Brief Reviews

Jim Wallis – The False White Gospel [Review]

The False White GospelA Constructive Antidote

A Review of

The False White Gospel: Rejecting Christian Nationalism, Reclaiming True Faith, and Refounding Democracy
Jim Wallis

Hardcover: St. Martin’s Essentials, 2024
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Reviewed by Leroy Seat

There has been a spate of good books published in the last few years regarding white Christian nationalism. Jim Wallis’s volume, published the first week in April, is undoubtedly one of the best. This book resonates with a central issue that Wallis (b. 1948) has been dealing with since he was an anti-war activist as a college student at Michigan State University in the late 1960s. 

Then as a Trinity Evangelical Divinity School student, Jim and some friends there formed the People’s Christian Coalition during the 1970-71 academic year. In August 1971, they began publishing a tabloid dubbed The Post-American. It was an indictment of the civil religion in the U.S. that was supporting war, embracing racism, and neglecting the poor, all in contradiction to the gospel of Jesus.

In 1975, the community moved from the Chicago area to downtown Washington D.C., and changed their name and that of their publication to Sojourners. In 2021, after 50 years as the editor, Jim wrote, “I have accepted an invitation from Georgetown University to become the inaugural Chair in Faith and Justice at the McCourt School of Public Policy and the founding director of the new campus-wide Center on Faith and Justice.” The full name of the latter is the “Archbishop Desmond Tutu Chair in Faith and Justice.” The last subsection of the last chapter of Jim’s new book is “Hope,” and there he writes about his connection with and deep appreciation for Tutu.

Wallis is the author of many books, including– perhaps most notably– NY Times best seller  God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets It Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It (2005). On April 21, though, his new book debuted as #4 on the NY Times list of best selling hardcover nonfiction books, and it might well turn out to be his most widely read and quoted book. 

The introduction states clearly what this book is about: “We are literally in a battle now between false religion and true faith and between racial fascism and multicultural democracy. That fight stems from fear, the motivator of hate, and the threat of violence. Helping to set us free from that fear, hate, racism, and violence is the purpose of this book” (4). 

For many postmodern thinkers, including some who are Christian theologians, “heresy” is a word that is seldom used now. There is an openness to various viewpoints and a reluctance to be critical of dissenting points of view or to be “judgmental.” But Wallis doesn’t hesitate to call white Christian nationalism a heresy. He first mentions that designation in the introduction, and then in the first chapter he says that the “old ideology of white supremacy is now religiously undergirded by an old heresy—with a new name: white Christian nationalism.” He goes on to assert that this heresy is, in his opinion,  “the single greatest threat to democracy in America and to the integrity of the Christian witness” (17). Much later in the book, he reasserts that the heresy he is writing about was “on display” in the nation’s Capitol on January 6, 2021 (153-4).

On what basis does Wallis reject the old heresy with a new name? Even though some of his most stringent critics are conservative evangelicals, he was and continues to be a progressive evangelical who takes the Bible with utmost seriousness. Jim himself doesn’t use the word “evangelical” to self-identify his theological position as much as he used to, but that is still the way he is often identified by others. For example, an online CNN article posted in April 2024, the month his book was published, was titled “How one evangelical leader uses the Bible to expose the ‘false white gospel.” Indeed, chapters two through seven are on six basic biblical passages that expose the error (=heresy) of white Christian nationalism. Those passages are Luke 10:25-37, Genesis 1:26, John 8:32, Matthew 25:31-46, Matthew 5:9, and Galatians 3:28. 

The final chapter is “A Remnant Church.” An important point he emphasizes is this: “A remnant church must not only be known for what it is against, but what it is for and starting to build” (224, italics original). Accordingly, while he is staunchly against the “false white gospel,” which he has critiqued throughout the book, he is wholeheartedly for “reclaiming true faith” as elucidated in the previous six chapters. And, as he has often declared through the years, he asserts again that “the best answer to bad religion is always true faith” (232). 

This book is also about “refounding democracy,” and Wallis mentions democracy about 180 times in the book, including these words in the introduction: “Loving our neighbor, and learning to practice the politics of love, will be central to the future of democracy in America” (15), and this statement in the last chapter: “Today, we are in a unique historical moment, one that will determine the future of both faith and democracy in America” (207). Thus, this book is particularly worth reading in this election year in the U.S. Although he doesn’t say so directly, it is quite evident that the author thinks that the best answer to bad politics/politicians is better politics/politicians. And while he writes sparingly about President Biden (mostly on pages 39-41), he makes repeated negative comments about Donald Trump and MAGA Republicans (especially in the second chapter). His disparaging words about the 45th POTUS will be read with agreement and appreciation by even many people who don’t self-identify as Christian.

Beginning with the first issues of The Post-American, for over 50 years now this reviewer has read much of what Wallis has written. Other than the examples he gives related to recent events and his personal experiences, there is little in this book that is new. Nevertheless, this powerful book, published just two months before his 76th birthday, encapsulates well Wallis’s lifetime of faithful Christian service. Wallis says that in seminary and later at Sojourners he and his friends sometimes called themselves “the AND movement.” He explains: “We want personal faith and public discipleship, evangelism and social justice, contemplation and action, prayer and peacemaking, worship and politics” (215). That both/and position is one reason I have followed the life and work of Jim Wallis for so long and why I greatly appreciate this book. So without reservation, I highly recommend The False White Gospel to pastors and thoughtful lay people in the church—as well as to those who are exvangelicals, nones, or even members of other religions.

Leroy Seat

Leroy Seat, Ph.D., was a Baptist missionary to Japan and a full-time professor of Christian Studies and theology at Seinan Gakuin University from 1968 to 2004. He is now retired in his home state of Missouri. After 65 years as a Baptist church member, he joined a progressive Mennonite church in 2012. Find him online at: https://theviewfromthisseat.blogspot.com/

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