Gordon-Conwell Blog

What I Wish I Could Have Avoided During my Time in Fundamentalism

December 22, 2011


Author’s Note: Journeys are strange. You hardly ever end up where you thought you would, and you definitely never get there in the manner that you conceived. That has been as true for me as it was for Jonah the morning he woke up to take a leisurely cruise to Tarshish. Over the next few weeks I will be writing a series of blog posts exploring how I came to and through seminary. It’s a strange tale with no straight lines. But it’s my story, and it is the path that the Lord has led our family down. It’s not idyllic. I hope that encourages you. Also, in case you just joined the conversation, Part 1 can be found here; Part 2 can be found here; Part 3 can be found here; Part 4 can be found here; Part 5 can be found here. Part 6 can be found here. Part 7 can be found here.

Recently, I wrote a post about why I am thankful for the time that I spent in Protestant fundamentalism. Too often, only the negatives about the time one spends in this movement are noted in face-to-face, online, and internal dialogues. I think that this is unhealthy for those of us who have traveled this path as it continues the fundamentalist thought pattern which tends to see everything as either altogether good or altogether bad. Rather, it is helpful for us to remember that “only God is good” (Mark 10:18). Everyone and everything else is something other than altogether good.

Yet, the reason for the preponderance of such negative dialogue about fundamentalism is the reality of the pains experienced by those who have walked through and emerged from it. Therefore, in light of my thankfulness for my time within the movement, I would also like to present why, at times, I wish that I did not spend those years in that “place.”

I wish that I could have avoided:

  1. The juxtaposition of a verbal proclamation of God’s grace alongside a nonverbal proclamation of the necessity for humans to earn God’s favor. To this day, I have to be perpetually mindful that my faith is in the former and not the latter.
  2. The suppression of natural, God-given gifts that did not fit within a fixed number of predetermined roles.
  3. The continual cautions against the pride that comes from knowledge which was spoken with a similar pride in a lack of “worldly knowledge”; both paths can evince the same pride (this is a subset of #3).
  4. The (usually) unspoken understanding that one must work in full-time ministry in order to be the highest form of a Christian (another subset of #3, and in no way unique to our time).
  5. A few years of personal bitterness, difficulty in prayer, and serious consideration of leaving Christianity; this dark time directly followed my break with fundamentalism, and was probably the most difficult stretch of my internal life.
  6. The years that it took me to overcome the anti-intellectual tendencies that were passed to me while within the movement.
  7. All of the different times that I hurt others acting out of social rather than biblical codes.
  8. The anxiety and disillusion I experienced when I realized that my theological construct was only 150 years old.

Before closing, I would like to stress two things. First, as mentioned in my previous post, there are many things for which I am thankful that came along during these years of my life. Second, I am directly responsible for many of the things that I wish I could have avoided. This is probably the most difficult part to face – my culpability in this pain. Although it is not my fault alone, I am as responsible as anyone else for these years.

In light of an appeal to keep things civil, since I know that this is such an emotionally charged topic, what are your thoughts?

[Disclaimer: This represents my personal experience with contemporary Protestant fundamentalism as defined by historian George M. Marsden and, as with my other list, is not intended as a comprehensive vision of the movement.]

Brian has an M.Div. (2010) from Gordon-Conwell’s Charlotte campus, a Th.M. (2011) in Historical Theology from the South Hamilton campus, and is currently strengthening his language skills while in the MACH program. He hopes to matriculate into a doctoral program in August 2012 that will allow him to continue in his study of the thought of Augustine of Hippo. He has a wonderful wife, three great children, and spent ten years in ministry to teenagers, primarily with Young Life International.

Tags: Author: Brian , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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Mical: I think that the common thread would be apparent had I written these as more of a narrative reflection. The format of these two posts are collected thoughts that are not necessarily related. I'm not quite sure that I understand all of your questions, but I will do my best to answer. My journey has been from fundamentalism to a more traditional evangelicalism. George Marsden's book, 'Fundamentalism and American Culture', contains some helpful history and definitions to make it easier to parse that out. Two things that have been part of that change are: 1) A move from a Biblical interpretation method that is solely literal to one that is more sensitive to genre and MSS issues, but maintains a high view of the Scriptures; and 2) a move away from the anti-intellectualism that sprung up in the fundamentalism of the 19th c. There are other aspects of this move, but these are probably the two most pertinent to your questions. The common thread has probably been the study of history and historical theology coupled with my strong faith. As to the first, I learned that many wonderful Christians have believed things that were considered to be outside of Christian teaching in many fundamentalist circles (such as early Church writers who did not affirm a literal six day creation). Yet these were wonderful, faithful Christians. That gave me confidence that I could step forward in my studies without losing my faith (A concern that many post-fundamentalist friends have shared that hey also had. It is probably the result of purely either/or thinking, lacking any nuance). As to the second, there were times that I wanted to leave the faith, but I knew that God had done something real in my life and I could not deny my faith with any sort of integrity. I simply believe that Jesus was the Son of God, he has saved me, etc. So, my assurance was both external and internal. I hope that this answered some of your questions. Please let me know if there is anything else that I can clarify.
Brian Gronewoller 6:18PM 01/19/12
I cannot find a common thread in your journey from the midst of fundamentalism to where ever you are now. Has the width and breadth of the possibilities made you more, or less, specific? Are your inclinations to expand these possibilities humanistically? If "all scripture" is to be scripturally processed, what have you fundamentally excised or left behind that allows for your surety and if not peace of mind, at least comfort in present company???
Mical Jones 9:59PM 01/17/12

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