“Hi, I’m Ty, and I’m a recovering fundamentalist.” The men in the room laughed, and the lead pastor stated humorously, “No, its true, he is a recovering fundamentalist.” I grew up in what I’d call a community church, but in college and through most of my ministry was a part of fundamentalist circles. There is a lot of un-health in fundamentalism, and this is the first in a series of posts.
What is a recovering fundamentalist
A recovering fundamentalist is a person who was/is part of a fundamentalism and wants to embrace the Gospel and chuck legalism. To use an old cliché, it’s to rescue the baby from the putrid bath water. Being a recovering fundamentalist means getting back to Scripture as guide, the Gospel as central and grace the a mandate. It’s a call to repent.
What it is not
If you want accolades in Christianity, just bash fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is a bit of a strawman (just like the word religion is). This isn’t a “Let’s bash fundamentalism” tirade. I’ve seen too much of that. It’s understandable that some do that, fundamentalism has casualties in its wake. Reacting can lead to just more problems and not health. Being a recovering fundamentalist is about acting, not reacting. It’s about healing and repenting, not another tirade.
Act don’t react
Act don’t react is a proverb I often go by. A pattern I’ve observed in human history, especially church history, is we react to a previous movement. Reactionary movements are inherently unstable and lead to error in a different way. Fundamentalism in large part was a reactionary movement. It centered on key “fundamentals” to the faith. This can be known as “historical fundamentalism.” What we have today is “hysterical fundamentalism.” Reactionary movements have a hard time discerning when the fight is over.
In the movie Patton a German officer is tasked with being an expert on General Patton. Germany lost and the officers are burning everything. The officer makes this statement as he lights General Patton’s picture, “The lack of war will be his end.” This plays out in the rest of the film… Historical fundamentalism won the day. Most of evangelicalism holds to the fundamentals of the faith. There will always be those who don’t, but essentially the battle was won. The lack of the fight lead to being hysterical.
Hysterical fundamentalism has two idols: 1) Separation and 2) Theological “correctness.” I say idols because the focus is on separation over mission under the guise of “purity”. I put correctness in quotes because the focus is on a particular articulation of theology, often lacking humility. As the doctrinal battle was essentially one, methodology took the banner. Given the protective and isolationist nature, there became uniformity of doctrine, but the challenge of one’s doctrine softened. So, a hysterical fundamentalist has to look, act and talk a certain way. This allowed legalism to take root.
The bottom line:
Being a recovering fundamentalist is repenting. It’s a return to the Gospel being central and the Bible as our guide. It isn’t about attacking fundamentalism, but it is recognizing a difference between historical (a focus on the Bible and the Gospel) and hysterical (focus on separation and a particular methodology) fundamentalism. In this call to repent the win is to live God’s instruction to Joshua: “do not turn from [Scripture] to the right or to the left, so that you may have success wherever you go.”