Many of you know that the last couple years have been very difficult for my family with health and financial woes aplenty. But where hardship did abound there did generosity and kindness much more abound. So many people have taken it upon themselves to lend a helping hand in ways both small and large as we continue to struggle through this time in our lives. We are as humbled as we are thankful.
Living through the charity of others, however, has revealed to me a twisting in my thoughts and a weight upon my soul that I had not realized I still bore from fundamentalism. The lesson that I learned there was simple: “Grace is debt. Blessings are debt. Kindness is debt.” Nothing in fundamentalism is free. Everything from the saving of your soul to the nourishing of your body must be repaid in full.
Who among us has not heard this charge laid to those who have left their fundamentalist church? We did so much for you! Remember when we helped your family with their electric bill? Have you forgotten those times we showed you kindness and love? Have you no shame to leave without repaying us what you owe?
So even today as my heart overflows with thankfulness for those encouraging words, that check in the mail, or those groceries given with a smile, my inner man is busy with his ledger adding credits of guilt to each debit of grace. I owe. I owe so much to so many. How can I ever hope to repay it all? I could work a lifetime and never come close.
But in my awakening soul I sometimes now can dimly see that kindness is not debt but joy. This is no ledger but only a journal, a history of thanksgiving. Here too is grace. Wonderful. Amazing. Free.
When asked “what is a fundamentalist?” I often quote George Marsden’s famous response that a fundamentalist is “an evangelical who is angry about something.” However, I’ve begun to realize that in many cases this definition does not go quite far enough in showing that when a good fundamentalist is very wroth and full of all manner of anger against something, he inevitably chooses to attack people instead of deeds and personalities instead of doctrine. In short, it’s almost impossible to be a good fundamentalist unless you’re not only angry about “something” but also angry at “someone.”
Someone is ruining Christianity. Someone is dooming America. Someone is sending souls straight to hell. We must find that person and call them insulting names in a sermon to the great amusement of the congregation.
Including the angry at “someone” in the definition of fundamentalists also helps to show how stereotypical fundamentalist behavior is hardly exclusively found in Independent Baptist Fundamentalism. When non-Baptist pastors who are otherwise hip, cool, and trendy get in their pulpits or on their computers and begin to cross the line from contending for the faith into the world of sneeringly condescending to their fellows then the seeds of destruction are already sown in their bosom.
It saddens me to see that so many fundamentalists become disillusioned with the graceless slings and arrows cast from IFB pulpits only to become the followers of other equally graceless men and movements. Fundamentalism dressed in skinny jeans and playing praise music is fundamentalism still the same. Being a fundy is never about a specific set of standards but is rather a misunderstanding of God and ourselves that results in a graceless attitude towards our fellow man. Some Baptists do it. Some Catholics do it. Some Republicans do it. Some Democrats do it — and on and on the list goes.
Pick any issue near and dear to your heart and think of those with whom you disagree. If we cannot speak with grace and love to those on the other side of that issue then we should have a care. Perhaps it’s time for us to take stock and reevaluate our motives to see if we have become the mirror of the very thing we hate. We all have the potential to create our own new version of fundamentalism.
On a personal level I spend a good deal of time in reflection trying to walk the fine line of attacking problems not people here on SFL while demonstrating absurdity, bad doctrine, hypocrisy, abuse, and plain old silliness. Sometimes pointing out those problems is best demonstrated by featuring a specific person but as much as I may be accused of hating fundamentalists, I try my best not to hate them or anybody else in this world. I would love nothing more than for for fundy pastors to humbled, fundy churches to be healed, and for fundamentalist universities to begin the work of helping instead of hurting.
‘Tis grace has brought me safe thus far. Perhaps grace will also lead us all home some day.