August 12, 2020

iMonk Classic: Dancing at the Fundamentalist Ball

Classic iMonk Post
by Michael Spencer

I am almost through with fundamentalism. Almost.

There are still some places where I want to hang on to my fundamentalism, but not many. After spending most of my life listening to my fundamentalist relation sing their song in the current cultural climate, I long ago quit singing with them. Eventually, I put down my hymnal and left the choir loft. Now I think it’s time to leave the building altogether.

Of course, I realize some liberals will always think I am a fundamentalist because I believe in classically orthodox Christianity, the truthfulness of the Bible (rightly interpreted,) the resurrection of Jesus, miracles, prayer, the church and creation. The somewhat theologically astute will realize that stadiums full of non-fundamentalists believe all that stuff, but among that segment of American culture that finds any serious place given to faith fundamentalist, then I will always be mistaken for one. It’s fine with me, even fun, especially around really angry liberals (who are rather fundamentalistic themselves.)

Among, fundamentalists, however, my departure has been noticed for some time, both theologically and culturally. I hold no place for young earth creationism. I do not read the King James Version, and I do not want others to do so. My description of scripture does not choose to use the word, “inerrant.” I do not believe in the rapture. I abhor revivalism and its shallow, manipulative techniques. The four Spiritual laws are not the Gospel. Aisle walking is just plain wrong. I strongly suspect that most of what is on the shelves of Christian bookstores is somewhere between shallow and heretical. Women in ministry is good Bible as far as I am concerned. I avoid TBN like a fundamentalist avoids MTV. I like a whole bunch of Roman Catholics. Sometimes, I don’t pray over my food. (Actually, I pray one prayer on January 1st for the whole year, but that’s another column.)

On the cultural front, I consider the temperate use of alcohol to be harmless, if not mildly virtuous. (Alert Baptists: Psalms 4:7, 104:15. Read it first before you do anything rash.) I wish I danced and intend for my children to do so. I read a variety of books that fundamentalists consider occultic, worldly and dangerous. I listen to music ranging from Led Zeppelin to the Beatles to Dave Mathews. I find Contemporary Christian music to be, in the main, embarrassing. (With a few significant exceptions.)  I love movies and the language doesn’t bother me, though I certainly don’t want to talk that way. I have raised my children in the Christian faith, but I have not sheltered them from bad culture, bad language or flawed people. I have not taught my children that it impresses God if you dress nicely for church, wear a WWJD bracelet or listen to the Christian radio station. I’ve actually told them God is great and loving enough to speak through any medium he desires. I bought my son three Harry Potter books. I love Halloween. I think Landover Baptist Church is stone cold funny.

This could go on, but I would belabor, bore and give my critics ammunition. I left the Fundamentalist ranch a long time ago. Every so often, I look back from my new view up in the hills and think of the good times, the good friends and the good truth, but I am not raising my kids there, and I am not going back.

And here is the main reason I have decided to move on. (There are many, for you e-mailers.) I don’t think Jesus was a mean, negative person who viewed life as a conspiracy. I think Jesus was a positive, gracious person who thought God was into everything, which was a matter of great rejoicing. I have decided Jesus was not a fundamentalist, and so I am not going to be either.

First, the mean part. I know being mean doesn’t have a thing to do with anything, but fundamentalists are mean a lot of the time, and they seem to think this is somehow OK. Now when it’s a Muslim fundamentalist being mean we see this rather easily. I know that Christian fundamentalists don’t blow things up or cheer those who do, but we are talking only about a matter of degree.

The best example of this is the reaction of fundamentalists to Hollywood. A few years ago, Tinseltown put out a perfectly horrible little movie called “The Last Temptation of Christ.” The particular problems with this piece of cinema aren’t really germane here, but let’s just say that a nation that fills the theaters for “American Pie II” and “Scary Movie” was not going to be excited about this entertainment. It was a stinker, of the highest order. Yet, fundamentalists mounted a campaign of protest, spleen-venting, tantrum-throwing and name calling that has yet to be matched. Just plain, grit-your-teeth, grind-your-jaw, get-in-your-face-and-spit mean and mad. The over-reaction of fundamentalists dignified this movie a thousand times more than it deserved by making it a victim of censorship.

The meanness that really bothers me is that reserved for those opponents of fundamentalism who simply disagree with them over one of their favorite topics. People who like Harry Potter. Or who endorse women in ministry or reject young earth creationism. Or happen to want alcohol served in restaurants. Hey- these are issues on which real Christians disagree, but fundamentalists chew on these issues with all the civility of  a night at WWF Raw. I’ve not just seen this meanness, I’ve experienced it and, unfortunately, I’ve dished it out.

Don’t get me wrong- in the public arena, it’s sometimes give as good as you get, and some of those who want to take over our culture and reshape it into their own image are angry, mean and even vicious. But tough-mindedness and meanness are two different things. I’m happy to play hardball, and I want to win the culture war, but I would like to leave the meanness to someone else.

Then there’s negativity. By this I mean an overall approach to life as a series of prohibitions and restrictions. Now I recognize that there are plenty of negatives in the Bible, and lots of rules against various things of varying significance. Take the Ten Commandments. Quite a few “Thou shalt not’s” in there. But the first and greatest commandment, the commandment that dominates and sets the tone, is to love God with all we are and to love our neighbor as ourselves. The relationship between these commandments is important here: it is the positive that controls the negative. You shall not commit adultery is controlled by loving God, neighbor and self rightly. The reverse- to love God by what we do NOT do- is only true in a limited sense, but don’t try and tell that to your fundamentalist friends.

