Monday, November 25, 2019

Transcending Fundamentalism

This is the eleventh and last blog posting this year related to my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism. I am working to get the updated and (slightly) revised edition published before the end of the year—and am hoping many of you will obtain a copy for yourself or give as a present to someone you care about (or both!).
The Necessity of Transcending Fundamentalism
Some Christians who have grown increasingly dissatisfied with fundamentalism have given up on Christianity altogether. I find that quite sad—and also unnecessary.
There are many other Christians, though, who are quite unhappy with fundamentalism, much like I am, but who have sought and found an expression of the Christian faith that seems decidedly superior to that manifested by fundamentalism and is worthy of wholehearted allegiance.
The latter is what I have been advocating in this book, and this final chapter emphasizes the necessity of transcending fundamentalism and finding a form of faith that fully honors God, is loyal to the Lord Jesus, and is invigorated by the Holy Spirit.
Rising above fundamentalism is important for Christian believers: much of the current rejection of Christianity by those raised as Christians is because of their negative reaction toward fundamentalism.  
Transcending fundamentalism is also important for Christians in their relationship with people who are not Christians. Earlier this month (see here) Pope Francis declared, “We must beware of fundamentalist groups . . . . Fundamentalism is a plague.”
Partly for creating a more peaceful society, it is necessary for Christians, as well as people in other religions, to go beyond fundamentalism.  
Help for Transcending Fundamentalism
There are numerous books, and organizations, seeking to help people who are or have been in fundamentalist churches to leave the clutches of such detrimental ways of thinking.
Through the years there have even been several different Fundamentalist(s) Anonymous groups, treating fundamentalism as a kind of addiction that people need to be freed from.
Unfortunately, many of those books and organizations were largely encouraging people to leave Christianity altogether—and certainly many have done that.
But there are also many books, such as Fed Up . . ., and new church organizations that have shown ways to reject fundamentalism and still remain in the Christian faith. Indeed, the 18th chapter of my newest book, Thirty True Things Everyone Needs to Know Now (TTT), is “One Doesn’t Have To Be A Fundamentalist To Be A Good Christian.”
That, I firmly believe, is manifestly true. And in fact, it might even be true that Christians need to transcend fundamentalism in order to be a good Christian.
The Limits of Liberalism
Speaking of (TTT), the 19th chapter of that book is “One Doesn’t Have To Be A Liberal To Reject Fundamentalism.” I reiterate that important point here.  
While many conservative evangelicals, as present-day fundamentalists are generally called now, tend to label my theological position as liberal, many true liberals likely would see me as fairly conservative from their point of view.
Indeed, soon after completing the first edition of Fed Up . . . I started working on the companion volume: The Limits of Liberalism: A Historical, Theological, and Personal Appraisal of Christian Liberalism (2010). Beginning in January, I am planning to begin updating and slightly revising that book also to re-publish by the end of 2020.
As I say at the end of the last paragraph of Fed Up . . .,
There is a valid form of the Christian faith that steers between the dangers of fundamentalism on the right and the dangers of liberalism on the left. It is that expression of the faith that I urge my Christian readers to join me in seeking, finding, and following as we try to be true to Christ.


  1. The first (and only, to this point) substantive comment I have received this morning with regard to this new blog posting is from local Thinking Friend Don Pepper. I much appreciate his email message to me; here is part of what he wrote:

    "Just finished your 'FED UP' last chapter.

    "I've previously read both of your books on fundamentalism and liberalism and can defend your view that the answer 'lies somewhere in the middle.' I have difficulty envisioning how your book at hand endeavors to change the hearts and minds of the beholders.

    "With all due respect to your scholarship, I feel an undercurrent of unforgiven resentment for long suffered trespasses against yourself."

  2. Thank you so much, Don, for reading both of my books and for now reading Chapter Ten again. Let me make two brief responses to the part of your email I pasted above:

    If people are currently strong, and satisfied, fundamentalists (aka conservative evangelicals), what I have written in "Fed Up . . ." will likely have little impact on such people. But, we never know when some challenging word/insight might spark someone to see/consider something in a new light. But I think my main purpose, which I think is important and achievable to a degree, is to encourage people who are finding themselves dissatisfied with conservative evangelical thinking (or churches) to consider alternatives--and especially to realize that they can leave fundamentalism and still be a good Christian.

    I am sorry that I was not able to write in such a way that would not cause you, or anyone else, to think that I have "an undercurrent of unforgiven resentment." While it is true that during many years of our work under the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board we felt stress and had various concerns about the future because of the "conservative resurgence" in the SBC, and while it is true that we were unilaterally placed on retirement status and lost a year's salary because of that, we were able to complete our ministry in Japan and since we were old enough to go on Social Security and were able to receive retirement benefits from our years of service with the SBC, we did not suffer financially. So unlike some of my friends in the States as well as in Japan, we did not particularly have reason for feeling resentment--although, of course, we did have many distinct disagreements and did feel for our friends who did suffer.

