David Gushee – Jesus According to American White Evangelicalism – Four Distorted Images

In his latest book, After Evangelicalism, Baptist ethicist David Gushee argues that one of the sources of post0evangelicalism is the discontentment people feel with the distorted images of Jesus promoted by white evangelicals in America.
Gushee presents four such distorted portraits of Jesus, of which, he argues, only the first one could be defended, partially at least, from within the New Testament framework. Here they are:

  1. Jesus the Crucified Saviour
    This is the image of the Saviour, who died for the sins of humanity in order to reconcile it with God, as rooted primarily in the Pauline epistles.
    Gushee argues that this is a sort of ‘personal salvation’ Jesus, which still misses a lot of everything else that the incarnations of Jesus was meant to accomplish.
  2. Hallmark-Christmas-Movie Jesus
    This is the juicy nice image of eJesus promoted in many emotionalist evangelical churches. Gushee says: ‘This is the Jesus whom we ask to “hold me,” one who is there “when I am weak and he is strong,” and “when I am down he lifts me up.” This Jesus is the best (platonic) boyfriend or bro-friend I could possibly have, the one who is there for me all the time, my comfort and encourager.’ And he adds ironically: ‘He also runs a really nice Christmas-related operation, so that’s a plus.’
  3. Jesus Who Wants You to Succeed
    This is the made up image of the ‘corporate Jesus’ that dominates the pragmatic business and success oriented world of white American evangelicalism. It promotes the false ‘prosperity gospel’ in whether softer or hardcore versions.
  4. Vacant Jesus Fillable with Any Content We Want
    This is the culmination of this process of distorsion of the image of Christ. Gushee describes it in this manner: ‘This Jesus, having been distanced so profoundly from his Jewish roots, his account of himself, and any New Testament depictions, is a mere shell, symbol, or totem. This is a Jesus always available to be filled with whatever content we might like to drop in there.’ This image, says Gushee is not only useless, but harmful. ‘He can be the Jesus of my tribe, my class, my race, my party, my all-important self, providing ultimate religious justification for every passion I might feel like giving myself to.’
    So, it’s time for a reckon. Is any of these your Jesus? I hope not. At least not fully.

Isaiah Ritzmann – A Post-Evangelical Typology – Summary

In an appendix at the end of his latest book After Evangelicalism. The Path to a New Christianity (2020), David P. Gushee shares a post-evangelical typology formulated by Isaiah Ritzmann.

Staring from the observation that there is a variety of people who share an evangelical background, came to feel, for various reasons, uncomfortable in that ecclesial community, Ritzmann formulated a very helpful typology that could help us navigate these troubled waters. The author identified three distinct categories, each including three particular types.

If you are one of those who share this experience, as I am, for sure, this ‘map’ could help you identify your ‘type’ and where you are in the process. In my esspecience, such clarification is always helpful.

1. Still-Vangelicals

This category includes people who are ‘theologically, spiritually, and culturally 70 to 80 percent still evangelical’. The three types included here are:

1.1 The in-denial type – These people are in denial about their relationship to evangelicalism once they get to the 70–80 percent shared identity. Two forms of denial are identified here:

a. ‘those who say they are no longer evangelical’, but in reality still share most of what they are as Christians to evangelicalism; and

b. those who ‘are still evangelical but aren’t fully honest, to themselves or others’ as to the fact that ‘they’ve shifted sufficiently to be in another category’.

1.2 The Anabaptist/Reformed/Methodist type – These people became aware of ‘some of the flaws of evangelicalism’ and, in reaction to that retreat into the identity of a particular Protestant ecclesial tradition, be that their traditional one or a newly acquired one. Ritzmann argues thatthese people may be ‘overly optimistic or naive about modernist/liberal expressions of their tradition’.

1.3 The irresistibly hungover type – This group includes ‘often young evangelical millennials’ who were influenced by the theology of NT Wright or ‘the progressive social ethics of people like Shane Claiborne’. Theologically, they are mostly evangelical, but they tend to be progressive socially.

2. Still Christians

This category includes Christians but have ‘moved so far away from evangelicalism—theologically, spiritually, and culturally—that they are no longer evangelicals’ either either in their own perception of themselves or in the perceptions of others. The three types in thic category include:

2.1 The high-church type – This includes people who have joined ‘Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or some form of high-church Anglicanism’. In Ritzmann’s words, these people are ‘attracted by the orthodoxy without anti-intellectualism and the deep spirituality without kitschy emotionalism’.

Note: I would say, this is my own type. Which is yours, if your are yourself a post-evangelical?

2.2 The liberal Protestant type – This includes Christians who have joined a mainline Protestant group. ‘They have become broadly tolerant theologically—both of their own beliefs and of the beliefs of other Christians’. People in this group might themselves ‘hold traditional Christian beliefs on some subjects’, but do not have a problem with ‘members or leaders of their community who have a low Christology or even border on agnosticism or atheism’.

2.3 The exiles – While they are still Christian, these people are ‘substantially no longer evangelical’. Yet, ‘for ethical and theological reasons rooted in their evangelicalism do not feel they can either be high church or liberal Protestant with integrity’. People of this type ‘likely feel stuck and confused’. Not a happy tribe.

3. Still People

This category includes people who have been so much burned out by evangelicalism that they ‘have left Christianity entirely’, while holding ‘a range of thoughts and feelings toward both Christianity and evangelicalism’. Ritzmann identifies three different types in this category:

3.1 The ‘Jesus-rocks’ type – This refers to people who ‘have joined another faith or have become self-identifying agnostics or atheists’. Yet, they continue to manifest respect and appreciation for Jesus and view him as ‘someone who inspires them and had a good message for the world’.

3.2 The no-looking-back type – People in this type ‘have joined another faith or have become self-identifying agnostics or atheists. They aren’t looking back and don’t much consider their evangelical or Christian background’.

3.3 The traumatized type – This type includes people have various religious affiliations; some may even still go to church. What they have in common is that ‘their experience within evangelicalism has traumatized them’.

Iasiah Ritzmann holds a master’s degree in theological studies from the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada. He works for a nonprofit in Kitchener, Ontario, where he facilitates community education initiatives. Inspired by the Catholic Worker Movement, he is passionate about the intersections of Christian faith, personal hospitality, intentional community, and economic and ecological justice.