The Trouble with Fundamentalism

And I mean the Christian, particularly Baptist variety. That’s my arena of experience and familiarity, though the critique I aim to give here should generally apply to all kinds of fundamentalism.

Now follow me. I have to give you my thesis sentence with the complexity it requires. The main problem (and characteristic) of fundamentalism is an attempt to freeze the natural course of inquiry and education by applying the pressures of a cultural taboo against it, redirecting inquiry to arrive at predetermined answers. Of course most fundamentalists disguise this taboo by rhetorical misdirection, which is my nice way of saying intellectual dishonesty.

Put differently, fundamentalism is marked by an ongoing refusal to face honestly the complexity and variety of questions that arise in response to such a difficult and multivalent text as the Bible.

My Time in the Fundamentalist Camp

In 2005 I joined a fundamentalist church here in Rochester, NY because I was tired of the wishy-washy, life-change drivel I had encountered in the majority of evangelical churches. The Independent Fundamentalist Baptist denomination is marked by a strict adherence to the King James Bible as the sole valid form of the Scriptures, even over against the original Hebrew and Greek testaments. They would not call themselves a denomination, nor would they claim to be a part of the Reformation. They believe themselves to be truly independent, that is, separate and free of traditions. They truly see themselves as “Bible-only,” unfettered by the cultural accretions plaguing all other churches.

I stuck around for about two years, mostly because the church held Scripture in such high regard, and they spoke so unequivocally about truth and falsehood, light and dark, good and evil. At that point in my young Christian life, I was blessed and fed by the Scriptures even though the delivery was seriously flawed.

The Fundamentalist DNA

But to my point… the IFB churches have a litany of tradition and cultural baggage, but they are less able to examine these forms because of their vehement denial to holding them. Try telling an IFB guy that he is beholden to unbiblical, historically recent traditions if you are unclear on what I mean by “vehement.”

One of the traditions of the IFB is the primary authority of The Pastor. In whatever IFB church you may enter, The Pastor is a unitary figure of authority and charisma. If he lacks natural charisma and/or authority, he more than makes up for it with bluster and political savvy.

If a young man wishes to learn the doctrines of the Christian faith, The Pastor need only point to the pulpit, behind which he himself is standing. “You want doctrine? Come to church Sunday morning, night, Wednesday night, and for all special services. You’ll get Bible, you’ll get preaching, you’ll get doctrine!”

If that young man wishes to ask a more nuanced question than can’t be answered during one of the revivalistic performances The Pastor puts on during preaching time, he may be invited up the mountain to Pastor’s office for a little mentorship. I got a few of these sessions (and my pastor was a genuinely good man, as misled as he is in his perspectives). At one lunch we were having, I told him that I had bought a Hebrew-Greek Interlinear Bible to teach myself the original languages. I’ll never forget how he leaned forward over his plate, fork in hand, eyes squinted a bit, and asked me “now why would you do that?”

“Well,” I stammered, “because I’d like access to the original writings of the Scriptures.”

This was no hurdle for Pastor – he reminded me I had the King James Bible, which is superior to the Hebrew and Greek. Yes, he said that to my face with no hint of humor. And believe me, I was waiting for him to crack a smile.

But this was a manifestation of the Fundamentalist DNA. It doesn’t matter that the claim was completely laughable, (never mind that the King James translators said explicitly in the original preface to their work that their translation would be subject to corrections and revisions as scholarship improved). It doesn’t matter if 99% of the Christian world of learning and scholarship disagrees rather forcefully, the Fundamentalist knows what he knows because to question it would be to open the door to all sorts of doubt.

And that, friends, is the issue. Fundamentalism seeks to eliminate any and all doubt from the religious life, but not through legitimate, fearless inquiry into the sources and teachings of the faith, no, he seeks to elide questioning by steering questions into a bucket of pre-made answers.

Rotten Fruit

And what kind of Christian does this church produce? A spiritual infant who mistakes himself for an adult. He’s been told he’s been eating at the big-boy table, chowing on the heartiest of Christian meats and vegetables, but try to feed him on the real stuff and you best be ready to perform the Heimlich: he has no teeth to chew with, and he might get hurt trying to get it down.

Fundamentalists lose their children who grow into physical maturity, and who begin to experience life among a hostile world. I’ve seen them in many places, always sarcastically angry and just as vehement as their parents, just now from the opposite direction.

The antidote to Bible Baptist fundamentalism is the Reformation. Study of Luther, Calvin, and the development of the historical creeds and confessions of our churches is medicine more than strong enough to break the spell, to heal, and to give the true ability to read the Bible for what it really says.

And that, my friends, should be the goal for every one of us, fundie or not.

