Spot the Fundamentalism: A Fundy Reviews a Former Fundy

I often bristle when I hear how the term “fundamentalist” is used, especially in regards to the Christian faith. As I’ve written earlier, the term has gone from being one that was used to convey certain core beliefs to one used to describe a small, loud, rigid, and unreflective minority, but is often used to broad brush all believers who hold to a more traditional and conservative faith. All of that said, we come to an article over at the blog of Benjamin L. Corey titled, “10 Tips To Raising Christian Kids After Fundamentalism”.

The reason that I feel that this warrants a response is because I actually agree with some of the points that he makes, I just don’t think that he can present a meaningful argument to justify his conclusions. He begins,

For those of us who have moved beyond Christian fundamentalism but still desire to raise our children as Christians, we need to make some adjustments in how we raise our children in the faith.

Of course, he intends for his audience to understand what he means by “fundamentalism”, but we’ll pick it up in the context as we go along. He gives his tips in a “top ten”-style so we begin with tip number 10,

Teach them a Jesus-centered approach to faith, practice, and reading the Bible.

I would have made that my number one point, but let’s see what he means by that.

For many of us, the one part that got left out of our Christianity was Jesus. Ironic, since he’s supposed to be the main deal. As Formerly Fundie parents, my hope is that we’ll help our kids return to the simple but controversial idea that Jesus, and his example, is our center of gravity in Christian life.

Well, duh. But, and it’s a big one,

In fact, we must teach them that Jesus is even the lens through which we read the Bible. One of my greatest days in parenting was when my 13 year old came to me after reading about the genocide in the Old Testament and said, “Dad, this doesn’t line up with what Jesus taught us. I can’t believe they actually thought God wanted them to do that!”

Um, yeah. After all Jesus is identified as that very God. I mean, this is the same Jesus who, in a parable said to “bring those who would not be ruled and slay them before me.” These people act as if Jesus was teaching something new when everything that he taught was plucked, and not arbitrarily, from the Old Testament. Liberals try to present Jesus as some kind of dichotomy rather than the eternal, unchanging God.

Number nine,

Help them see the value of Old Testament stories is rooted in the narrative, not in the historical reliability. 

What?!

Fundamentalism (and even many atheists) view Scripture and our faith as a house of cards. If Jonah didn’t really live in the belly of a fish for three days, we can’t trust anything else it says, either. If any of it is historically untrue, it all belongs in the trash.

I’m glad that he sees that.

Unfortunately, that’s a very unenlightening way to read Scripture. It’s not even what the authors intended to convey; they weren’t recording history by Western standards, but were engaged in a process of making meaning.

Yes and no. The Old Testament was written with an eye on both recording history and providing a meaningful interpretation of that history. Let’s take Jonah for example.

Jonah is a historical person, a prophet dispatched by God for a task. His story is anchored in history and gives us insight into a specific time in the events of the ancient world. The problem is that there’s an assumption about Jonah’s story that is based, not upon careful exegesis of the text, but upon Sunday school assumptions. Jesus appealed to Jonah as a sign of his claims. You simply cannot have one without the other. What I notice is that liberals have to necessarily abandon the supernatural worldview of the Bible, either hamstringing God and limiting him, which removes God from his rightful place as sovereign, or winds up making the Bible into a mess.

Number eight,

Teach them that the Bible is an inspired story of God revealing himself to us, but it’s not an owners manual for life. 

An inspired story”? I’ll agree, it’s not an outright “owners manual” but it is the closest thing that we can get.

[The] Bible progressively reveals to us what God is like. Yes, the Bible ultimately shows us that God’s true identity is the character revealed in Jesus. And yes, we are taught to live like Jesus and follow him.

Yes, I agree. But that doesn’t justify the assertion that it is “an” inspired story, as if it is one among many. It is the only work that can rightly be called, “breathed out by God,” and is, “suitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This is simply lazy, biblical minimalism.

Number seven,

Help them become love-driven rather than fear-driven.

So far, so good.

So much of fundamentalism is based on fear– and I’m not just talking about Christian fundamentalism. The Christian story however, is one where God is so love-driven that he enters human history– not to judge it, but to love it (see John 3).

I’m just going to guess that he skipped that, “judged already” language in John 3 , which should scare believers into proclaiming the gospel freely and indiscriminately to a lost and dying world out of a godly love for them. But there seems to be a bit of equivocation going on here because “fear,” in the biblical context, is used is a number of different ways and is dependent upon context to determine how it should be understood: from terror to reverence or venerate. Christians should fear God, in the sense that God deserves our respect and reverence as our God; the unbeliever should fear God, in the sense that he can rightfully bring his justice against them at any time and justly condemn them.

Number six,

Teach them their worth and value is intrinsic and not tied to their ability to perform.

Mmmm, maybe. What does he have to say about this one?

While fundamentalism will declare one to be a heretic for teaching works based salvation, let’s be honest: Christian fundamentalism is a works based religion. One’s worth and value is directly linked to their performance and compliance with the rest of the group. When you no longer perform or comply, you are ejected from the circle.

Has he not read 1st Corinthians? Again there’s so much wrong here that is operating under certain proper understandings that it would take an entire blog post to sort it out but I’m going to try to do it in a few sentences.

