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Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   340
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.04" Width: 5.24" Height: 0.77"
Weight:   0.65 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 20, 1998
Publisher   Three Rivers Press
ISBN  0609802224  
EAN  9780609802229  

Availability  1 units.
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Item Description...
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 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.
Bruce Bawer is the author of A Place at the Table, Diminishing Fictions, and The Aspect of Eternity. A practicing Episcopalian, he has delivered talks and sermons in churches around the country and has published essays on religious subjects in the New York Times and elsewhere.

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More About Bruce Bawer

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! BRUCE BAWER is the author of A Place at the Table, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year, Stealing Jesus, and Diminishing Fictions. He served as a board member of the National Book Critics Circle and has written for the New York Times, the Washington Post Book World, the Wall Street Journal, the New Republic, and other periodicals.

Bruce Bawer currently resides in New York, in the state of New York. Bruce Bawer was born in 1956.

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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Part good, part troubling  Mar 9, 2008
Raised a Roman Catholic, I left the Church at 17 after becoming troubled by the strict dogma that I felt in my heart went against many of my beliefs. I was troubled by the Church's history, I was troubled by what Bawer describes perfectly as the astonishing glee of others who proclaim that they are saved, while others are damned to Hell. After leaving the Church, I avoided organized religion all together, proclaiming myself an agnostic. The growing Evangelical movement in America led me to believe that being religious meant being close-minded and judgmental. As someone constantly eager to learn about the world, and drawn to the social work profession, I couldn't reconcile my life path with what I felt was the exclusivity of Christianity. It took nearly six years for me to realize that, although they would have us believe otherwise, the fundamentalists do not have a monopoly on Christianity and on the teachings of Jesus. My spirit was drawn to a progressive Christianity that teaches the core messages of Jesus while encouraging us to experience the awe and wonder of the universe -- to remain open to the God that is still speaking within us.

I explain all of this so that I can give some context as to where I was coming from when reading this book. I certainly had a very open mind and found quite a lot of Bawer's message to be fascinating and relevant. His message that Jesus's Great Commandment and other core teachings are more important than any other obscure doctrines from the Old Testament truly spoke to me. He also gave important contextual information concerning other New Testament texts, such as the letters of Paul, which are favored by fundamentalists but are probably much more legalistic than Jesus would have approved. He also gives very interesting historical information concerning the development of the Fundamentalist and Evangelical movements, although I found somewhat confusing the essential differences between the two.

I disagree strongly with the reviewers who have critiqued Bawer for "picking" and "choosing" the parts of the Bible he likes. Certainly he does say that some parts are more relevant than others. What he has done is advocate a theology based on the overarching themes of Jesus's teachings. Which is radically different from the tendency of Fundamentalists to ignore those themes and create theology based on Revelations and the legalistic aspects of the Bible.

What I found immensely troubling, however, about this book was Bawer's characterization of legalist Christians as uneducated Southerners. I am from an urban part of the Midwest where I encounter educated Fundamentalists all the time. I feel like Bawer was trying to discredit the Fundamentalist movement completely by portraying them all as gullible dimwits. But from my experience this is a very flawed argument. I was hoping for a book that would explain how someone who studies Geological Engineering at a renowned public University can believe that the world is 6,000 years old. Perhaps some other kind reviewer will read this and be able to point me in the direction of a book that is more thorough and less one-dimensional in its characterization of fundamentalist Christians.
Let's go to Jesus and ask.   Feb 19, 2008
Let me begin by laying my cards on the table. I'm a Christian apologist; my most recent book, The Truth Behind the New Atheism, is a response to the likes of Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens from an "orthodox" perspective. I see myself very much in the center of the Christian tradition -- my favorite writers having lived in 2nd Century Alexandria and Greece, 4th Century Hippo, 17th Century Beijing, 19th Century Russia, and 20th Century Oxford, and few from the American South. (Apart from Walker Percy.) But sociologically, I'm "evangelical." I grew up in these churches I've visited hundreds of "legalistic" (in Bawer's terminology) churches around the world, and have been welcomed as a speaker in dozens of denominations.

So I know something about the subject. And like Bawer, I have my biases.

In some ways, "Stealing Jesus" is an excellent book. The author is intelligent, reflective, and insightful. There's a lot of truth in his critique . . . though some of it may boomerang back on him. This book is miles ahead of a more recent best-seller by a New York Times journalist that attempts the same thing -- Chris Hedges' bathetic and hysterical "American Fascism." For one thing, Bawer is a much better writer. And the dangers he warns of are generally more realistic. I get the feeling he takes his "Church of love" rhetoric seriously, and is really trying to understand those he derides.

Nevertheless, the book is ultimately fails badly. First, what Bawer says of Frank Perretti (though he should read Peretti's The Visitation, in some ways a stronger attack on legalism than his own!), ultimately comes back to haunt him:

"It's a world in which everything and everyone divides up readily into two categories -- black and white, satanic and godly."

