American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon

When Jesus asked his disciples, “Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?” they answered that some rumored him to be John the Baptist, others said he was Elijah, and still others thought he was Jeremiah or another one of the prophets. Jesus then pointed the question directly at the disciples, to which Peter responded with the famous declaration, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:13–16).

In his book American Jesus: How the Son of God Became a National Icon, Stephen Prothero, Professor of Religion at Boston University, asks the same question: who do people say Jesus is? The respondents to his query, however, are not the ancient apostles but rather modern Americans. While many share Peter’s testimony that Jesus is the Messiah and the divine Son of God, American Christians have also portrayed Jesus as “black and white, male and female, straight and gay, a socialist and a capitalist, a pacifist and a warrior, a Ku Klux Klansman and a civil rights agitator.” Americans more broadly have transformed him into “an athlete and an aesthete, a polygamist and a celibate, an advertising man and a mountaineer, a Hindu deity and a Buddha-to-be.” Jesus, it seems, has excelled Paul in becoming “all things to all men” (1 Cor. 9:22).

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