Why I left Fundamentalism
It hit me up side the head so hard that I wandered around for a few days like a wounded soldier cut off from his platoon. My professor mentioned in passing, “the Fundamentalist movement.” That’s all he said. He just mentioned it like everyone knew what he was talking about. (I didn’t but was too embarrassed to say anything.) I had to know more. Growing up in American Fundamentalism, I didn’t know Fundamentalism was an early twentieth-century movement. I thought it WAS Christianity. And so began a life-long interest in the study of church history (or what I prefer to call - "Our Story").
Augustine wrote, “The world is a book, and he who never stirs from home only reads the first page.” As a young seminary student who grew up in American Fundamentalism, I hadn’t even read the first page. I was stuck on page 1,950 of a 2,000 page book. Not only that – I didn’t know there were other pages. Someone had ripped this page out of the book and handed it to me when I was a “preacher boy” and said, “Here’s your history.” I'm embarrassed to admit it now - but I thought that was all there was to the story.
God used a professor named Merwin “Skip” Forbes in my life during those early seminary days. He must have marveled at my ignorance. He was a Baptist with a PhD in theology - teaching at a Brethren seminary with roots in the Fundamentalist movement. He never talked down to me. He only said, “Turn back a few pages and read there. Now turn back a few more pages. Now let's turn over to this page.” My world has never been the same. When I realized that I was part of a big story, I was no longer lost. It took a while, but I eventually found my place.
I started meeting people like C. S. Lewis, a twentieth-century Oxford professor who smoked a pipe and read medieval literature. (I recently enjoyed a pint in his pub in Oxford. What a thrill!) I met Charles Spurgeon, the great Baptist pastor of nineteenth-century London who “smoked cigars to the glory of God” and proclaimed God’s Word with passion to 6,000 Londoners every week. I learned about the “Temperance Movements” of the previous century and found out that the pre-tribulation rapture of the church was a doctrine that emerged about 150 years ago – back on page 1,840. (Nothing wrong with holding this view, but it is a minority view, and a recent one at that.) Of course I met Jonathan Edward in the eighteenth-century – one of the founders of what we now know as the global Evangelical movement. (There I found my immediate family - but continued learning about my extended family.) I kept turning back the pages. Baxter and the Puritans (seventeenth century), Calvin, Luther, Knox, Zwingli (sixteenth century). These were people who taught me that all of life is about "glorifying God and enjoying Him forever" (Westminster Catechism, 1647). And we are only back to page 1500. I also learned that the group I was in at the time (Fundamentalism) was part of the larger story. But somewhere along the way (for reasons that made sense at the time) they isolated themselves from the larger Church.
On Sunday mornings at Calvary during the summer we are surveying “Our Story” by looking at some of the great heroes of the faith, while surveying 2,000 years of church history. It is my passion to help people realize that they are part of a larger story that has been on going for 2,000 years and to tell it with integrity; not like I wish it HAD happened but - as it DID happen. It is short break from our regular verse-by-verse study of Scripture to learn about others who were also committed to the verse-by-verse study of Scripture. It is not really church history. We are listening to the voices of God’s faithful men and women of the past, and we are letting them mentor us. “The great democracy of the dead,” to cite G. K. Chesterton, still speaks.
We began our series with this warning from C. S. Lewis:
And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is important thus to cut every generation off from all the others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristics truths of another.
- Demon Screwtape to his nephew in Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Looking at the whole story helps us find our way – and avoid the errors of the Evil One. He wants to isolate us from other Christians – from their wisdom, their guidance, their knowledge, their protection – like a wounded soldier lost in a Vietnam jungle, cut off from all communication and trying to go it alone. Then he can take us down.