Fundamentalists love God by not doing what the larger culture does, by not sinning, by not being worldly, by not indulging temptation. If you haven’t noticed, the negative way is simpler, easier to define and far more likely to be controlled by an authority figure who eliminates all the questions and gray areas. Trusting people to love God and do as they please scares fundamentalists to death.

This negative approach is generously applied to young people, who thrive on being told what NOT to do, and who adults like to believe can be controlled. Eventually, however, the negative approach begins to force a certain amount of cognitive dissonance, and a choice must be made on how to maintain the superiority of the negative commands over the positive. There is no one more perplexed than a thoughtful fundamentalist, who realizes that there really is no virtue in not dancing, but whose believing community insists that not dancing is an article of faith.

This, by the way, is why fundamentalists never produce any real art, and why their ventures into film and music are so predictably awful. Their conception of art is so dominated by the negative approach, that characters can’t be real human beings and lyrics can’t be real poetry. The whole realm of the imagination and the appreciation of beauty have to be controlled by what they can not represent and how things are not to be expressed. It’s no wonder that the ranks of real artists trying to exist in fundamentalism resembles a community of abused and neglected refugees.

I believe scripture teaches that negativity is no more able to create true virtue than a fence is able to grow a crop. In fact, it was Jesus who said that a house swept clean of seven demons was once again ripe for the same, or even worse, occupants. I have discovered that loving God, neighbor and self is far more than the accumulated negative commands of my fundamentalist upbringing. It is a LOT more challenging than keeping the rules. It is so difficult, that transformation by God himself is my only hope.

Finally, the conspiratorial mindset. Fundamentalism is awash with conspiracy theories. The devil, the Illuminati, the CFR, the World Council of Churches, the NEA, Satanists, New Agers, The Networks, Procter and Gamble, Madelyn Murray O’Hare, the relatives of Bill Clinton…well, that one has some interesting possibilities. Anyway, as someone said, it’s not just a conspiracy, it’s a LIFESTYLE.

Prominent in this kind of thinking is the belief that participating in any aspect of the larger culture exposes one to forces posed to drag the victim into witchcraft and demon possession. Eric Rigney’s endorsement of the Harry Potter books has yielded message after message warning that the books are a gateway into bondage to occultic powers. Where is a single shred of evidence that Harry Potter is any more harmful than Snow White or the tales of King Arthur? The predictability of fundamentalist conspiracy theories have become downright annoying.

The conspiratorial prophets- Warnke, Hunt, Van Impe, Lindsey, Maddux, et al- exert a remarkable amount of unquestioned control in the fundamentalist community. How can so many intelligent people see conspiracies in everything, yet never question themselves or their sources at all? It is the same impulse that turned hysterical teenagers into witches in Salem, and wound up hanging the innocent.

It is here that fundamentalism shows such a remarkable difference from the Bible. While taking the reality of evil totally seriously, Holy Scripture never falls to the level of seeing conspiracies as the explanations for events that are hard to understand or impossible to control. A sovereign God, fallen angels and sinful men are the full extent of the Bible’s conspiracy theory. The early Christians did not waste their time teaching about Roman or pagan conspiracies, but simply lived and worshipped faithfully. It was not a mistake that the apostle Paul counseled believers to avoid myths, fables, and gossip.

Yet fundamentalists don’t avoid this way of thinking, they absolutely revel in seeing evil conspiracies at work in everything. So prevalent are conspiracies as the explanation for events, that a kind of concrete pessimism permeates fundamentalism, leaving Christians to believe that nothing is as it seems and only a conspiracy that really explain life, culture and history. One has to salute those in the fundamentalist community who have defied this dark way of looking at the world and have gone out into the world to do good.

As I said earlier, I do not see any of these trends in Jesus. Instead, I see grace, love and faith, lived out in bringing the Kingdom of God into the world through compassion, servanthood and sacrifice. I am sure that Jesus might be called a theological fundamentalist by some, but does anyone really see the spirit of modern fundamentalism in Jesus?

My departure from fundamentalism will be impossible to explain to fundamentalists. To them, to depart from the community in any way is to call into question one’s basic Christian commitment. They are convinced that if one is in touch with God, he or she will agree with them and stand with them in things large and small. It is sadly common among fundamentalists to respond to any deviation from their worldview with an invitation to pray and listen to God more closely, as if God spoke each of their beliefs directly into their ears. But I am at peace with this, and I am glad that my children will not grow up, as I did, believing all Catholics were going to hell, anyone who drank was lost, dancing was evil, movies and secular music were of the devil, and, of course, we and only we, were right.

I missed my prom, because my church told me it was evil to go. Other than a weak moment in the 8th grade, I’ve never been to a dance. I’d love to say that once I’ve renounced my fundamentalism, I’ll be the first one out on the dance floor, but its not that easy. It will take a lifetime to get over the narrow mindset of fundamentalism. But if you stop by the nursing home around, say 2033, that will be me turning circles in the wheelchair, looking for a partner.

Comments

  1. I’m sorry to ask an ignorant question, but what does, “Aisle walking is just plain wrong” mean?

    • I think he’s talking about people coming down from their pews to the front of the church to be “saved.” The problem I assume is the context in which this is done ad infinitum in fundamentalist churches—emotional manipulation rather than through a more thoughtful process.

      • You’re right, I think emotional manipulation is what Michael Spencer was denouncing. Evangelism itself is not the problem; that’s what Michael was all about, whether teaching, preaching or blogging.

