Jesus, John Wayne and a View from the Balcony

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What was your family like? 

We know our families shape and mold us—often in hidden ways. In fact, sometimes we don’t even know those ways until we are exposed to other families and how they do life. At other times it is only when we get a balcony view of our family with the help of someone that we get a good picture of how we have been shaped.

In her book Jesus and John Wayne, Kristin Kobes Du Mez takes us on an Evangelical family journey letting us see the family from the balcony. For many of us who lived during the years she recounts, it is a wild and yet familiar ride. We hear of Promise Keepers, Wild at Heart, the National Association of Evangelicals, and more. But what lies at the heart of Du Mez’ work is the evangelical desire to have Jesus look a lot like John Wayne. From this flows an evangelicalism that is deeply committed to the military, to Americanism, and to having men be “real” men. 

This way of seeing the world means that evangelicals have been and are more concerned about having strong leaders than godly leaders (or that evangelicals equate strong and godly). The one time divinity student George McGovern is rejected in favor of Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter is let go for Ronald Reagan. 

Dr. Du Mez also has us look at powerful evangelical figures like Mark Driscoll and James Dobson. She teases out their views and how they’ve impacted the evangelical world.

Many will struggle with Du Mez’ taking us to the evangelical balcony and showing us the family. Some will undoubtedly take issue with her balcony view. But the reality is that from a church renewal perspective Du Mez’ book is pure gold. She shows us how many people in North America who we are trying to reach with God’s good news of forgiveness, hope, reconciliation, and renewal see evangelicals. She helps us unmask possible evangelical idols that block people from seeing God’s good news. 

This book is an important read for pastors and church leaders who want to get a balcony view of how our family looks to a lot of people in North America. It also moves us to ask about how we can best represent God’s good news when people see the family from this balcony.

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I have read "Jesus and John Wayne" and I am immensely thankful for Kristin Kobes DuMez' excellent historical work. We actually need more of this kind of academic work for the general population so that we can be effective followers of Jesus today, in our highly complicated world. Unfortunately, there are powerful forces in our world that will attempt to downplay her observations, sideline her conclusions, or just distract us away from paying close attention to the situation she presents to us.

The question I would want to add to what Larry has written above is this: is the picture painted by "Jesus and John Wayne" one of how evangelicals are "perceived"? Or, is this a picture of who evangelicals have become? Is the issue one of how non-Christians perceive evangelicals or is there actually something a bit rotten within evangelicalism as it exists today that we need removed, like a cancer, for us to live? For myself, I think the situation is very clearly the latter. But we need to have the courageous introspection; we need to have the conversation; we need to discern what it means to follow Jesus faithfully today. Today.

If enough people tell you that your "loving" message isn't actually loving, when do you stop and reflect on who's right? So, this book goes way beyond how to more effectively communicate to others. This book is an opportunity for us to reflect on who we really are. The recent research from Barna is this regard is very helpful (unChristian).

Contributor

I love Michael's question and would enjoy seeing some comments around it. What do those of you who have engaged the book think, "Is this how evangelicals are perceived or is this what evangelicals have become?"

This is only one of many reviews of "Jesus and John Wayne" from the "evangelical" world. This pandemic time is an opportunity to re-evaluate many things!

https://www.christianitytoday.com/scot-mcknight/2020/july/what-to-call-2...

We've seen what happens to Christian denominations & churches who start worrying about and changing things based on the questions: "How are we perceived by the world? Do they like us? Do they see us as relevant?" Things usually don't go very well for them.

As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. We will be 100% concerned with how HE views us.

Contributor

Hi Dan,

Thanks for joining the conversation. I agree that relevance is not central to the life of the church. Rather it is being faithful to God's call. 

The church is not just another private association vying for members. The church is God’s alternative community i.e. the church is its own city with its own priorities, beliefs, mission, and practices. Perhaps most importantly it has a different purpose and end than the world. It’s purpose and end is seeing all things renewed for the glory of God. 

In this the mission of the church is to be God’s picture, foretaste, and ambassador of His present and coming kingdom. The church becomes irrelevant when it fails in this mission.

Which, I believe, brings us back to Michael's question. The question focused less on relevance and more on who evangelicals have become. Have evangelicals remained faithful to their call to be a picture, foretaste, and ambassador of God's present and coming kingdom or have they been shaped in the way Dr. DuMez outlines in her book? Is the world perceiving evangelicals in a way that isn't true and so they don't have to be concerned, or is the world actually seeing evangelicals as they  are and so they've lost living out the mission of God? So they are no longer truly a picture, foretaste and ambassador to the world.

Hi Larry, that makes more sense. Scripture is very clear that we the Church are to point to Christ as the head of the Church, and share the good news of the Gospel, shining light on the sin of unbelievers and pointing them to the forgiveness and salvation found only in Jesus Christ (not in good works, lest any man should boast).

If the people of the Church lose that focus, whether it be in pursuit of rugged power (being like "John Wayne"), or societal acceptance (being "woke"), or the recognition of our good works ("fixing" things ourselves), then we fail in our mission.