Jesus and John Wayne?

Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation
By Kristin Kobes Du Mez
Liveright Publishing, 2020, 356 pp.

2 Stars

Readers of this blog know I’m not a supporter of the still-popular “America the Christian Nation” paradigm. The conflation of faith and fervent nationalism by American Christians has led to a multitude of wrong turns, errors, and abuses ever since the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth in 1620.

The unusual title of this book caught my attention, so I borrowed a copy from the library. The author documents the preliminary origins and rise of militant Falwellian Christian nationalism in the 1970s, which has continued in various permutations into the Trump presidency. Where does Hollywood actor, John Wayne,* fit in? The author posits that post-WWII-era Christians substituted Wayne, or rather the über-masculine and nationalistic ethos that the actor symbolized, for Jesus Christ and the genuine Gospel. The main propagators of Christian nationalism receive plenty of mention, including Pat Buchanan, James Dobson, Jerry Falwell Sr., Jerry Falwell Jr., Bill Gothard, Billy Graham, Franklin Graham, Robert Jeffress, D. James Kennedy, Al Mohler, Oliver North, Tony Perkins, Doug Phillips, Pat Robertson, Rousas Rushdoony, Phyllis Schlafly, and Doug Wilson, among others.

The author, Kristin Kobes Du Mez, a professor of history at Calvin University** (Grand Rapids, MI) and a self-described “Christian feminist,” is at the opposite end of the spectrum of the Christian nationalists she critiques. Throughout the entire book, the reader must endure her shrill rants against “white patriarchalism.” I’m definitely not a supporter of Christian nationalism or inflated machismo, but Kobes Du Mez also frequently takes aim at doctrines that are basic to Biblical Christianity. According to her view, evangelical Christian nationalists are also misguided because they preach against homosexuality, desire to evangelize Muslims, and believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God.

I would have awarded this book only 1-star due to its theological heterodoxy, however I bumped it up to two stars because I did appreciate the author’s critical examination of the history of Falwellian Christian nationalism. Evangelical scholars are not apt to tackle this subject material either because (A) they’re sympathetic to Christian nationalism themselves or (B) they don’t want to alienate the bulk of American Christians who still hold to that paradigm in some form or fashion. However, the author’s own ax grinding on behalf Christian feminism and theological liberalism draws its own abundant criticisms.

I’ll be focusing on a very recent example of misguided Christian nationalism in the upcoming Weekend Roundup.

*John Wayne was a nominal Presbyterian before “converting” to Roman Catholicism two days before his death.

**Christian parents send their teens off to some “Christian” colleges such as Calvin University mistakenly assuming the faculty believes and teaches Biblical orthodoxy.

27 thoughts on “Jesus and John Wayne?

  1. Not quite sure what to make of all this, Tom. I will say this, however: I’ll take any day of the week those “Christian Nationalists” — who at least believe in the cores truths of the Christian faith — than to someone who denies the core beliefs. The things you mentioned she opposes — “preach against homosexuality, desire to evangelize Muslims, and believe the Bible is the inspired and inerrant Word of God” — gives me serious doubts as to her salvation.

    Therefore, give me the the “Christians Nationalists” who are at least saved and uphold the Bible over the nominal “Christian” who bashes them. Not giving her any stars at all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, David! I totally agree with you regarding the author. She’s pretty outspoken about not believing the Bible in any kind of literal sense and it’s clear she would not embrace the doctrine of trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior by faith alone as the only way to salvation according to her remarks re: Muslims. While I’m not a fan of “Christian nationalism,” I’m obviously united in Jesus Christ and the Gospel with believers who are favorable towards CN. It’s ironic that both Christian nationalists and Christian “progressives,” like the author, espouse ecumenism, although for very different reasons. And of course ecumenism is a very dangerous trap for believers. In the upcoming weekend round-up, I’ll be including discussion of a recent Christian nationalist event, which clearly demonstrates some of the pitfalls.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thanks, Mandy! Hopefully, my reply to David clarifies my views “a bit.” Not that I expect everyone to be in agreement with me on the Christian nationalism issue.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Good review Tom, I totally agree. I also object to the racial implication in the title “white evangelicals”. This whole vein of faith obstructs God’s call upon believers to “be alert” to “watch and pray” in expectation for His return. So many are preoccupied with ‘redeeming’ this already condemned world. For Americans who have enjoyed a good life and the fruits of their hard work, this is a big snare and temptation.
    I pray that the Lord quicken our hearts and lift our spiritual eyes upward always to Him. May the Lord bless you and your home, inspire and strengthen you all.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Lisa Beth, thank you for the good comments! Yes, there is a historic disposition/view held by Christians living in America that holds to growing deep roots and becoming preoccupied with redeeming the temporal, as you mention. Much of that attitude comes from the popular notion preached from pulpits of America being in a covenant relationship with God similar to ancient Israel.
      Thank you and may the Lord bless you and yours as you seek to serve Him!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Thank you Tom for addressing this topic. It is much needed.

