Jesus Made in America

Paul Harvey

To the literature on Jesus in America, represented most notably and recently by Stephen Prothero's pithy and readable American Jesus and Richard Wightman Fox's lengthier and more scholarly Jesus in America, one may now add Stephen Nichols, Jesus Made in America.

Unlike Fox and Prothero, Nichols writes from an overtly confessional, evangelical viewpoint. Nonetheless, there's a good deal here for readers from various persuasions; in particular, Nichols provides an interesting exploration of Jesus in the movies, and acidly surveys as well Jesus in Contemporary Christian Gospel (no theologians need apply) and in the contemporary religious right.

Matthew Hall has a nice short blog review of the work here, which concludes:

The final chapter is sure to be the most provocative of the book. There will be many conservative evangelicals who will share Nichols’ discomfort with seeing Jesus branded on t-shirts and “Jesus is my girlfriend” Christian pop tunes. But Nichols argues that the Religious Right has just as easily appropriated (co-opted?) an “American Jesus” that suits its commitments to fiscal conservatism and a particular brand of neocon foreign policy. Here he commends Darryl Hart’s proposal in
A Secular State: Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State, one that has a lot of merit to it. As Nichols notes (following Hart), evangelicals on both the right and the left have exhibited a tendency to co-opt Jesus as a medium for their political ideologies and policies. In the end, however, the otherworldly nature of historic Protestantism is largely subsumed.

One suspects that evangelicals of every stripe will find something that makes them squeamish. But then again, perhaps that’s just what Nichols is going for here. If American evangelicals are to recover any cultural capital and religious credibility, they will likely have to dispense with their penchant for sentimentalized caricatures of Jesus and mass-marketed religion. Whether or not that will happen is hard to say. After all, America is a religious marketplace where supply and demand are in play just as strongly as on Wall Street.

This work, like others in the genre (with the exception of one fine chapter in Prothero), has little to say about how Jesus has been received and represented among African Americans and Native Americans, nor how Jesus has been racialized in American history. For that story, stay tuned for Ed Blum and Paul Harvey's Jesus in Red, White and Black, which we hope to complete by the end of this year.


phil said…
An interesting book. Nichols's lack of attention to racialized images of Jesus in American history is unfortunate, and somewhat stunning, particularly since his next book--due out with Brazos Press in a few months--is about spirituality, suffering, and the blues.