        See this short essay by Langston Hughes, entitled “Salvation”. It’s probably a snapshot of many tent revivals and not a caricature. And it’s a tragedy.
        http://www.courses.vcu.edu/ENG200-dwc/hughes.htm

      • Thanks JeffB and Ted.

        The church I grew up in had an altar call every week, and we’d keep singing Just As I Am until one of the 40 or so regulars came down. So I understand Michael Spencer’s reason for objecting.

        Thanks again.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It is one of those mysteries of the universe that you find “Altar Calls” only in non-liturgical churches who do NOT use physical altars.

        It’s all part of the Evangelical tent-revivalist tunnel vision on the Moment of Conversion expressed in “Say-the-Magic-Words” Salvation. A way for the evangelist/preacher to cut more notches on his Bible for brownie points with God, and count the number of notches before everybody. Get them up the aisle and on their knees Saying the Magic Words any way you can, because that’s The Only Way You Can Be Saved. End Justifies Means, Anything Goes.

        It’s so pervasive that Christian (TM) fiction HAS to include an Altar Call Ending where the main character (usually the male Romance lead — sparkle sparkle) Gets Saved that way, before the author breaks the fourth wall to present the Plan of Salvation and invite the reader to do the same. Another reason “whyfundamentalists never produce any real art, and why their ventures into film and music are so predictably awful.”

  2. J.Random says

    On conspiracy theories in fundamentalism:

    A mind susceptible to conspiracy theories is a prerequisite to belief in the inerrancy of Scripture.

    To believe in inerrancy, you have to believe that despite a dubious history of transcription, preservation and selection by church Councils, the text of the Bible was /really/ superintended by God. You have to believe that despite all the text’s internal evidence of mistakes and contradictions, they can all /really/ be harmonized into a cohesive whole. And you have to believe that in the face of all real-life evidence that the earth came into existence /after/ the sun, that women can do perfectly well in ministry and that homosexuality can be perfectly benign, the Bible is /actually/ correct when it speaks against all these things.

    Conspiracy theorists and Biblical inerrantists alike reinterpret or disregard all evidence in favor of their pet theory.

    • I disagree with IM on inerrancy—I do believe in it and think it’s important. But I have no interest in or belief in conspiracy theories! I think the problem many people have with inerrancy (which it seems you do from your comments) is that it becomes associated with young earth creationism, male-only pastorates or any of a host of particular Biblical interpretations. To me, inerrancy has nothing to do with the age of the earth, the details of the “end times” or even whether Jesus is the Son of God—-inerrancy is a view about the origin of Scripture and has nothing to do with the the interpretation of any particular doctrine within Scripture. I just think inerrancy ends up being an unfortunate and unnecessary casualty of many folks’ rejection of particular doctrines or interpretations that really have nothing to do with inerrancy at all.

      • Dan Allison says

        I prefer to say that the Bible is “trustworthy and true.” The I-words — infallible, inerrant — are on the one hand Late Reformation over-reactions to Catholicism (where the Pope is “infallible”) and also, on the other hand, code words for belief in a whole set of doctrines and ideologies that have little if anything to do with the Bible. When someone tells me he believes the Bible is “inerrant,” it inevitably means he believes in young-earth creationism, the rapture, the KJV-only, putting women in jail for abortion, alcohol abstinence, and banning Harry Potter novels.

        • Kenny Johnson says

          Over the last year or so, I’ve moved away from using the term inerrant as well and also prefer something like trustworthy and true. However, believing or claiming inerrancy shouldn’t be linked to strict Fundamentalism. See Chicago Statement on Inerrancy.

          There are plenty of Christians who would claim an inerrant scripture, but deny Young Earth Creationism (pretty much all of Wheaton College, William Lane Craig, etc), that believe in egalitarianism (Scot McKnight, Gordon Fee), etc.

          J. Random is completely off-base here. Most Evangelicals accept the Chicago Statement on Inerrancy, but are not conspiracy theorists.

    • I think you may be missing the point. One does not have to be an “inerrantist” to believe the Bible is God’s word. The problem Michael Spencer had with the term “inerrant” is much more complex than “the Bible is full of contradictions” or that “the Bible doesn’t line up with reality”. Many of us (in a similar position to Michael) are not fundamentalists, nor inerrantists, and yet we do believe that the Bible corresponds to reality and that it is God’s word, and that it is inspired.

      But we don’t believe that Genesis is meant to give a scientific account of creation (see many previous posts by Chaplain Mike and Michael). But we also don’t necessarily agree with you that the Bible’s beginnings are “dubious”. Complex, surely; so we certainly understand that Scripture did not fall from the sky.

      As conspiracy theories go, it seems to me that those who believe that the Gnostic gospels were suppressed by the early church and are the real authentic scriptures (I’m not saying you do); that sounds more like a conspiracy theory to me.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      For whatever reason, Born-Again Christians seem especially prone to Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories, usually of the “Secular Humanist Illuminati Conspiracy” or “Satanic Panic” or “Pin-the-Tail-on-The-Antichrist” variety.

      And, like 9/11 Truthers, all their Conspiracy Theories sound alike after a while; only the names and where the fingers are pointed change. (Remember when Henry Kissenger was Proven from SCRIPTURE to be The Antichrist? And the USSR to be Gog & Magog in the Nuclear War Chapter of Ezekiel? As their predecessors ignored a certain Herr Hitler completely to concentrate on proving Mussolini-as-Antichrist?)

