September 17, 2014

Peter Enns on Reasons to Not Give Up on Fundamentalists

Opposites Attract, Patricia Fatta

Yesterday, Pete Enns ran a great post about why he (and blogs like IM) should remain engaged in loving conversation with those in more fundamentalist traditions of the faith who disagree with us.

Here are the nine reasons he listed:

1. Fundamentalists are human beings and therefore are of infinite worth.

2. Fundamentalists are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

3. In the practice of my own faith, what I do to others does not hinge on what others do to me.

4. Not all fundamentalists are in hyper-battle mode, and not all have painted a target on my back.

5. Some fundamentalists are on a journey out of fundamentalism, even if they do not yet know it, and they need a place to land.

6. Vocal fundamentalist gatekeepers do not speak for all those they claim to speak for, and so all fundamentalists should not be grouped together.

7. Fundamentalists can be kind and open-minded in theological disagreement, and just plain old kind in general. Some of the nicest, godliest, people I know are fundamentalists.

8. No more or less than any other Christian subgroup, fundamentalists genuinely and sincerely seek after God in ways that make most sense to them.

9. Fundamentalists may tend toward equating virtually all aspects of Scripture as literally reflecting space and time reality, but they are also taking seriously the call to “access” the biblical story.

* * *

As a former fundamentalist myself, I would add one more, to make it an even ten:

10. I’m sure there are many things I can continue to learn from them as well.

Comments

  1. My main reason is: I might be wrong.

  2. Two more.
    God hasn’t given up on me

    I might be wrong and the fundamentalists might be right.

    • Pegler, that doesn’t make sense to me. Who thoughtfully leaves fundamentalism, only to return because they just as thoughtfully conclude that fundamentalism is the best choice?

      • Lots of people Jonathan.You have to be careful to not fall into the trap that I see many fall into.

        “I have experienced X and Y. I believe Y. I am a thoughtful person. This other person has experienced X and Y and chooses X. Therefore this other person is not a thoughtful person.”

        Chaplain Mike, intentionally or not did the same thing the other day. Paraphrase: “I ended up Lutheran because I am older and wiser.” Therefore…?

        The fact is that different people place different values on different things. A thoughtful process may lead someone into Fundamentalism just as surely as it leads someone out of it.

        • Michael, I’m sorry you interpreted my statement with that particular nuance. I think what I meant was that I’ve grown enough to know that fundamentalism wasn’t for me and that perhaps I’ve matured enough to be willing to explore other options and realize that that’s ok. The problem with much of my early fundamentalism was that I was so sure of myself and my positions that I found it hard to believe there was any other way to approach the faith. It’s not necessarily my choice of Lutheranism that shows that I’m “older and wiser” (although I feel very comfortable explaining or even defending my choice if need be). It’s that I’m willing to listen and consider that God and his truth and ways are bigger than my former little perspective allowed it to be.

          It was not meant to be a critique of others who may have thoughtfully chosen other ways.

          • Hi Mike,

            Just a clarification. And an apology. Knowing you, I did not interpret it with that nuance. I believe it was unintentional.

            The statement very easily could have been interpreted that way, primarily because it gets said so often by so many.

            Perhaps Jonathan didn’t intend it the way it sounded either.

            Again, my apologies. I really do appreciate your willingness to be open to others points of view.

          • +1

  3. I think that the Fundies may well hit ‘the wall’ and start to despair of the whole ‘holiness project’.

    That’s the time when they are ripe to hear the gospel and be liberated from their self-focused religion.

    • I hope so, Steve.

      Is the “holiness project” the same as “obedience”? I hear that once in a while. And to that I’ll ask, with Michael Spencer, “How much is enough? And who gets to judge?”

  4. OK – maybe I’ll keep the door open then and not walk away. Thanks – I needed to hear this tonight!

  5. 1. Fundamentalists are human beings and therefore are of infinite worth.

    So are Scientologists. Doesn’t make their opinions worth listening to.

