Gordon-Conwell Blog

Why I'm Thankful for My Time in Fundamentalism

December 20, 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.

Like Danny DeVito, this post is going to be really short. I would like to write about something in this post that presents a myriad of difficulties when trying to engage– today I am going to write about my time as a fundamentalist, especially what I value from that time.

As many of you may know, the strain of fundamentalism within Protestantism is a rather young, but extremely dangerous theological construct that has ruined or nearly ruined the lives of many people that I know and continue to meet. I am also a person whose life has been adversely affected. Because of the negative results in the lives of so many like me, there is a preponderance of dialogue within theological circles that continually raises awareness of problems with fundamentalism, often in a satirical manner. Having gone through the pain emerging from fundamentalism, I understand that much of this dialogue is warranted.

However, here I would like change the angle of the current dialogue about fundamentalism; to follow the spirit of Paul’s conviction that whether one preaches the gospel out of greed or out of sincerity, “whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice” (ESV). Paul appears to point out that there is value in the gospel being proclaimed, no matter what intention lies behind it. Ergo, I would like to put forth the reasons for which I am thankful for my time in fundamentalism when the gospel was preached to me (a list of my reasons for which I am thankful to be away from fundamentalism will be forthcoming in the near future).

I am thankful for:

  1. The strong emphasis on my personal faith. I was taught well that faith is not only about what we believe, but also about what I believe.
  2. The strong foundation that I was given in the Scriptures.
  3. Wonderful times of prayer, worship, and engaging discussions about how my faith affects my life.
  4. How active the unordained laity was in my fundamentalist community.
  5. A strong emphasis upon commitment in marriage and choosing one’s spouse carefully.
  6. The multiple times that I was taught to put my faith into action through serving the elderly, taking food to the hungry, and sharing about my faith with those around me.
  7. Being steered away from many life choices that would have had long-lasting negative repercussions.
  8. The many people who gave of their lives and time to invest in me.

This list is certainly not comprehensive, but it is a start. My hope is that this will help others think about aspects of their time in fundamentalism for which they are thankful. If you have any to share, I would love to hear them.

[NOTE: For those who would like to better understand where fundamentalism came from, historian George Marsden, recently retired from the faculty at Notre Dame, has written a fantastic work called Fundamentalism and American Culture. Marsden does a masterful job tracing the history of fundamentalism, and also helps to distinguish between fundamentalism and evangelicalism – a line that was severely blurred in the latter part of the 20th c. as fundamentalist leaders adopted the term evangelicalism for their own movement. I cannot recommend this work highly enough.]

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 , equipping leaders for the church and society , student blogger , thoughtfully evangelical

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