      All Conventional Conspiracy Theory, maybe with a little early Frank Peretti mixed in. Nothing really original — no shape-shifting cannibal Reptoid Illuminati, no Deros shining their Telaug Rays up from inside The Hollow Earth, no Communist Gangster Computer God on the Dark Side of the Moon Puppeting Parrot Gangster Assassins through Frankenstein Earphone Radio Controls…

      • I almost fell over in my chair laughing at that last paragraph!

        Christendom needs more humor like this!

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          I did not make up anything in that last paragraph. All three of those were REAL Grand Unified Conspiracy Theories:

          “Shape-shifting cannibal Reptoid Illuminati” — David Icke
          “Deros shining their Telaug Rays up from inside the Hollow Earth” — Richard Shaver, AKA “The Shaver Mystery”
          “Communist Gangster Computer God on the Dark Side of the Moon Puppeting Parrot Gangster Assassins through Frankenstein Earphone Radio Controls” — Francis E Dec, Esq

  3. @AZ

    “aisle walking” is a reference to the revivalistic tradition of asking people who want to accept Christ as Savior to walk down the aisle to the front of the church to kneel and pray/be prayed for. You pray a prayer, you’re in, and you get counted as a new soul going to Heaven. In that tradition, this can be used manipulatively and can lead people to a false sense of security as well.

    • I have been in anguish this week over this practice. Two Sundays ago I went to a church where the pastor informed us that he feels good when he can get three people down to the aisle, and he told of a time when the “Lord was really on him” and he knew many were going to come to the alter; but then none come… Anyway, I am sitting there totally convicted of sin in my life and I am praying that God will forgive me. I am truly repentant and then I begin to pray that Christ will come in and change me. But, I refuse to walk the aisle because I have done that more times than I can remember. I am really struggling with my relationship with God right now. I have to pray every morning that I will just believe in Jesus today. It is miserable and I believe that these altar calls are terrible, manipulative, and often are not the path that lead someone to the Lord. Also, I was wondering if someone could communicate with me concerning my doubting.

  4. “if you stop by the nursing home around, say 2033, that will be me turning circles in the wheelchair, looking for a partner.”
    I am sorry that Michael didn’t get the chance to do the wheelchair dance…but I think he may be dancing now. If David could dance before the Lord, I hope Michael is finally dancing, too.
    Maybe we shouldn’t wait for the nursing home, either.

    • I was under the impression that David danced OUTSIDE the Temple and not IN it!!!
      Thank goodness! “Liturgical Dancing” is silly!!!

  5. Would it be possible to include with the iMonk Classics the date that Michael originally wrote the essay? I think it would be interesting to have that information.

    Thanks to everyone working to maintane the site now. You’re doing a great job.

    Brian

    • Unfortunately, not all of the earlier essays are dated. If I don’t include a date, you can assume it’s early iMonk, 2000-2003.

      • I would tend to think that since he specifically cited 2033, this was probably written in 2003.

      • Chaplain Mike, I have been reading this website for only a week, but I can’t get enough of it. I recently commented on this blog about the altar call; it was a response to Eric R’s comments. I really struggle with doubt. Some days I just rejoice if I believe that Jesus is in heaven with God. I flip out because I don’t understand everything and then I obviously doubt salvation. I feel like I am about to be swallowed up by the earth and honestly I want the earth to swallow me whole. I attend the baptist church and I don’t know if I can be what I am supposed to be. I probably am one of the least faithful that I know but, I want to be faithful and I want to love Jesus daily. I struggle with so many things that I have been told like if you don’t know the moment when you were saved then you were not. I don’t know when I was saved because I have prayed that Christ will save me 5000 times in 5000 different ways because I don’t feel the joy that preachers talk about when you ask Jesus into your heart. Why can’t I get this situation nailed down and these feelings vanquished?

    • Jonathan Blake says

      I second that!!!!

  6. Michael picked a lot of fights in this essay, including this one about the arts:

    “This, by the way, is why fundamentalists never produce any real art, and why their ventures into film and music are so predictably awful. Their conception of art is so dominated by the negative approach, that characters can’t be real human beings and lyrics can’t be real poetry. The whole realm of the imagination and the appreciation of beauty have to be controlled by what they can not represent and how things are not to be expressed. It’s no wonder that the ranks of real artists trying to exist in fundamentalism resembles a community of abused and neglected refugees.”

    Michael then said:
    “I believe scripture teaches that negativity is no more able to create true virtue than a fence is able to grow a crop.”

    Jesus argued with some of the Pharisees about their practice of building a “fence” or a “hedge” around the Law. They insisted upon an ever-tightening interpretation of the Law, a growing list of rules to govern every part of life. Jesus accused them of crossing the ocean to make a single convert only to turn him into a child of hell worse than themselves.

    Artless. Joyless.

    • “This, by the way, is why fundamentalists never produce any real art” My first reaction when I read this in the Post was to agree. Fundies have never truly understood Beauty in art —-writers like NT Wright , CS Lewis, GK Chesterton have helped me see the Beauty of art as worship.
      But then while I thought about this I had to ask myself——What about Southern Gospel, What about the Sacred Harp, & Blue Grass Gospel. The Fundies seemed to be able to make Beautiful Music but I can’t think of any other art they have ever produced. What caused them to be such amazing song writers?????? It is true most of their songs tend to be “pie in the sky, when you die” type songs—– maybe there creativity came from their daily suffering. Just some thoughts

      • I’m not sure that the fundamentalists described in the original posts deserve the credit for great works of art like the Sacred Harp and gospel. The reason those kinds of music are so beautiful is that they are sincere and unassuming. The Fundies (fun name!) are anything but unassuming. They are reactionary, determined by “what they can not represent and how things are not to be expressed.” The Potter-hating KJV aficionados belong to a time and generation that didn’t write the Sacred Harp and probably doesn’t even sing those songs any more – and if they do, it’s accompanied by a lite rock band and a Powerpoint slide.

