Jesus In America

Stephen Prothero observes that the American Protestant perception of Jesus may be changing:

Since the evangelical century of the 1800’s, America’s Protestant majority has gravitated toward a Mister Rogers Jesus, a neighborly fellow they could know and love and imitate. The country’s megachurches got that way in part because they stopped preaching fire and brimstone and the blood of the Lamb. Their parishioners are sinners in the hands of an amiable God. Their Jesus is a loving friend.

Gibson’s Christ is by all accounts a very different character. If the mind is the seat of Jefferson’s Jesus and the heart the seat of the evangelical Friend, Gibson’s Christ is in his body. He came here neither to deliver moral maxims nor to exude empathy, but to spew blood. This is not a therapeutic, ”I’m O.K., you’re O.K.” Christianity. In fact, ”The Passion of the Christ” seems hell-bent on crashing head-on into a parking lot full of American Protestant assumptions. Its leading man is the Christ of devotional Catholics who for centuries have approached their redeemer bodily, through the Eucharist, gratefully imbibing his battered body. And in scene after gory scene, Gibson is thrusting that Christ in our faces, shoving the ”Man of Sorrows” of medieval passion plays into the national conversation about Jesus (and in Latin, Hebrew and Aramaic no less).

Indeed, the Protestant view of Jesus has often been an emasculated Christ who is more a “good buddy” than the Lion of Judah. Prothero’s article, entitled “The Personal Jesus” is interesting, and it’s worth reading the whole thing. Although he gets some things wrong (for example, he views the Protestant sacraments as the Eucharist and marriage—baptism, anyone?), the article is very insightful and even damning of the American view of Jesus:

When it comes to the back story of the American Jesus, however, the decision by conservative Protestants to break bread with Gibson may be telling us that the friendly Jesus is on the way out. Calling on the authority of the Apostle Paul, who once boasted that he gloried only in the cross, a group known as the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals has taken American Protestants (evangelicals included) to the woodshed for preaching a ”self-esteem gospel” rather than the tough truths of the creeds. And Gerald McDermott, a professor of religion at Roanoke College, complains that American Protestants are reducing Jesus ”to no more than the Dalai Lama without the aura, an admirable sort of guy.”

I perused Prothero’s book, American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, in Barnes & Noble last week, and it’s pretty convicting concerning the American view of Jesus and how it is so susceptible to being shaped by cultural trends. Prothero argues that Jesus has been transformed by culture from divinity to celebrity.

Prothero’s observations should remind us that we should constantly be searching the Scriptures, rather than looking the culture for our perceptions of Jesus.

2 thoughts on “Jesus In America”

Comments are closed.