    2. Fundamentalists are my brothers and sisters in the faith.

    Do fundamentalists have more of a claim on your attention than other putative co-religionists, such as Mormons, Doukhobors, or liberal Protestants? Time is precious, and we can’t listen to everybody. There are plenty of more deserving voices than fundamentalism.

    3. In the practice of my own faith, what I do to others does not hinge on what others do to me.

    You seem to be saying that fundamentalists have treated you poorly. But okay, this is true.

    4. Not all fundamentalists are in hyper-battle mode, and not all have painted a target on my back.

    Okay, fine, but that still doesn’t make them worth listening to.

    5. Some fundamentalists are on a journey out of fundamentalism, even if they do not yet know it, and they need a place to land.

    Yes, this website gets a lot of those. All right, that would be a good reason.

    6. Vocal fundamentalist gatekeepers do not speak for all those they claim to speak for, and so all fundamentalists should not be grouped together.

    You seem to be saying that some fundamentalists are not as crazy as the other fundamentalists, and are more deserving of our attention. Who are these “good” fundamentalists? And are they really more deserving of attention than non-fundamentalists?

    7. Fundamentalists can be kind and open-minded in theological disagreement, and just plain old kind in general. Some of the nicest, godliest, people I know are fundamentalists.

    The same could be said of virtually any religion.

    8. No more or less than any other Christian subgroup, fundamentalists genuinely and sincerely seek after God in ways that make most sense to them.

    So do Sikhs.

    9. Fundamentalists may tend toward equating virtually all aspects of Scripture as literally reflecting space and time reality, but they are also taking seriously the call to “access” the biblical story.

    So do Mormons. Their whole history recapitulates scripture.

    10. I’m sure there are many things I can continue to learn from them as well.

    But the “payoff” would be relatively low compared to other groups. With the same amount of effort, you’d learn more from the Orthodox, for instance.

    • Gerald, you make some accurate points…in a vacuum. But once again, these points must be read in context.

      Enns is in the midst of significant quarrels with the world of fundamentalism and is therefore focusing on his relationships with people in that world.

  6. All of the items on Peter’s list are true, but…

    I’ll comment on #4: “Not all fundamentalists are in hyper-battle mode, and not all have painted a target on my back.”

    But during election year more of them get into hyper-battle mode. I ended up with a target painted on my back from my friendly association with “liberals” who had the audacity to put campaign signs on their lawns, promoting candidates of the wrong party. Somehow that makes me a mass-murderer too because Roe v. Wade hasn’t been overturned.

    After licking my wounds I’ve come to the cynical conclusion that the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals is that a fundamentalist (or hyper-fundamentalist if you’d rather) will not hesitate to call an evangelical a non-Christian, but an evangelical would be somewhat reluctant to say that about the fundamentalist.

    The end must be near: Christians are calling Christians non-Christian if they don’t vote for the Mormon.

    • “The end must be near: Christians are calling Christians non-Christian if they don’t vote for the Mormon.”

      Great line and observation, Ted!

      • …and lets not forget that the VP candidates both call themselves Roman Catholic and are swinging from totally opposite ends of the spectrum, to add to the Circus!

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      During election year EVERYBODY goes into hyper-battle mode. And goes around painting targets on the back of anyone not one of Them.

  7. I visited the church I grew up a few weeks back. I hadn’t been there in nearly 30 years! It is a church which would be described as fundamentalist. In the first service I walked into (the communion service), only one lady wasn’t wearing a head covering. Major culture shock.

    I was greated warmly. During the service, one of the men stood up to speak of what Christ’s death meant to him. He was so overwhelmed at the thought of Christ’s sacrifice that he started weeping as he was speaking. I said to myself “These people may believe quite differently to me, and practice their Christianity very differently to me, but they love Jesus deeply. And, in the end, isn’t that what matters most?”