        Does anyone attend a church where those kinds of music are sung? I’d love to find one . . .

        • I’ve known plenty of those churches, but “beautiful,” “creative,” and “artistic” are not words I would use to describe their music. Though you might occassionally come across a nice sounding church choir, that was more the exception than the rule. A lot of times there was an adversarial attitude toward rehearsing for musical refinement – some confused theology about pride, performance, humility, and God’s will. The dominant characteristic, though, was the same attitude about music that there was about all those other favorite “fundie” topics, “This is what you do, and this is ALL you do.” You read KJV. You don’t drink. The Theory of Evolution is evil. Hymns and southern gospel are church music, and that’s the only kind allowed. Even contemporary praise and worship music is still seen as sinful in those churches… in 2010!

  7. “Do not call conspiracy everything that these people call conspiracy; do not fear what they fear, and do not dread it. The Lord Almighty is the one that you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread, and he will be a sanctuary.” Isaiah 8:12-14a

    • So being a conspiracy theory “buff” is a sort of idolatry. We operate with a sense of fear without trusting the Lord. Lack of trust equals a lack of trust in God. Thanks for this, Damaris. Your comments and posts have been spiritual nourishment.

  8. Wow. What an incredible post that resonates so strongly with me. I often get the feeling that much of what is said of the religious south is caricature. It’s not. It’s very true. Fundamentalism is alive and well and soul crushing as ever.

  9. When did Michael write this? I remember having read it the first time and am glad you’ve reposted it. Also, for future reference, when you post some of Michael’s classic posts, I’d love it if y’all could include the original post date. It helps to get a sense of context sometimes with regard to the larger cultural happenings.

  10. It seems to me that Michael tended to label anything he didn’t like as “fundamentalist” or “evangelical,” then declared himself separate from both (or at least “post” evangelical). The problem with this is he does not offer any careful definition of what he means by these terms. If “fundamentalist” means “an angry, bigoted, legalistic person,” then who would want to identify with it? But historically, that is not what the term meant.

    What happens when we are sloppy with language like this is a lot of good things get thrown out with the bad. I’m afraid Michael made that error repeatedly.

    • I think you’re partly right, Aaron. Michael did shoot from the hip sometimes.

      The term “fundamentalist” should be a positive term, at least among Christians, and there are many points upon which I’ll stand side-by-side with my fundamentalist friends (fortunately, the most important points). The “fundamentals” of the faith should be promoted by all believing Christians. But I’ve come to use the term “essentials” instead, because fundamentalists have brought much of this upon themselves. Too many of them are, in fact, legalistic and angry.

      I think it was Billy Graham et al who coined the term “evangelical” in order to distance themselves from the stricter fundamentalists. Problem is, the term “evangelical’ is going the same route now for similar reasons.

      And as you say, a lot of it is sloppy language and poor definition.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        I think it was Billy Graham et al who coined the term “evangelical” in order to distance themselves from the stricter fundamentalists. Problem is, the term “evangelical’ is going the same route now for similar reasons.

        Trying to distinguish yourself from a group of crazies who claim the same name as you just doesn’t work. No matter what new term you come up with (“Evangelical” instead of “Fundamentalist”, “Anthro” instead of “Furry”), there is nothing to prevent the crazies from hijacking your new name for themselves and shouting it from all the rooftops.

        And every attempt to coin a new term (“Special” instead of “Challenged” instead of “Retarded”, “Handi-Capable” instead of “Differently-Abled” instead of “Limited” instead of “Handicapped” instead of “Crippled”) just adds another term that got hijacked to the linked list.

        • MAJ Tony says

          Wow. Never thought I’d hear George Carlin quoted on iMonk. It does fit, though. Heck, I remember this one:

          They say they’re going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance …cripples! Simple honest direct language. There’s no shame attached to the word cripple I can find in any dictionary. In fact it’s a word used in Bible translations. “Jesus healed the cripples.” Doesn’t take seven words to describe that condition. But we don’t have cripples in this country anymore. We have the physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently-abled? I’ve heard them called that. Differently-abled! You can’t even call these people handicapped anymore. They say: “We’re not handicapped, we’re handy capable!”

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Actually, it wasn’t George Carlin. It was South Park plus direct experience in the periodic schisms of Furry Fandom.

            And it doesn’t work anyway. Within 30 seconds of the New Improved Word coming out, every schoolyard bully knows that “Special” just means “Retard”.

    • According the Moody Handbook of Theology, 20th century fundamentalism wasn’t always the militant, legalistic mess we think of. It was begun as an intellectual attempt to preserve and defend five fundamental points of the faith from liberal influence. Those points were the virgin birth of Christ, the miracles of Christ, the atoning death of Christ, the bodily resurrection of Christ, and the reliability of the accounts containing those events (inerrancy of scripture).

      Somewhere along the line, fundamentalism became a catch-all phrase by both endorsers and critics of militant, legalistic Christianity.

  11. ” I believe scripture teaches that negativity is no more able to create true virtue than a fence is able to grow a crop.”

    I love that!

  12. Chad Williams says

    My description of scripture does not choose to use the word, “inerrant.”

    Was Michael saying he did not believe the Bible was not the literal Word of God? If every word in that book is not true, how can we have any faith the rest of it is valid. The very foundation of our faith rest upon the Holy Bible. Without this certainty the Bible has as much authority as any other work of pagan writing.

