STEALING JESUS by Bruce Bawer

STEALING JESUS

How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Bawer wants to rouse liberal America from its lazy indifference to the rising tide of Christian fundamentalism. A literary and cultural critic, Bawer has written on spirituality in modern fiction (The Aspect of Eternity, 1993) and normality in the lives of gay men and lesbians (A Place at the Table, 1993). Now he turns his critical sights on the history, reigning personalities, and ominous future prospects of Christian fundamentalism in America. Bawer traces fundamentalism back to the 19th-century English theologian John Nelson Darby, who first articulated the doctrine of dispensational premillennialism--a periodization of sacred history that will culminate in a thousand-year reign of Christ--and to C.I. Scofield, who incorporated Darby's ideas as commentary in his Scofield Reference Bible. Bawer goes on to critique Pat Robertson, Ralph Reed, Hal Lindsey, James Dobson, and Bill McCartney (head of the much- publicized Promise Keepers). He subsumes these men under the larger rubric of a wrathful ``Church of Law,'' which he contrasts with the more truly Christian ``Church of Love,'' best represented by the late Harry Emerson Fosdick, famed liberal preacher at Riverside Church in New York City. That the most distinguished American representative of the Church of Love is dead is just Bawer's point: Nonlegalistic Christians must find their voice again before the legalistic ones steal Jesus away. But with his love/law dichotomy, Bawer succumbs to the very type of black-and-white thinking he decries in fundamentalists. The dichotomy is especially unfortunate in that it both perpetuates an ancient Christian prejudice against law that has often spent itself on Judaism and Hebrew scripture, and distorts religious experience, which some scholars have understood to include both loving and wrathful dimensions. Bawer lightens his critique with stretches of autobiographical narration, but the overriding (and unrepentant) tone of fulmination lends his book the feel of a sermon that has gone on too long.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-517-70682-2
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Crown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15th, 1997




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