There is a form of fundamentalism which insists on defining it’s fundamental doctrines by Biblical standards. This is healthy enough. But there’s a distorted form of fundamentalism, a wicked step-sister if you will, which is often the loudest of the two. It’s main argument is a theological one: God is most pleased when men are most averse to change. The mindset insists that we are safe from God’s wrath when we are nearest to the ‘old ways of doing things’, yet fails to define just how ‘old’ is old enough.
Here’s the deal: my heart goes out to the children caught up in this. While their parents may have voluntarily adopted this worldview, the children have been spoon-fed it since their first attempts to understand the world around them. Their view of God has been saturated with it. As they grow older and face silent questions with no audible answers, they usually become either increasingly hardened or increasingly despairing.
Why don’t they just up and walk away? Because it’s not that easy:
- Some of the men they most esteem are fundamentalists of this order. Therefore, a stand against distorted fundamentalism is perceived as outright abandoning holiness. They’ve been taught that everyone who isn’t fundamentalist is worldly, so the only reason you would ever leave fundamentalism is because you’re sick of righteousness.
- God’s wrath hangs over their heads. One step out of line, and an illness, unemployment or even death may visit your family.
- Much bad has been done by the world. Isn’t fundamentalism what separates me from a dark & disturbing world? When fundamentalism is the only thing you know, it feels like the safest option.
So, regardless of conflicting feelings, they stay. And time passes. The boys grow up without learning how to reconcile differences or make decisions on their own. The girls grow up believing that all colleges are brothels, and men who aren’t fundamentalist are borderline rapist. The wives grow old thinking they have no place except to be pushed around by her husband. And the fathers grow old without finding friendship and help in the world that is just as confused as they are. The whole family has trust issues.
If you’re reading this and have found strains of this fundamentalism in your life, the way out begins in Scripture. Here is the fugitive’s guide to fleeing a fundamentalist heart:
- Read Scripture looking for Christ. Notice how He dealt with the traditional customs of His time. He didn’t bulldoze them all but He didn’t adopt them all either. His message of repentance & forgiveness was more important than that. Just how big is that message? And to what extent does He go to proclaim it?
- Read Scripture looking for grace. When God pours His goodness out on us because of Christ — and despite ourselves — that’s grace. It happens much often than we realize. The crippled sinner walks due to God’s grace and not due to new crutches. Notice how Christ’s disciples did not adopt a mere lifestyle; instead, they were changed from the inside-out by a grace greater than themselves. Rules can never take you far enough.
- Read Scripture looking for your heart. When we listen to God describe our hearts, there’s nothing flattering. Beneath our conservative layers, there’s a rotten core which fundamentalism fails to heal. Even as born-again Christians, our hearts will never hold enough worship & righteousness to catch God’s attention. God meant for His sufficiency to point out our insufficiency every single day. While Biblical truths do affect the way we live, they are meant to transform us at a deeper level: our heart.
- Read Scripture looking for references to the Savior as Mediator. How unfortunate that the Christian experience is mostly described in the past tense. But Scripture describes an ongoing process of teaching, leading, helping & forgiving. Christ and the Holy Spirit are actively involved in this transformation. Adopting a tighter set of standards doesn’t automatically promote anyone to a holier clan.
- Read Scripture looking for love that goes beyond what you’d expect. Yes, the Scripture talks about God’s wrath — but it doesn’t stop there. The overarching theme is God glorifying His Name by redeeming really bad people (who thought they were fundamentalist enough) through Jesus Christ’s death & resurrection. This is an unusual love; it should leave us unsettled, not embittered. Notice how, even when God corrects His children, He does so in love.
- Read Scripture looking for freedom & forgiveness. The fear that shackles the fundamentalist’s heart is the fear that owns him. Jesus calls us to a freedom that is drenched in grace and secured in mercy. You need not cower any longer. This freedom bids us follow Him and beckon to a world of unsatisfied despondents to do the same.
There are people who are just as concerned about obedience, holy living and true worship as you are. And they follow their Savior with genuine joy. This isn’t about taking a side. It’s about walking closer to His.