    • Check the archives, Chad, for Michael’s posts on this subject. I wouldn’t want to speak for him.

    • Dan Allison says

      Very slippery language here. Certainly the Bible is true — when properly understood and interpreted. And literally, it is the Word of God. But God Himself created language, metaphor, symbol, and allegory, and gave us minds to understand them. He certainly has the right to creatively use those kinds of language tools. I think its narrow to “flatten” the meaning of scripture and insist on “literal” interpretations based on 20th and 21st century experiences and thought patterns. Even a little study of Ancient Hebrew poetry, literature, and literary conventions can be really enlightening. We owe it to ourselves, and probably we owe it to God, to do our very best to understand texts that are admittedly difficult. At the same time, following Luther, the average reader of average intelligence can surely learn all that is needed for redemption by a simple, single reading of scripture,

      • Dan, the people whom Michael is referring to, with the word, “inerrant” seem unable to make any distinction even between writing styles. Which I find very, very sad.

        • I don’t think inerrancy has anything to do with any doctrinal interpretation or any writing style—recognizing poetic and literary sections of the BIble does not contradict or undermine inerrancy. I do acknowledge that many believers in inerrancy have confused their particular doctrinal views with inerrancy itself and this has led to those “on the outside” naturally confounding the two as well. As others have suggested, perhaps “trustworthy and true” is a better way to describe things given the excess baggage that has become attached (improperly) in people’s minds to inerrancy.

          • Kenny Johnson says

            Agreed. There are those who believe in inerrancy and evolution, for example, because they don’t believe that Genesis 1 was meant to be historical or scientific.

  13. I believe in the inerrancy of the Bible (and read the King James!), young earth creation, men-only as pastors (but with the understanding that the must-be-married pastors’ wives should be considered Mrs. Pastor and have a role teaching the young women in the church). Homosexuality is a sin. And I met and shook the hand of my male gay coworker’s gay husband yesterday and gave the man a bit of medical advice that had nothing to do about AIDS. I had a gay boss, too. The way I look at it, if I can’t work for a gay man, I can’t work for a sinner. I don’t have a problem with drinking, dancing, dressing down, going to movies, listening to worldly music, etc., all with moderation and within context. I think parents should homeschool their children or at least send their children to Christian schools, although I don’t judge parents who don’t. I think a lot of Christian art, music, and movies = cheese. But like real world cheese, there are some very fine cheeses out there, which can and should be enjoyed with crackers, bread, wine, and friends. I wear Christian T-shirts on a regular basis. I don’t understand Christians who jump up and down about T-shirt witnessing, anyway. Honestly, when was the last time you saw someone wear a Christian T-shirt in public?!? or pass out a tract? or even approach you publicly about the Gospel? I think altar calls are fine within reason. Wasn’t Acts 2 an altar call, anyway, just without an aisle and altar?

    I have a young friend who, though being raised up in the admonition of the Lord by his mother and private Christian schooling and church, constantly steers his imagination into outlandish fantasies about syncretic angelology, wanting to write stories about the Lord’s archangels mixed with all kinds of unbiblical storylines. I think I pointed out once that, if he wanted to meet an archangel, maybe he ought to try that twenty-one day Daniel fast; that he has access to all the mysteries of faith and the universe through Jesus Christ; etc. He loves the Lord and others. But his life is so boring (to him) and he gets so depressed about it (which I completely understand) that it is hard to persuade him not to waste his time on fruitless pursuits.

    And I write rhyming poetry that almost always and clearly references our Lord.

    Does this make me a fundamentalist? 🙂

    • If it walks like a duck…

      • Ducks waddle, Chappy! 🙂

        • Good comeback. Seriously, Mr. Poet, I’m not really interested in “defining” people or putting them into categories, except in the broadest sense when it makes sense for communication purposes. There are all kinds of Christ-followers, and they are all welcome here, as are those who are not following Christ, but who want to be part of the discussions. This is not a church where we enter into a covenant with each other to uphold a specific confession. It’s a place to talk, and, fundamentalist or not, you are always welcome.

    • And I write rhyming poetry that almost always and clearly references our Lord.

      Does this make me a fundamentalist? 🙂

      Rewrite the entire post in poetry form, and then we’ll discuss the fundamentalistic endeavors based your prowess with the pen. 😉

    • Mr. Poet,

      While I cannot speak for anyone else but myself, about wearing Christian T-shirts, etc, I have reason for not doing it. I don’t want to hurt my witness (and any other person’s witness) by doing something stupid or illegal while showing off my faith. Even 20+ years later, I remember about a car with a Christian bumper sticker consistently taking the car pool lane, when there was one adult present in the car. (I could see in because I was waiting in the lane next to them, the non-car pool lane.)

      As far as your young friend, I would do just the opposite that you are doing. Encourage him to write, to explore imaginary worlds, dream of working with those most fearsome beings. After all some of us are warriors, and so share battles with Michael the Archangel. And some of us are poets, and dancers, and dreamers. None of which affects the mark of Christ on the soul, nor the love to and from Christ in our hears.

    • “I wear Christian T-shirts on a regular basis. I don’t understand Christians who jump up and down about T-shirt witnessing, anyway. Honestly, when was the last time you saw someone wear a Christian T-shirt in public?!? or pass out a tract? or even approach you publicly about the Gospel?”