Conservative Christians, according to Bawer, see foreigners as "very much the other." (Don't we all? But talk to a few foreign students, and chances are you'll find many have been befriended by evangelicals -- my wife was once one.) These folks have a "loathing of sex." Pastors treat church members like children, and teach them to put on a front. Believers are even taught not to love. Megachurches are "more of an entertainment than a spiritual excursion."

Every serious observer knows these complaints are sometimes true. But we also know that often they aren't. One can find churches, and Christians, to justify all these complaints. But that's called "stacking the deck," and that's really what Bawer is doing in this book.

Read Arthur Brooks' "Who Really Cares" for a more objective summary of Christian compassion in America. Brooks shows that believers both in the alleged "Church of Love" and the alleged "Church of Legalism" are in fact far more compassionate than those who don't go to church at all. (In terms of giving money, time, and even blood to charity, and every other measure of generosity.)

Second, while more fair than Dawkins or Hedges, Bawer can be terribly unfair. He criticizes James Dobson for promoting a naive picture of 1950s America. There may be some truth to this criticism. But it is also true, according to government statistics, that violent crime skyrocketed in the 1960s and 70s, and that far fewer kids today have fathers. While of course institutionalized racism is rarer today, thank God, isn't Dobson reasonable to decry some of these other trends?

Bawer talks about "spiritual warfare" as if he'd never heard of a metaphor, or assumes conservative Christians are too stupid to maintain the difference between metaphor and reality. He assumes that Waco or "Christian Identity" are the natural conclusion of conservative Christianity -- though neither is orthodox Christian. He lists several violent cults, none of them orthodox Christian, then adds, "If anything should amaze us, it is . . . that more legalistic Christians have not chosen to act out in conspicuous and sensational ways." Bawer sounds disappointed. Perhaps he should be amazed, and begin to question his assumption that orthodox Christianity belongs in the same category as, say, the Taliban or Heavens' Gate.

It should be a clue to the failure of his hypothesis, when Bawer has to point to non-Christian extremism to buttress his argument. He says the Taliban is "a terrifying illustration of what can happen when legalistic religion moves from theory to practice." But might it not make a difference if the theory is different?

What is the relationship between love and law? Jesus said he did not come to "abolish" the law, but to "fulfill" it. And is anti-nominalism really an option? Even "liberal" churches have implicit legalisms, after all. In some churches, driving a Hummer might be frowned on, or flying a Confederate flag, or failing to recycle. And for "conservative" Christians, laws like "thou shalt not commit adultery" are not merely tacked onto the "law of love," they are an expression of love -- of commitment, kindness, justice, responsibility -- in a certain sphere of life. It seems to me a more nuanced and cautious discussion of this complex issue is required that this Manichean "light and dark" image of two churches, one committed to righteous love, the other to evil law.

"Before you take the splinter out of your brothers' eye, first take the log out of your own eye." We can all still learn a lot from Jesus -- gay members of the "Church of love," straight members of the "Church of legalism," and those who are members of none. What is needed is that we come to Christ willing to die to ourselves, and recognizing that he is lord, and so we might all need to change in fundamental -- though not necessarily fundamentalist -- ways, as he calls us beyond ourselves.
The Real Christian Traditionalist  Jan 7, 2008
Bawer turns the greatest lights of Christian history on the fundamentalists who claim to own his church. Like a strict constitutionalist arguing with modern super-nationalists, he upholds the real tradition the founders stood for. For one example among very many, he cites Gordon James' 1987 defense of early Baptist values:

"Baptists believe that every individual has the right to construct his own statement of belief, likewise do churches, associations, and conventions, ... This being an absolute of Baptist belief, it is also an absolute that an individual is only bound by personal beliefs. No church can be bound except to its own beliefs. ... It is the foundational position Southern Baptists have called soul competency, and the related doctrine called the priesthood of all believers and liberty." (p. 156)

Bawer's forgiveness for the dogmatists who would drive him from their church makes his case even stronger. In the long run Bawer will win, and it will be the best for all.
Outstanding - well written  Nov 25, 2007
I learned so much from this book. Bawer gives a clear picture of the thinking behind people's beliefs. A real service to the reader. Well documented, good bibliography. He has done his homework. A must read for any thinking person.
Magnificent  Aug 15, 2007
Mind-opening, mind-blowing, mind-enriching, and just the perfect answer to the currently fashionable anti-faith hate literature. This should be required reading for Dawkins, Harris, and the other religious illiterates making a mint by bashing a straw faith--this is the real thing. Bawer, well in advance of the anti-faith movement, put such "literature" in its place.

Beautifully written and even more beautifully organized. Brilliant. Superb. Required reading for our species. Thank you, Mr. Bawer.

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