    • +1

    • This is so well said. I am visiting a Lutheran church currently, and, although I worry a bit about ‘baptism as idol’ with some of these good folks, their love of Jesus is delightful.

      We, none of us, have it right. It’s like the bit of CS Lewis in Screwtape regarding the ‘fish knives’. Just because WE do what WE do doesn’t necessarily make it Gospel,

      And yes, Enns is rather condescending, for sure. Those types often are. ;) (see what I did there?)

  8. It was worth coming here today just for the art.

  9. Cedric Klein says:

    My reasons-

    My first Christian mentors who really taught me to love God, Jesus, The Bible & The Church were at least somewhat Fundamentalist- that includes my pastors & Sunday school teachers, the authors I read & media preachers I watched/listened to.

    Compared to many fellow Christians & most all non-Christians, I am a Fundamentalist on a lot of issues.

    They are a lot more likely to seriously deal with the hard passages of Scripture than to try to weasel out of them.

  10. There are fundamentalist Catholics as well…

    We had a couple who were fundamentalist in our close-knit prayer group for years. The husband was like a mentor to me. It made me look at many of the negative icidents I had with fundamentalists.

  11. My +1 was intended for Chaplin Mike’s statement. I am at the exact same place. I have chosen the Lutheran church as my appreciation for other expressions and sincere interpretations has grown. I too am older and I guess I have mellowed. I know what I believe and why. I also know that many friends and members of my former church are shocked at my decision and I understand that completely.

  12. The fact that our society seems to be rapidly secularizing means that the day could arrive pretty soon, when it’ll be a social norm to ostracize someone for speaking and living their faith. I think it telling that Adam Gopnik, from what I’ve read a well respected and talented writer for the New Yorker, wrote that when Paul Ryan said that his faith “informs us in everything we do” he was behaving in a shocking manner indistinguishable from an Iranian Ayatollah. Gopnik, I’m sure, new that Ryan’s statement wouldn’t sound strange to most Christians. In fact, Ryan’s statement, while admirable if he truly holds it, is actually pretty mundane and expected in most Christian circles. But thinking about it, Gopnik’s statement does make sense in the sense that increasingly most Christians do not have a faith which informs everything they do. As a guy in my mid-twenties, it’s apparent to me that even many self described Christians don’t even want to try to abstain from sex until marriage. It’s, of course, easy to fail when it comes to sexual sins. But increasingly, many Christians don’t even think of sexual sins as sins. It would be one thing if they came to this conclusion at least in part from a theological standpoint. Of course, it’s the cultural milieu that’s the overwhelming factor, with God unlikely to play even a small role.

    That I think is what fundamentalism is fighting against. And from that sense, I really admire fundamentalists. It’s trying to reverse a tide. Alas I think they’re doing it wrong. It’s fighting against decidedly unChristian actions the culture paints as good, by making Christianity about the law. And they’re fighting against intellectual arguments against Christianity by disengaging and creating their own subpar intellectual subculture. It’s too reactionary, and too political. That said, at least they consider Christianity important enough to do something to defend it. Too many today, would rather just go with the flow whatever the consequences are to their faith.

    • Fundamentalists complaining about ostracism is like Amway salespeople complaining that none of their friends will talk to them anymore.

    • Considering the rising tide of atheism, secularity, and an anything-goes view of human behavior, along with a healthly hatred for all things of God, we (all Christians) may very well have to learn to support each others’ faith expressions in light of the Huns at the doors of ALL our churches.

      Perhaps not the greatest analogy, but just as 13 colonies with VERY different people, nationalities, and faiths had to stand together to form the USA, there may come a day for a REAL organization of churches to keep us all from being outlawed, punished, and legislated into following the dictates of the state, a la the USSR.

      • Pattie, I always like your responses on I-monk. I too struggle with the EWTN type conservatives in RC and also the far “left” of some Catholics. I grew up RC then now attend an Evangelical church. I have a hard time with “outside the RC there is no salvation”. There is more dialogue now between Protestants and RC.