      Here’s my problem with your statements. You create what is commonly called a “straw man” argument. Not everyone who is a Christian can or will wear “Christian” T-shirts. By Christian, I am assuming that you are referring to T-shirts with a distinctly Christian message (ie Jesus Christ- He’s the real thing) . The reasons can be as simple as that they have a dress code at work that prevents them from wear any kind of t-shirt to their opinion that most Christian t-shirts have silly/stupid statements on them that create more derision than conversation. Handing out a tract to a random person on the street can also be more offensive than helpful. The trouble with wearing a t-shirt or handing out a tract is that it makes the person involved in that act feel that they are in fact sharing their faith when they are, in fact not.

      I would like to propose a different paradigm and a different question. When was the last time that you know of a Christian who developed a friendship with an unbeliever and allowed that friendship to become a path to speak about Christ? Many non-Christians view Christians as not being authentic because we’re more interested in witnessing and getting numbers than actually being involved in their lives.

      I am not saying that God can’t use a t-shirt or a tract to further His kingdom. I’m saying that handing out that tract or wearing that t-shirt should not be used as a measure of one’s witness or walk.

  14. So… I had never heard of Landover Baptist church. I googled it, went to the site and also think its funny. When checking out the staff page, I found a picture of a friend of mine (obviously by a different name). So I posted the link on his facebook wall. Just keepin it light.

  15. Great post and I see the point that many of the more liberal minded still would call him, and me in agreement with almost everything said, fundamentalist. The only point to be added is that meanness, if you will, I call it violence is not mainly within the fundamentalist ranks – a lot yes – but in roaming the blogosphere lately, as I noted in my blog, there seems to be a mean streak within the community with those who aren’t marching along the same lines

  16. “(Actually, I pray one prayer on January 1st for the whole year, but that’s another column.)”

    Chaplain Mike, I hope you’re serious – that’s a column I would love to read!

    • RED FACE – sorry – just realized that was written by iMonk and not Chaplain Mike!

      (I’d still like to read it – maybe in heaven?? 😉 )

  17. Though I am by no means a fundamentalist, I can understand why they are like that sometimes.

    Today’s evangelical climate is more geared towards acceptance and positive thinking.

    Many people today who call themselves Christians don’t like to be told that they need to change or face eternal consequences.

    That does not mean no dancing, no playing cards, no movie watching, and no lobster eating. I’m talking about something more fundamental in Christian ethics. Like telling people that a consistent pattern of unrepentant sins (and this includes attitudinal sins) will land someone in the lake of fire.
    You can be a moralist or legalist and end up separated from God forever because you did not bear the fruit of the Spirit in your daily lives.

    Thus, fundamentalism isn’t THAT bad. They just go to extremes and need to reexamine what Christian ethics mean biblically.

    • Ever wonder why “today’s evangelical climate is more geared towards acceptance and positive thinking”?

      In my experience it’s because a multitude of people have had it with legalistic, abusive religion (which many fundamentalist churches represent) and are hungry for true grace and freedom in Christ.

      • As if God really cares what people want.

        What God cares about is providing what people need. And what people who are sinners need is the transforming power of grace of God in their daily lives that is rooted in the cross of Christ.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        “The Devil sends sins in matched opposing pairs, so that in fleeing one we embrace the other.” — either C.S.Lewis or G.K.Chesterton

        The Hopi have a word (which I’m not going to even try to spell or pronounce) that means “Life out of Balance”. Both “legalistic abusive religion” and Osteen-lightweight “acceptance and positive thinking” are both out-of-balance, just in opposite directions. Like Fascists and Communists, funhouse-mirror reflections of each other.

    • “Many people today who call themselves Christians don’t like to be told that they need to change or face eternal consequences.”

      I have an aversion to other Christians, who may not be any better than I am, calling me out for sin that they also struggle with. Truth is that Christianity is not about calling out OTHER people’s sins. That is the job of the Holy Spirit, not another Christian. God very well may use another Christian in a prophetic manner. Generally, there is a lack of calling out real sin and going for the superficial.

      When I was a teen, I attended 2 fundamental Baptist churches. Both were high on the legalism and very low on grace. They spent much of the time telling those who attended that drinking, dancing, card playing, and movies were bad. Gave me a whole lot of rules to live by, With little mention of how grace worked in a Christian’s life. It took me over 30 years to stop secretly hating myself because I could never measure up to standards that those who were doing the teaching couldn’t measure up to either. I’ve come to a place in my life where I don’t worry about OPS (Other People’s Sins). My job is to worry and deal with my own sins. In one of those churches the Senior Pastor had a sex problem that he never dealt with. Maybe if he had stopped telling the teens not to dance he could have dealt with his own sins.

      • I’ve heard many professing Christians rant about how they got sick of fundamentalist churches and left to go to either a liberal mainline church or some emergent movement congregation. What I find interesting is how their choices are due to their own PERSONAL experiences rather than the inspired Word of God. It seems so many people these days don’t care what the Bible says but just follow what their flesh desires.

        • “What I find interesting is how their choices are due to their own PERSONAL experiences rather than the inspired Word of God. It seems so many people these days don’t care what the Bible says but just follow what their flesh desires.”

          WOW, you’re assuming that fundamentalist churches have a corner on the market of God’s Word. I’ve left a couple of fundamentalist churches BECAUSE they were breaking God’s Word and sought out churches where God’s Word was followed. I didn’t follow fleshly desires, rather sought out where God wanted me to be.

          As far as leaving because of personal experiences, well if I personally see something that’s wrong, should I first go to the Bible to confirm that the sin is wrong?

          A footnote to my previous post:

          One of the churches I mention dropped from an average attendance of over 300 to today about 30. The other was disbanded and the building taken over by an evangelical denomination not quite in the same vein as the original church.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        In one of those churches the Senior Pastor had a sex problem that he never dealt with. Maybe if he had stopped telling the teens not to dance he could have dealt with his own sins.

