the good people of this country) will be saved, while everyone else will perish in hellfire.

Stealing Jesus is a book that every committed Christian is urged to read, not just to examine your faith, but to broaden your horizons and get a perspective on a part of Christianity that threatens to make Jesus' name synonymous not with love but with hate, strict elitism, and legality.

©1998 Oasis Magazine. All Rights Reserved.