First, human worth and value is only intrinsic because all are made in the image of God. Probably he’s confusing salvation with worth, they aren’t the same thing. Second, it’s true, Paul writes in Ephesians,

 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (2:8-9, ESV)

But James provides the balance of this, saying,

But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. (1:22, ESV)

and,

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? (2:14, ESV)

Which agrees with what Paul says,

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:10, ESV, emphasis added)

Now, this doesn’t mean that there’s some check list of things that one has to do somewhere to maintain good standing in the body, however, certain behaviors, such as divisiveness, willful insurrection, and outright, rebellious sin, demand that the body act, admonishing them to self-correct but if they will not then they will have to eject them from the body (see 1 Corinthians 5 for an example). Obedience, humility, and loyalty to God is definitional of the believer.

Number 5,

Show them the value of Christian community over rigid church attendance.

Wait, what?

Church is important, but church attendance instead of Christian community is toxic. The first Christians formed tight-knit circles of friends who all wanted to follow Jesus in the context of relationship, and this formula became the early church.

I’m thinking that there’s a category error here, but I’ll give him some more to explain.

It was never about “Church,” but was all about relationship and community in the context of living out faith. As we raise Formerly Fundie kids, may we teach them to focus on Christian community instead of hollow attendance– because that’s where life is found.

I can’t see a meaningful distinction between the terms “church” and “Christian community”. The church is the Christian community, so there’s a distinction without a difference being made. Now, if what he is referring to a mere religious formality, then there’s some common ground. But here’s the thing: Christianity grew up in a particular religious framework. I’ll admit that the modern church is nothing like the ancient church. We’ve become built around buildings, liturgy, and ceremony, but these things are not foreign to the church itself. Paul spends the last third of his epistle to the Corinthians describing orderly, properly worship. We need to get back to the community aspect of the church, but that is something that small groups within the larger body do.

Number four,

Teach them to generously serve without blindly following.

Mmm-kay.

As a parent I want to teach my child to be engaged with the local church and to serve generously. However, I don’t ever want her to blindly follow or to just submit herself under some patriarchal religious “authority.” That’s a road to abuse, not Christian living.

As a good, sola scriptura practicing protestant evangelical, there’s sooooo much I want to agree with here. Here’s the problem: if you’re a Christian, you live under a patriarchal religious authority, you live under the lordship of Jesus. I agree, one should not just submit to someone because they say they are authority, but because they live as one under authority. Service means nothing apart from right leadership.

Number three,

Help them develop empathy for others– especially outsiders and those who are different.

Let’s tread carefully here.

In fundamentalism we were taught to fear outsiders, to be careful about being “unequally yolked”, and to stay away from all those slippery slopes that could harm our faith. In Jesus however, we find a man of empathy who not only wanted to know the outsiders, but actually preferred doing life with them.

First, it’s “yoked,” not “yolked,” but we’ll let the homophonic error go. I have to wonder, has this guy ever read the Bible? It’s not that these people were merely “outsiders,” they were sinners in need of a savior. He came to call them to repentance. The point being that one is not to compromise the faith to please the world.

He continues on this point,

To develop empathy for others– especially those we consider outsiders– is to draw our children closer to the realization that we are all beautiful image bearers of a Living God.

The fact that we are image bearers of God does not mean that all of us are reflecting that image. And if that “difference” is sin then they are not reflecting that image.

Number two,

Show them they can hold their opinions with both conviction and humility.

Oh, I want to agree to this one. Please, give me something.

Moving beyond fundamentalism doesn’t mean that we have to live with a wishy-washy faith– but it does mean we must develop humility in how we hold and express those beliefs.

Again, it’s this boogey man of fundamentalism. We’re all fundamentalists, but we have to be able to define what we mean by that in a meaningful sense. Benjamin is clearly a fundamentalist he just has different fundamentals than me.

I want to raise children who are confident in what they believe, and determined to follow the way of Jesus. But I also want to raise humble children who value listening.

I agree, but you have to give them something by which to hold onto in order that they can hear what is being said so that when they speak, they can speak truth.

And number one,

Encourage them to ask the hard questions.

Oh, absolutely.

One of the things off-limits in modern fundamentalism is that pesky question asking stuff, which only furthers this false notion that our faith is some house of cards that only stands because no one has asked a certain question yet.

Preach it.

The best way to teach our kids that our faith is legitimate? Best way for them to discover the beauty of faith for themselves? The best way to raise up the Christian thinkers of tomorrow?

Encourage them to ask the hard questions. Praise them for it. Wrestle with the questions along with them.

And then teach them that it’s okay for us to not arrive at answers, but to learn contentment in the tension.

I’ll agree with 99.9% of what was said. It’s true that not every question has an answer, either because the question is phrased wrongly or it begins at the wrong starting place, but that’s where good, biblical fundamentalism comes in.

I’m a researcher, I love digging for answers, but I know that asking the wrong question will often lead you down a blind alley or put you in a ditch. The right question leads to gold. Half of every person’s faith journey is asking questions and being willing to listen to answers. Part of being humble is a willingness to accept an answer, even if it’s one that you don’t like.

As I said, I really agree with the sentiments that he expressed, however Benjamin clearly has some misconceptions about things, as can be seen here, because he simply has not taken his own advice. He has a naïve view of what fundamentalism is and can be.

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