Most of my spiritual history can be divided into two eras; my youth, when I fell into the arms of fundamentalism, and my adulthood, where I am struggling to piece back together a faith with eyes and arms. In this era of reconstruction and resurrection, I am deeply unsatisfied with some of the simpler confessions of my youth. I am willing, even eager, to consider new answers to questions once firmly settled, with an eye toward emerging with answers that are more robust, more tangible.
It would be tempting to wash the slate. It would be tempting to throw away the coat and start over, rather than mending and patching, searching for usable cloth. But that doesn’t seem to be the best way to go about this. There are things we can learn from fundamentalism, things that the more conservative voices at the table have to offer.
Here are six of them:
1) Guilt is useful. There are some things that we do that should make us feel guilty. And there’s a good reason why it feels bad; it makes me want to not feel that way again. Guilt, at its best, helps us locate moral error, with an eye toward repentance and correction.
2) God makes us awkward. The cross is still foolishness, the kingdom is still other-worldly, and possession by a spirit, holy or otherwise, still makes enlightened minds cringe. We do and say and believe things that mark us as people not fully at home in this place, and for good reason. Awkwardness, at its best, reminds us that we are citizens of a foreign land.
3) We should expect redemption to cause transformation. God is still a righteous God, and he calls his people to imitate him in that. That kind of imitation necessitates leaving some things behind. He calls us to personal transformation, and he calls us to communal transformation. We ought to work it out in ourselves, and we ought to look for those around us on the same path to be working it out in themselves as well. Expectation, at its best, allows the community to strengthen the individual.
4) Materialism is a corrupting force. It would be good for us to remember that we share this in common with fundamentalism. They, too, recognize that our consumer driven, materially motivated culture is difficult soil for the growing up of kingdom people. Frugality and Asceticism, at their best, recognize that the purposes of this life are not fiscal or material; they are deeper and richer and altogether more beautiful.
5) What we put into our minds affects what comes out. I watch movies. I listen to music. My tolerance for the ugly and the base has ebbed upward over the years. I know all of the exegesis that declares my freedom in Christ, that declares that it is not what goes in that makes me unclean, but I also know that the things that come in through my eyes and my ears stay in my mind, and become the source material for my private ruminations. Who I am, in some part, is altered by what I spend my time absorbing. Abstinence from baser things, at its best, acknowledges and values and preserves purity as a feature of the spiritual mind.
6) Worship, Awe, and Fear aren’t so unrelated as we think. Fundamentalism carries with it a sort of holy awe, a fear of the Divine that the rest of us somehow became too sophisticated for. Fear, the good kind of fear, isn’t an outward statement toward others, it isn’t a raised fist and a shouted, “Thus Saith The Lord!” – rather, it is an inward crushing humility, a full recognition of the real state of affairs. We should never forget that we are caged with lions, children in the presence of a mighty God. Fear, at its best, gives depth and texture to the wonder of intimacy.