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Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

3.88 of 5 stars 3.88  ·  rating details  ·  432 ratings  ·  38 reviews
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 p
Paperback, 352 pages
Published October 20th 1998 by Broadway Books (first published 1997)
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Steve Sckenda
Oct 22, 2012 Steve Sckenda rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those wanting a second opinion about religion in the USA
I read Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity in 1998 when my first baby was born. I gave serious thoughts as to whether to raise my child with or without religion, so I read at least one hundred books on religion trying to answer this question.

Rather than use terms "conservative" v. "liberal" (terms that Bawer sees as political), he believes that the division in American Christianity is summed up by the difference between two concepts: law and love. Legalists (Conservative Chr
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 hi ...more
Skylar Burris
Jan 31, 2010 Skylar Burris rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Secular liberals
Shelves: christianity
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, Bawe ...more
Kathleen Dixon
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
Michelle Margaret
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 contra
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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. ...more
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
Marjorie Hakala
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 person ...more
Sarah B.
Jun 18, 2010 Sarah B. rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: People who are confused by conservative Christians
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 ...more
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 m
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.

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.

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 ...more
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 ...more
Jake Wegman
I really want to give this book 3.5 stars, but I liked "While Europe Slept" so much that I'll give Bawer the benefit. The only little issue I had with this book was the fact that Bawer can sometimes be overly dogmatic, not allowing the reader to come to their own conclusion. He also really grinds his ax as a gay man upset with the teachings of fundamentalism, and sometimes makes leaps that are a bit dubious. Nonetheless, it's an emotional issue for him, and he's not afraid to let it show. Not qu ...more
Riley Cooper
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 ...more
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.
Steven Williams
A good critique of Christian fundamentalism from a Christian perspective.
Melanie Moore
Certainly an interesting book that gives me some interesting verses and theological/historical tidbits to bring up in debate. The writing can be tedious, and the whole book reads a bit like a long academic rant than something with a deliberate structure, but I still really enjoyed it.
Mar 28, 2009 Susan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Susan by: My brother.
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, ...more
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.
Will Holcomb
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.
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.
Pablo  Rodriguez
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.
I read this book about 10 years ago and enjoyed the history of the fundamentalist movement that it provided. I identified strongly with the authors argument that the fundamentalist movement produces a dichotomy of the "God of Law" and the "God of Love".
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“Over and over these organizations tell America that family, above all, is what Christianity is about. Devotion to one's family is, indeed, a wonderful thing. Yet it is hardly something to brag about. For all except the most pathologically self-absorbed, love for one's parents, spouse, and children comes naturally. Jesus did not make it his business to affirm these ties; he didn't have to. Jews feel them, Buddhists feel them, Confucians and Zoroastrians and atheists feel them. Christianity is not about reinforcing such natural bonds and instinctive sentiments. Rather, Christianity is about challenging them and helping us to see all of humankind as our family. It seems clear that if Jesus had wanted to affirm the "traditional family" in the way that Pat Robertson claims, he would not have lived the way he did.” 1 likes
“And even those who claim to read the Bible literally and to lead their lives according to its precepts are, in actual practice, highly selective about which parts of the Bible they live by and which they don't. Jesus' condemnations of wealth and war are generally ignored; so are Levitical prohibitions on eating pork, wearing mixed fabrics and so forth. Though legalistic Christians accuse nonlegalistic Christians of selective interpretation and relativistic morality (of adjusting the Bible, in short, to suit their own lifestyles and prejudices), what is usually happening is that nonlegalists are, as the Baptist tradition puts it, reading the Bible with Jesus as their criterion, while the legalists are, without any philosophical consistency whatsoever, embracing those laws and doctrines that affirm their own predilections and prejudices and ignoring the rest.” 1 likes
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