Mormons and “American Jesus”

December 30, 2003 | no comments
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Last Sunday’s NY Times Book Review had a review of “American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon” by Stephen Prothero. The review is positive, and there are some interesting tidbits.

For example, Prothero apparently connects the people involved in the 60′s Jesus movement with the people popularizing the contemporary Evangelical movement. (“Today, the Jesus movement is widely seen as a 60′s curio, but, as Prothero points out, its adherents, after cutting their hair, entering the workforce and having families, had a huge effect on mainstream Christianity, helping to spawn Christian retailing (now a $4-billion-a-year business), contemporary Christian music and thriving megachurches whose dynamic pastors and family-friendly services draw baby-boomers by the thousands.”) Now I shouldn’t criticize without having read the full argument, but that connection is not self evident to me. I would guess that the Jesus movement folks that stayed on the same trajectory are now new-agers of some stripe, or at least liberals. But who knows.

Also new to me was the claim that the Jewish acknowledgement of Jesus as a great rabbi is fairly recent development (circa 1925).

Anyway, there are also two references to the Mormons in the review. First, Mormons are referenced as an example of a non-mainstream American group that remade Jesus in their own image. Second, the reviewer complains that the author of the book goes on “for pages” about Joseph Smith and Mormonism to the exclusion of other important religions’ views of Jesus that may undermine the author’s thesis.

Reading between the lines of the review, it seems Prothero uses Mormonism as an example of reading Jesus as an “enlightened sage” rather than the more theologically conservative Jesus of the Southern Baptist Convention, the American Roman Catholic Church or Pentecostalism. In other words, Mormonism’s view of Jesus, according to the reviewer, is out of step with the “devout, evangelized, God-fearing” Christianity now popular. Has anyone out there read Prothero’s argument? Is the reviewer correct that the Mormon view of Jesus is more akin to mainline liberal Christianity’s view of Jesus than the evangelical one?

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