Blessings in Christ,

Adam

 

Why I’m Through Dealing with SJWs (for the most part)

First, read John MacArthur’s latest piledriver of the SJW (Social Justice Warrior) antigospel here, then read and sign the Statement on Social Justice and the Gospel.

A brief thread from my Twitter feed last night:

You know what? Focusing on the racially-obsessed sect of American evangelicalism is starting to smell like a real satanic strategy to me. People like Kyle James Howard are drawing far too much of our attention and energy, when there are 1,001 more urgent uses of our resources.

For a while I’ve poured a lot of my energy into interacting with, deriding, rebuking, admonishing, and refuting the SJW sect within American evangelicalism. Why? They’re dead-set in their doctrines of privilege & power differentials. They are apostatizing from the faith once for all delivered to the saints, and shifting the focus of Christianity to a theology of glory. In this iteration, the glory goal isn’t so much personal life fulfillment & self actualization as it is a forceful equalizing of outcomes.

 

Evangelical SJWs are theologians of glory. They’re not prosperity hucksters for money, but they are equality hucksters. The equality they preach is not a type that Christ promised we could create, or even should create. But it’s all a very emotionally-charged sleight of hand. We all know there is a type of equality that the gospel creates: all equally forgiven & justified. All accepted & adopted, regardless of background or whatever else. Our life in the church should reflect that.

 

Church should be about reflecting the equality of how we are loved by Jesus.

Yet being a part of the church’s life cannot make true forms of inequality or hierarchy that are baked into human society suddenly not exist or impact our relationships.

Continue reading

Sailing with Friends without a Compass: Spiritual Autobiography 10

2011-2014 Part I: Goodbye ECF, Hello Grace Life Church, and a New Marriage

I began my previous post speaking of disillusionment with the local church. As a young Christian, I believed that the better the doctrine a church teaches, the better the fellowship and spiritual health of the congregation would have been. Our experience up through 2011 showed this not to be so; although our church at the time was filled with lovely people (and still is), the good doctrine alone never seemed to assure deep bonds of fellowship or friendship—no blame assigned, at least, it would be self-destructive to keep rehashing my perception of how this person or that person let me down, or let Danielle down, or how we let this one or that one down. There comes a point in the healthy Christian life where, for the sake of love, one must simply let go of the possibilities of how we have brought harm to one another.

Yet since fellowship and friendship are indispensable parts of living the Christian life, this meant we were very lonely, even in rooms full of people. We left ECF embarrassed for our weaknesses and mistakes, having lost the few bonds we made with our church family there. It had become painful to show up to church, always seeking to avoid certain people in small rooms where everyone sees everyone.

From that time, I have looked at life in the local church as a challenge of survival as much as a journey of thriving. These seven years have borne that out for me. Continue reading

Spiritually High to Seriously Embarrassed: Spiritual Autobiography 9

From Giant to Dwarf

They say life is the school of hard knocks. If that’s true, church life in a wealthy, comfortable nation is the school of disillusionment—at least, when you’re a young, idealistic guy who thinks getting doctrine just right will yield the perfect local church—or that the perfect local church will stay perfect once you get there with all your sin and imperfection.

Though I had begun to learn some hard lessons about local churches, I was still very optimistic in 2008. I believed that in a medium-size metro area like Rochester, there were bound to be several strong, sound Calvinistic churches to choose from. In my search for the Church catholic, I had begun to eliminate large swathes of denominations and local churches that deviate from the core doctrines and practices of the Reformation. My time in the Arminian, fundamentalist Baptist and Calvary Chapel churches, which had both seemed perfect to me, now looked like 2-D imitations of the real thing. Continue reading

Scattered and Disillusioned: Spiritual Autobiography 8

A Hope Dashed

Picking up from the last post, 2007 was the year I really began to embrace the intellectual side of Christianity. For far too many people, even the idea of an “intellectual side” sounds like the death of vital, vibrant, Spirit-led Christianity. Many Christians see the intellectual pursuits of doctrine as divisive, often citing the warning to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:3-5

“I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent” (ESV).

Indeed!

The Christian life is meant to be a marriage of spirit and truth, of piety and knowledge, of joy and sobriety. Many strains of Christianity end up dry as deserts, lost in pits of books, disputes, and dissensions, while others end up drunk on emotionalism, rejecting the pursuit of knowledge, and susceptible to every wind of doctrine which whips along.

But for me in 2007, the flood of new doctrinal insight I received through studying Calvinism was a flood of information laced with deep pockets of joy. Continue reading

Just a Moment…

Hi folks,

I have been absolutely destroyed for time lately, as life with my newborn has been anything but easy. I also have 4 jobs outside of the podcast, so I am barely treading water. The podcast is overdue, and the spiritual autobiography is overdue, but I have not quit, nor forgotten these things. Pray for me.

