Book Review: “Jesus and John Wayne” by John D. Wilsey

When Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes Du Mez came out in 2020, I had a conversation with John D. Wilsey about the book in a doctoral colloquium. The book was receiving immediate, almost universal praise for its tight historical explanation that placed the Age of Trump at the end of an inevitable story of evangelical declension. Wilsey at that early time expressed some concerns about the book, and I’ve been hoping ever since that his concerns would find expression in the form of a book review. That book review is finally here.

Du Mez’s book has exploded in popularity. I’ve heard her interviewed on countless podcasts, and her telling of the evangelical story has been widely accepted as factual. However, very few people seem willing to ask her the hard questions Wilsey poses in this book review. Perhaps out of fear of sounding defensive, evangelical historians have largely allowed Du Mez’s narrative to stand. I’m thankful that Dr. Wilsey has now, after months of reflecting on the book, put his review out there. This book review models careful historical thinking and love for one’s historical neighbor.

Here’s a small sample of the review, but the whole thing needs to be read:

There is little of Schweiger’s pastoral imagination reflected in Du Mez’s approach to evangelicals over the past century. What we often see is Du Mez selecting the most frightful examples from the history of white evangelicalism in order to make the point that it is they who are responsible for the corruption of Christianity and the fracturing of American society.

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