    As I wrote at the very beginning of my book, my intention was to be irenic, and I don't think I called people names or spoke disparagingly of anyone, although I did try to speak the truth. While the subtitle includes the word "personal," I certainly do not think I was--and certainly did not intend to be--vindictive. I intended to be, and I think I way, objective and truthful in writing about historical and theological aspects of fundamentalism.

  3. Thanks for this latest chapter. There was a time when I would have felt myself at a midpoint of sorts between fundamentalism and liberalism. he stunning courtship between Trump and the evangelical right has changed that for me. I consider Trump's daily assault on truth and any institutions committed to seeking and telling truth as objectively as possible to be his greatest offense. It's a threat to any hope of building a human community that is accountable to standards I would consider godly (justice, compassion, rule of law, use of power on behalf of commonweal, separation of religion and state power, etc.).

    The willingness of the evangelical right to overlook Trump's evil assault on truth and his replacing it with ostentatious, self-serving powermongering leaves me speechless. I thought eventually they would wake up and they have not. Nothing short of a Barmen Declaration (confession signed by German Christians repenting after Nazism) moment will allow me to ever again consider myself on a spectrum of any kind with American evangelicalism. By all signs it now serves gods I do not recognize. I "shake off the dust from my feet" against it.

    I think all who ever thought we share some footing with evangelicals must now ponder not only the apostacy of the Christian right. We must also re-examine our own foundations - where do we share the same assumptions that have caused them this blind and arrogant unfaithfulness?

    I am not sure yet where I will come out on this personally, but something has been fundamentally altered and I am sure I am not the only one. I hope you find a way to address this in your book revision.

    1. Thank you for your candid comments, Ron. I certainly agree with your negative assessment of DJT and his overwhelming support by fundamentalists/conservative evangelicals. The latter is one of the reasons that I am even more fed up with fundamentalism now than I was when I started writing the book 15 years ago.

      But "evangelical" is a broad "umbrella," and there are some who still use that term--or who have that term used to describe them--with whom I can and do agree to a great degree. For example, Jim Wallis is one such person. For example, Sunday evening (11/24) E.J. Dionne, the eminent columnist for the Washington Post, posted an opinion piece on the Washington Post website that included the following paragraph:

      "Of course, it makes little moral sense for the followers of Jesus to support a man like Trump. It’s a point my Post colleague Michael Gerson has pressed with admirable consistency and that evangelical writer Jim Wallis makes forcefully in his recent, aptly named book, 'Christ in Crisis: Why We Need to Reclaim Jesus.'"

      Wallis may or may not still identify as an evangelical, but he has long born that label. But his book, which I highly recommend, gives some of the strongest (civil) criticism of DJT I have seen anywhere. And, in keeping with your reference to Barmen, just last year Sojourners magazine, of which Jim is the CEO, published an article titled, "Is This a Bonhoeffer Moment?"

      This is the kind of "evangelicalism" that I want to embrace as a part of the "radiant center" that I have forwarded. I firmly stand in opposition to the Religious Right and those evangelicals who support DJT. But I believe that there are many theological conservatives who are seeking faithfully to follow Jesus Christ and that the way forward is, as Jim Wallis says, not to go left or to go right but to go deeper.

  4. Leroy:
    Thank you for your recent blog on Fundamentalism. You know of my interest in this subject and my published articles. I am concerned about my state--Arizona. I have raised the issue with a few Baptist friends and they didn't even know what I was talking about. The two primary SCB leaders here are close, personal friends of mind and they are fully aware of the take-over and are by no means fundamentalist. They are godly men who I respect. One of them told me one time, "What would I do. . . where would I go." I didn't have an answer for them. As far as I can tell, the Southern Baptist in Arizona are totally committed to the SBC as they know it and believe it has not changed. Since we have moved into a retirement center and my wife's health has kept her close to home, we have had only a few opportunities to visit other SBC churches. The preaching has been good but shallow. I find it easier and easier to skip church on Sunday and I'm not proud of it. I wish I could be optimistic about the future of moderate Baptist in our state and the other Western states in our country. Keep up the good work. You are a lighthouse in the darkness of ignorance and progress.

    Truett Baker

    1. Thanks for your comments, Truett--and for calling attention to the fact that there are some who are more "traditionalists" than "fundamentalists." I have seen here in Missouri also that there are churches as well as individuals who do not particularly know (or care?) about the massive shift of the Southern Baptist Convention to conservative evangelicalism (fundamentalism). They just want things to be as they always were, and locally perhaps there has not been a lot of change. But, for various reasons, while many of these people may not be strong supporters of DJT, a majority of them probably voted (and would vote again) for him because of their desire for things to be the way they used to be regarding abortion and LGBTQ issues (and maybe racial issues also). Traditionalists tend to want a continuance of a white-, male-, straight-dominated society.