In the meantime, I recently listened to the audiobook version of Anthony Esolen’s Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and would highly recommend it to you. Esolen is one of those ultra-talented commentators who understands the relationship between the physical and metaphysical in such a way that he draws you inward and upward as you read. Very worth it.

  • Adam

A Spiritual Zenith: Enter Calvinism (Spiritual Autobio 7)

Buckle up for a longer post this time. I have to mention all the events and people included here, and I don’t feel like artificially breaking this up into separate posts, mostly because I have a lot to cover, and I’m not trying to tailor this series to a popular audience. When one wishes to blog like a champion, one must observe the rule to keep posts short, so as not to lose the interest of the average reader. Since I do not have many readers, nor average readers, I am writing at length today.

See this list for all posts in this series.


Still Floating Along, Not so Alone

Upon returning home from Yellowstone National Park in 2005, I continued working toward my Bachelor degree at SUNY Brockport, leading Campus Crusade for Christ (CC4C) on campus, and practicing evangelism with my mentors Peter and Phillip.

At CC4C, I became President of the club because the other student leaders had either graduated or quit college. With no leadership or ministry experience, and at 23 years old, I stepped into a pastoral role for two dozen young college students. Only two years out of drug rehab, I was relying mostly on zeal, while my learning in the Scriptures still had a long way to go. Continue reading

Aiming for catholic: Paedobaptism (Spiritual Autobio 6)

So far in this series I’ve hovered in the years 2004-2007, because so much of what happened in those years led me to where I am today.

And where am I today, spiritually and doctrinally? (I want to keep within eyesight where this series is going so you can follow along better).

I’m a catholic, orthodox Protestant, but with a very troubled faith in some regards. I have been looking for the Church catholic for 15 years now, and am feeling a bit lost in the woods. The reason this prompted my writing is because I can’t seem to find where I am, spiritually and ecclesially (that would mean in reference to the Church catholic). I know I am in the Body of Christ; I know I am a part of the universal Church, but translating that into concrete worship and service in a local church has proven frustrating.

And what am I? Continue reading

The Pain of Friendship (Spiritual Autobio 5)

The One Thing we All Need

No matter what the Church catholic has to offer to a man, if he can’t find friendship, companionship, and fellowship within her walls, he has very little. Yes, Christ is closer than a brother, in a sense, but until we see Him face to face, His absence is a lot easier to notice than His presence. Yes, eternal life, adoption by the Father, and the Holy Spirit are unmatched blessings, but in the day-to-day experience of a Christian, the bonds of love between brethren is irreplaceable. Forgive me if I’ve spoken improperly here; my words come from a sore place.

Now, keep in mind, this spiritual autobiography is my recounting of my search for the Church catholic. Jesus found me in a jailhouse around my 21st birthday, but I didn’t find His Church after that. For many months and years, I bobbed along in the gentle waves of loneliness, occasionally making friends, even finding mentors like Phillip and Peter. Yet as each season of my life has passed on, the Christian friends and fellowship of those seasons have also passed on, out of sight. I am in terrible grief over this every day of my life, and that is not hyperbole. Although I live without pervasive depression, I am often wracked with anger, fear, and doubt because of the transience of Christian friendship in my life. Keep reading. I may spell all this out slowly, but I mean to spell it all out for you, for myself, for my family. There is something important which is spilling forth in these words.

Desperate for Friendship

As I drifted alone in 2003-4, then finding some non-Christian friends, then a few Continue reading

Calvary Chapel: Finally Home? (Spiritual Autobio 4)

Last time we saw the young man awaken in a small boat at sea, not knowing who he was or why he was adrift. By the end of the post, another person in a boat had been contacted. Please go back and read the previous posts in this series before reading this one. It’ll be more fun for both of us if a few of you follow along the whole way…

And look, I don’t have all the time in the world to really prune these posts and to make them titillating reading. I am doing this for posterity, so I ask you to bear with my writing, knowing it leaves something to be desired.


It was 2004, I was clean and sober for less than two years, and I barely knew my right hand from my left. I lived in a micro-apartment with rent of $330 per month, and worked night shifts at Tim Hortons, making just enough money to eat a little food and drive several miles each week in lil’ Murph, my 1989 Mercury Tracer hatchback. I had picked it up for $550 cash, and the air conditioning was a large rust hole in the back where the wind rushed in.

Aimless but Happy

Life was good, but I had no local church, no Christian friends, and no aspirations. Then I met Phillip at the Redemption Center in Brockport (see last post).  Continue reading