        Or maybe his own sex problem was what was fueling his Anti-Dancing God Saith obsession. There’s this thing called “Displacement Behavior” and “Projection”, where you avoid confronting your own problems by projecting them onto everybody else. Since you cannot be seen as imperfect (to yourself or others), It Must Be The Other’s Problem.

        Remember Rush Limbaugh going fangs-out pro-War on Drugs when he was himself fighting a secret Oxycontin addiction? (Synthetic opiate version of “taking the secret sip.”)

        “I have a problem, so All Of You Must Have the Same Problem.”
        — Totem to Temple(?) on how WW1-era celebrity preacher (and recovering alcoholic) Billy Sunday preached Temperance instead of the Gospel

        (Though a more accurate reading in this case would be “I have a problem (which I don’t dare admit to), so…”)

  18. Christopher Lake says

    Reading this, I just gotta say it, with both smiles and sadness… I really miss the guy. What a Christian, what a writer, what a man. 🙂

    Historically speaking, there is classical “fundamentalism”– an actually somewhat scholarly evangelical movement of the early 20th century, holding to the “fundamentals” of historic Christianity, as opposed to theologically liberal Christianity, which had largely rejected those fundamentals—- AND then there is the “no dancing, no movies, no card playing, and NOOOO alcohol” 🙂 fundamentalism.

    From what I understand, the latter, cultural “fundamentalism” could sometimes get mixed in with the former. I was very surprised when I learned that a young Francis and Edith Schaeffer had opposed any drinking of alcohol at all for Christians (other than at The Lord’s Table in their church, I’m assuming?).

    By the “classically orthodox” definition of fundamentalism that Michael gives here, I would be a fundamentalist– and doesn’t the liberal wing of the aging ’60s-70s generation in the Catholic Church just *love* to use that label (for those who disagree with them), in a sweepingly, dismissively, and yes, rather fundamentalistic, way! 🙂

    Oh well… I’m happy to be a “fundamentalist” who still believes that the Bible is truly God’s word to us, *and* who, on a Saturday night, enjoys a glass of sangria, a good foreign film, and the latest CD by Broken Social Scene! 🙂 Labels, schmabels!

  19. I believe scripture teaches that negativity is no more able to create true virtue than a fence is able to grow a crop. In fact, it was Jesus who said that a house swept clean of seven demons was once again ripe for the same, or even worse, occupants. I have discovered that loving God, neighbor and self is far more than the accumulated negative commands of my fundamentalist upbringing. It is a LOT more challenging than keeping the rules. It is so difficult, that transformation by God himself is my only hope. – One of the finest things Michael ever wrote.

    My journey out of my fundamentalist upbring was, in part, began by a study of John’s statement and concern about following the “one new” commandment Jesus had given. “To love God and love neighbor.” What was new about that? God wrote it on the tablets of stone. How could that be a new commandment? It wasn’t the command to love, it was the blurb Jesus added: “as I have loved you.”

  20. The idea of scriptural inerrancy sounds like fundamentalist wish-thinking, but I am convinced that again people have two different ideas about inerrancy. For some, it means that there are no errors in scripture, that every word is supernaturally preserved through time. It is this meaning I believe drove Bart Erhman to his conclusions. For others, though, it means basically that what is in scripture is not a mistake. If the author records that Jesus heals a blind man, then we trust that God intended the author to record such an account.

    So it seems to be a difference of documentary inerrancy, which is how teachers recognize cheating, and divine inerrancy, in which Christians trust that what is in the cannon is not there by mistake.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      The idea of scriptural inerrancy sounds like fundamentalist wish-thinking, but I am convinced that again people have two different ideas about inerrancy. For some, it means that there are no errors in scripture, that every word is supernaturally preserved through time.

      Dictated word-for-word from the lips of God. What the radio preachers in my younger days would call “Verbal Plenary Inspriation” and go on about it at length.

      Question, everybody: How does this differ from Mohammed receiving the Koran word-for-word from Al’lah or Jibrail and reciting it word-for-word? Except Mo received and recited in Mecca-dialect period Arabic instead of Kynge Jaymes Englyshe?

      • “Dictated word-for-word from the lips of God”.

        That’s not at all what verbal plenary inspiration means.

        “How does this differ from Mohammed receiving the Koran word-for-word…?”

        How about because one is true and the other isn’t? 🙂

        • Headless Unicorn Guy says

          That’s not at all what verbal plenary inspiration means.

          Don’t tell me, tell all those radio preachers.

  21. Here’s my own personal definition of a fundamentalist:

    A fanatic who is happiest when bulldozing you with their opinion in the name of theology.

    Who was it that said: A fanatic is someone who will not change their mind and will not change the subject?

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      “A fanatic is someone with one piece of a pie who thinks he has the whole pie.”
      — Pope John Paul II

      “A fanatic is someone who does what God would do if God only KNEW what was REALLY going on.”
      — can’t remember the source, but it’s a good one

  22. The tangle with American fundamentalism is a necessary result of the way Christian theology has shaped itself.

    What’s peculiar is the way in which it has adopted the gold standard for truth from science: the “fact.” If Genesis 1-11 isn’t “factual” then it isn’t “true.”

    It then devalue the idea of fact by denying that any fact contradicting a factual reading of Genesis 1-11 is “true.” That’s like devaluing the dollar, buying up all the dollars for a dime, and then having a lot of dime-valued dollars.

    One has to get free of that (modernist) quandary before one can talk seriously or coherently about the Bible.