Book Review: The Four Vision Quests of Jesus by Steven Charleston (Two Stars)


Book Review: The Four Vision Quests of Jesus by Steven Charleston

(Two Stars)

“I was searching for an authentic way to be both a Native American and a Christian.”

Ambitious effort to meld Christian and Native American spiritual beliefs without compromising either. Ends twisting Christianity like a pretzel. (“What do they teach in [seminaries] these days?) Native Americans may feel the same. Tempted to condemn the book, I also would like to have rated it higher, if only because Charleston seems sincere.

“The Native American quest was pragmatic, designed to produce transformation.”

Noteworthy for Charleston’s apparent sincerity. His motive is also good; God does reveal himself to all people in all cultures, if nothing else that through the created world. (see Romans 1:19-20) His idea of Native tradition as “Native America’s Old Testament” is a useful concept. The four vision quests discussed may be useful to Native understanding of the gospels. However, a plain text reading of those passages of Matthew cited reveals how far Charleston strayed from scripture.

“Neither Jewish nor Traditional Native religion accepts the idea that Jesus is the ‘messiah.’ My purpose is not to expropriate their covenant traditions to suit my own needs as a Christian. However, because I am a Christian, I respect their covenant theologies as deeply formative for my faith in Jesus.”

Marred by myopic history perspective. Charleston commits the common vice of mistaking his worldview for the only worldview, even as he is trying to achieve a synchronicity which incorporates all. It’s been tried before with no greater success.

“What sets Jesus apart is that he brought the elements of the vision quest together in a way no one else had ever done. Unlike Black Elk or Wovoka, Jesus became his vision.”

It is hard to maintain an open mind in the face of so much ill-informed, illogical philosophizing, but readers who stick with it will be rewarded. Despite that, I don’t recommend this book to the faint-hearted, other than as comic relief.

“Native American theology suggests that we are catholic because we have a universal respect for the many testaments of world communities. Conversion to a particular tradition, therefore, is a denial of catholicity. It turns universal gospel into parochial piety.” “Native tradition is very similar to Buddhism in this regard …”  “Like Hinduism, Hopi tradition ….”

Numerous historical errors: Pocahontas did not interpose herself to save the man she loved; that is Disney’s version. The Hotchkiss gun employed at Wounded Knee in 1890 was not a machine gun, but an M1875 breech-loading artillery piece, which in no way diminishes the horror of its use.

“The gospel of the Native Jesus is held within the embrace of Native American spiritual tradition.”

The text is also marred by numerous pop culture expressions which jar the reader out of the contemplative mode of the argument: shock and awe, spiritual Chernobyl, plethora, core concept, spiritual DNA. His two-natures doctrines, of course, is a transparent attempt to hijack Native theology on behalf of other agendas.

“The tradition of the ‘good day to die’ is part of the Native Covenant. In Gethsemane, Jesus, like the Dakota warriors of 1862, realized it was his day to die so others might live.” “He is not dying for their sins. He is dying for their blessing.”

Finally, Charleston, like most seminary-trained Christians, misunderstands or misrepresents Atonement. God the Father did not condemn and force God the Son to die for our sins; God the Son volunteered. He was a knowing, willing sacrifice–unlike the innocent, but dumb lamb—to remove the impediment we placed between ourselves and God (in all three persons).

“The Native Messiah shows us the way. The Two-Spirit God calls us with a voice that speaks every language. We need to be awake now. We need to be preparing ourselves. We need to gather our friends and our teachers. It is time to go to a high place, to a sacred place, where we can see more clearly. Something holy is about to happen. Something that will change our name.”

(I sympathize. My ancestry includes a Cherokee great-great-grandmother as well as numerous non-Anglo European cultures.)