  13. “3. In the practice of my own faith, what I do to others does not hinge on what others do to me.”

    But, if you are shut out because of fundamentalist practices, you aren’t always able to do 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 the same way as if you weren’t.

  14. Wow, very nice thoughts today. Especially like Michael Bell’s story.

    They way I see religion, we’re simply here to learn how to BE engaged in love, until we no longer perceive enemies in our heart, but hold others only as children of God, regardless of religion, creed, politics, or even relative measures of good and evil. It is a near-impossible task, but it is our task.

    If the cross is “no greater love,” then ideological differences (and perhaps ideology in general) is just noise in the greater calling of returning to the garden – beyond good, beyond evil, beyond relative ideology. Everything will fail, religion will fail, but love will not fail.

    • birdwoman says:

      John,

      I would LOVE to meet christians who “no longer perceive enemies in our heart, but hold others only as children of god, REGARDLESS of religion, creed, politics….” and I am adding culture, nationality and worldview.

      I have been ENORMEOUSLY blessed to meet a few of such christians in my mortal lifetime.
      There are so pitifully few of them.
      Maybe there are more of them than I think [where are they hiding??], but I can only speak of my own experience, not someone else`s.

      ,

  15. I made the journey out of fundamentalism, to come to a place where I find far more in common with the “moral left” of the 70′s… which is ironic, since I was a kid then, being raised in GARBC churches.

    But now, while my faith in Christ is at its strongest, and my belief in sound Scriptural teaching is firm, I am feeling incredibly ostracized from the U.S. community of faith, where even the most “progressive” of evangelical congregations is offended or shaken by the fact that my husband and I believe in Theistic Evolution and are vocally supporting our current President in his re-election bid. The congregation we’ve been with for a couple of years has become more distant because we have not tried to hide our beliefs on these matters. Our passion has never been to bring people “over to the dark side”, but rather help fellow believers understand that there are areas where we are missing aspects of who the Bride is supposed to be amidst a fallen world… one of those being how we treat those God has put in authority over us, and also how more fundamentalist members of the faith treat those who have earnestly studied and listened to God’s leading and come to different conclusions on certain matters.

    I appreciate you posting these thoughts of Pete Enns. I admire his courage and love for the Body. Yet, I am currently in something of a crisis regarding to how to find true community within our congregation and what to do with the giftings God has given me. One can only listen so long to the cheering of those next to you, when “red meat” lines are thrown out, before wanting to crawl back into a warm, safe shell.

    Chaplain Mike, do you have any suggestions as to truly live out this list Mr. Enns has laid out, in a situation like this?

    • It is so hard to give pastoral advice over this medium, so I won’t try. You should find someone in your context who will listen to you, pray for you and with you, give you spiritual and pastoral direction, hear your confessions, absorb your frustrations, and be a friend to you in this situation. The easiest thing of all would simply be to say, “Leave, and find some place more compatible with your opinions and beliefs,” but that is not for me to say. I believe that vibrant communities should not be, indeed cannot be, “red” or “blue” or in full agreement down to the tiniest details of our faith.

      Keep talking, keep loving, keep praying, and find someone to give you pastoral guidance and support.

      • birdwoman says:

        Chaplain Mike,

        What do you suggest one should do if there is literally no one around to listen, pray, give spiritual direction…..?

        What if there is no place compatible with one`s opinions, worldview, values and beliefs?

        What if there is no pastor anywhere who would even tolerate one in their church?

        Yes, I am acutely aware of how incredible it sounds, but people THIS despised and outcast DO exist.

  16. Kristi, I am sure there are many of us who feel as you do. It is difficult to go to church and listen to ugly, mean spirited things said about anyone who disagrees in the slightest. I am sure it grieves our Lord, as well as me.

  17. #10 – Because who else will create new stories for Stuff Fundies Like?

    Ok, that may be a bit tongue in cheek…