        Ephesians 4:16 From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thank you, Cathy! And for the Scripture verse. This topic is admittedly a “hot potato” considering Christians living in America have heard the opposite from their pulpits since the Pilgrims landed.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. “ *John Wayne was a nominal Presbyterian before “converting” to Roman Catholicism two days before his death.”…
    2 days… TWO DAYS… 💔😭

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Calvin College has strayed away a LONG time ago; yet I do appreciate sometimes critiques from opposing sides that note things the other side might not see. Never heard of the publishers before by the way and I wonder why she didn’t publish in a more mainstream publisher afterall she’s from Calvin, a name worth of publishing. Still like you said, the radical feminism and questioning of key biblical truths is a problem with her…thanks for this review!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks! Yeah, this book was valuable for its historical insights. As I was reading I was guessing she was somehow connected with Rachel Held Evans. I googled both names together and I see Du Mez is a big fan of RHE. I wasn’t familiar with Calvin U. I see that George Marsden also currently teaches history there and he’s not too far of a stretch from Du Mez. I’d still like to read his book on fundamentalism.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wow Sad to hear she’s a fan of RHE who I can’t stand with her simplistic and fallacious arguments for her terrible theological conclusions….my view is that most Christian nationalist when rebuked about the Gospel priority would admit one can go to far but with RHE and Christian Left they only keep asking for more of their woke and horrible theology…

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, I agree. With Christian nationalists we’re talking about the sin of idolatry, but with RHE and Du Mez there’s a subversion and denial of fundamental Biblical doctrine. Some might get the impression from this post that I’m blanket endorsing Du Mez’s views. This book is valuable only because it examines the rise and perpetuation of Falwellism. Similarly, a book that I reviewed last month, “We Gather Together: The Religious Right and the Problem of Interfaith Politics,” was written by an unbeliever, but did an excellent job of examining the pitfalls of politically-based ecumenism. By giving that book 5-stars, I certainly wasn’t endorsing the author’s unbelief.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Yeah, those within an errant “movement” aren’t capable of any type of critical self-analysis. Jerry Falwell was not able to take a step back and objectively view the dangers of his Moral Majority. Same with Chuck Colson and ECT.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The Gospel Coalition on Facebook has written similar articles criticizing Christian Nationalism and Distorted Christian Conservatism. However some of their articles go into the Social Justice Warrior territory. Their posts receive lots of angry comments from White Conservative Evangelicals. It’s so hard to find a right balance anymore, even in the Church. The bulk of American Christians are so far-right sometimes and dedicate themselves to hating ALL democrats. Or there are the Christians who have veered very Left and get into some social movements that have nothing to do with the Bible and even twist Bible so they don’t look intolerant. It’s only a small amount of Christians who can be balanced and stay away from these extremes

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks for the comments! Yes, I saw the recent article on the Gospel Coalition site by Thomas Kidd that attempted to make a distinction between nationalism and patriotism. The church has historically struggled to find its proper relationship with the state. The Reformers regrettably took their cues from Rome and propagated church-state alliance. The Puritan immigrants to America took the idea even farther with the notion that this nation was the anointed New Israel/Jerusalem. Lost in all of this was the Biblical exhortation that believers be pilgrims and ambassadors in this temporal world. There’s no doubt that the bulk of American Christians hold very strongly to Christian nationalism and to an anointed/privileged view of the U.S. and react very passionately to contrary views.

      Liked by 1 person

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