In the age of Du Mez and Kendi and Revoice and the Exvangelical it has become highly fashionable to wring your hands about the fundamentalism / fundamentalist evangelicalism of the hand-wringer’s upbringing. In fact, it is so fashionable it appears that Christianity Today (emphasis, very much, on Today) has surreptitiously dedicated their “Christmas” 2021 issue to the topic.
Alan Jacobs has written as close to a rebuttal as one might hope to find nowadays and I’m grateful he did.
As thankful as I am for Jacobs’ pushback on the fashions of the moment when it comes to what a friend calls My Church Back Home syndrome the reality is Jacobs didn’t go quite far enough.
To put the matter as plainly as possible:
Almost everyone who harbors scornful thoughts toward the Christianity and Christians of their upbringing should instead thank God for their fundamentalist childhood church and repent of taking an arrogant posture toward it.
Not everyone, mind you – some people here or there were physically abused or someone did something legitimately mentally abusive at this or that church. There are people out there whose story includes that chapter. What I am writing about giving thanks doesn’t apply to those folks.
What I do know is our age is full of people who hate Jesus and want to blame it on their home church. They cry Abuse! when there was no abuse. Those folks were blessed to be, for a time, in a church that believed the Bible and loved them enough to deal it straight.
One has to look no further than their social media feed to find a cornucopia of people who read a book or two (often on funds provided by their home church), went to a conference or two, got blurbed by people who have too, and as a result concluded they were superior to the ol’ home church. The take a juvenile & pathetic posture of superiority to people who gave up their free time to teach Sunday School & make VBS kool-aid for kids who would grow up to not have enough character to be grateful – all because they know something Paul Tillich wrote or how the Geneva liturgy differs from the Book of Common Prayer. The whelps can quote Charles Taylor & Zygmunt Bauman, which makes them feel like they surpassed people who read J. Vernon McGee & whose wives read Kay Arthur. Often that whelp couldn’t measure up, spiritually, to the fundy on the his best day.
I get it. I think I see more clearly than my home church in terms of theological perspective & liturgical practice. But I’m not superior to those people who loved me in and toward Christ. Think I’m making empty claims?
Here’s some examples plus what I conclude about them:
- My home church held multiple CD-burning bonfires. We burned secular music, straight up. I’ve bought certain albums 3 or 4 times as a result. You know what? They didn’t want me to love the world. They didn’t want demons having access to my earbuds. At my age today I wish I had been much, much more careful about what I listened to. Many of my best memories of teenage years are associated with debauched music.
My home church was more right than wrong.
- My home church taught me purity culture. *Gasp* We studied both Someday a Marriage without Regrets & I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I think there was some unintended negative consequences from that material but none so profound as the negative consequences of not heeding that material’s advice.
My home church didn’t want me to be a pervert. They didn’t want me to be a young man who took advantage of young women. They didn’t want me to grow up with the scars of carnal knowledge shared with women who weren’t my spouse. Every point in my history where I failed to practice what I read in those purity culture I regret at the core of my being and wish I could erase. My home church was looking out for me when I didn’t know the danger I was in. I appreciate everything they did to keep me out of the sexual ruins of our culture (more on this in a bit).
- My home church was super Dispensationalist. *Super* – so much so I lived in fear of the Rapture.
My home church wanted me to take my faith seriously, to see Christ as Lord over history, and to live coram deo (although they didn’t use the Latin).
Should I not be grateful for that?
I met lifelong friends at my home church, many who are also in ministry & more who walk with the Lord. I met & learned to love expository preaching there. I read John MacArthur there, who was a gateway to Reformed Theology & the life of the mind as a Christian.
We sang great hymns there – and yes, some crappy CCM stuff too (that I loved at the time). My church taught me Sundays were special & being with the church was essential to that.
Many of the people there who served me at my home church would feel out of place in the liturgy & Reformed theology of the church I now pastor. But I am delighted and grateful every time they come to visit.
Do not pity your fundamentalist home church. Do not be an ungrateful creature of self-absorption.