Tag Archives: fundamentalism

Loving the Truth Without Losing Your Mind — 7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes

I’ve seen it time and time again. We’ve all done it at some point. We passionately reject one extreme only to embrace another. O how the proverbial pendulum swings to the opposite end of the spectrum! Regrettably, when it’s happening we usually don’t realize that’s what we’re doing.

About 10 years ago I left vocational ministry due to several bad experiences that left my family hurt and confused. The time away was a real blessing from the Lord, but it’s no secret that for a season I was influenced by the thinking that the “institutional” church was of the devil and that the only faithful Christians were those who met in house churches with no leader.

Yes, that was extreme. But some people out did me! The church to these extremists was some sort of nebulous idea involving a couple Christians getting together in a coffee shop—a concept born right out of Western individualism.

But Paul didn’t write letters to saints scattered throughout Starbucks or those who choose to “worship God in nature” while out hiking the trails with a friend on Sunday morning. He wrote to intentional worshipping communities.

It took me a few years to start coming out of this reactionary thinking and see it for what it is. Since then I feel like the Lord has heightened my senses to all manner of extremes embraced by well-intentioned people, especially within the church. So now I see it everywhere I turn. And I’m continually examining my own beliefs and behaviors as well. We’re always susceptible.

I don’t think I would be exaggerating if I said that it is our embrace of the extremes that has become our greatest hindrance to peace and understanding today, in the world and the church. It’s in politics, academia, and in religion.

These extremes begin with the either-or, in or out, love us or hate us, for us or against us mentality. In the church we even fight among ourselves over who is the most faithful to Jesus in their doctrine and church practice, we want to argue that our group is more “authentic” than your group.

(Sigh) Man, this stuff gets old.

As I recently said in a sermon about justice, I even see many “progressive” Christian friends of mine, particularly young Anabaptists, leaving right-wing politics (which I applaud) only to embrace the left and its agenda, which amounts to a purely secular worldview baptized in Gospel lingo.

Clearly we’re still playing Caesar’s song, just a different verse.

What’s so refreshing about Jesus is that he rejected the polarities and extremes. He rejected them because he saw through them. It’s merely different sides to the same coin. It’s easy and expedient, but it’s not the way forward.

Let’s admit it. It’s hard to break free from the polarities.

Good news! Jesus gives us a way out. While I’m not always sure what that way looks like, if I’m honest, I usually know what it doesn’t look like. And if I’ll listen to the Spirit within me, I’ll eventually stumble down the road of Christ.

Jesus was a radical rabbi, but he wasn’t jumping to extremes. He wasn’t a fundamentalist. He challenged the polarities. We should do the same.

Fundamentalism is an attitude. It can be conservative or progressive. It is elitist and violent, in words and/or actions. It is dogmatic and narrow-minded about many issues. It’s emotionally charged and needs to offend people in order to survive. Without her enemies, fundamentalism has nothing to say.

Now that isn’t to say that God’s truth and the third way of Christ isn’t radically subversive or provocative within a culture of scoffers and skeptics, but it is to say that any ideology that purposely spends its time ridiculing, shaming, or doing violence to others is most definitely an extreme to be rejected, dare I say repented of in Jesus’ name. We need to stop it now. Not tomorrow. Now.

So I want to ask myself, where do I have a tendency to accept the extremes and spread the infection that is having negative effects on our families, churches, society, and culture?

It needs to be said that fundamentalism of any kind is born from a mixture of pain and irrational fear. Her symptoms are superiority, arrogance, and intolerance. You can find this sort of thing among Christians, Muslims, agnostics, and atheists… from Franklin Graham to Richard Dawkins.

If you’re truly concerned about peace and understanding, I would look elsewhere, where there is no fear-mongering, name-calling, and bitterness. Even from those who do it in subtle ways.

The following are some questions that I’ve often asked myself when listening to the news, examining an idea, surveying social media, or reading a book. I think these questions can help disciples of Jesus avoid the polarities and extremes.

7 Questions to Help Us All Avoid the Extremes
  1. Do I love the truth or just my version of it?
    Contrary to postmodern relativism, there is such a thing as objective truth. Asking this question can help us step outside of ourselves and our cultural conditioning in order to consider the truth that is usually hidden beyond and beneath our personal biases, presuppositions, and emotions.
  2. Can I see a spectrum of views (or a third way)?
    There’s usually more than just two sides to a matter. If it’s always black and white to you, you’ve probably not paid enough attention to Jesus and his “third way” living. This myopic attitude leaves no room for grace or the possibility that there is more than one way to be faithful.
  3. Have I honestly considered other respectable positions?
    In other words, have you listened to the best voices on the subject–qualified folks you may not agree with but can still respect? If you haven’t, you’ll end up demonizing one extreme only to embrace another. You’ll become another version of what you hate. Ironic isn’t it?
  4. What does my community think?
    We are more fully human in healthy relationships. What does your church, organization, or your circle of trusted friends think? Are you listening? Shutting out an opposing opinion might make you feel better about your position, but it doesn’t make you right.
  5. Where is Jesus in this?
    That’s much different than asking what “side” is he on. It should allow us to see Jesus in more places than one. This may seem totally subjective, but it really isn’t. Our discernment comes from a full contextual reading of the Gospels (historical Jesus) and our sensitivity to the Spirit.
  6. Where am I in this?
    Following Jesus isn’t simply doing whatever you imagine him doing. It means obeying and acting out of the time spent listening to his desires for you and the world. Once you’ve felt his heart on a matter and have seen where he’s at work, are you willing to join him there?
  7. No really, where are you at with Jesus?
    If you’re busy trying to serve Jesus and do ministry but not regularly practicing spiritual disciplines in order to abide in Christ, I wouldn’t be so confident about your positions and heart on any matter. We must be connected to the Vine if we want to know his heart and bear his fruit.

I think these questions can help us to see that we’re always dealing with people created in God’s image and not just hot-button issues. This helps me to love people while simultaneously loving the truth and boldly navigating culture, even if it means hardship and suffering for being faithful to Jesus.

Can we rise above the extremes in our pursuit of truth? I believe so. But we need to know that the truth lay quietly in the fertile soil of grace and humility. Out of this soil will come conviction, but never condemnation.

In this way I get to love the truth and keep my mind.

Will you join me?

D.D. Flowers, 2015.

This article was also posted online at Relevant Magazine.


How Have You Changed?

When was the last time you took a glance back over your life in order to reflect on how you have changed in your beliefs and practices? It can be truly rewarding to see how the Lord has been working in your life.

Do you embrace challenges and reexamine your beliefs with an open heart and mind? Is the truth (which sets us free) worth it to you?

In the following video blog, I share a little of my own journey and encourage my readers to seek the truth above all things.

Brothers and sisters, I implore you to never be afraid to change your mind or the direction of your life for fear of what others might think of you.

Have you have ever been passionate about something, only later to discover that you were wrong? How did you respond? Are you sensitive to the ways God wants to move you along and grow you up into Christ?

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Support Us or You’re a Bigot?

If you read my blog much you know that I’m far from a right-wing Christian fundamentalist, but I also don’t espouse Liberal theology, nor am I a card-carrying member of the increasingly “progressive” branch of Christianity. I never liked cards anyway.

I see the whole of fundamentalism and “progressive” Christianity as two extremes—both missing the mark. Let me explain.

I grew up within a mild form of Fundamentalist Christianity, and I’m still surrounded by it here in Texas. It is known for being dogmatic, legalistic, obsessed with biblical inerrancy, militant in defending creationism, escapist in eschatology, and committed to nationalism and the Republican party.

For all its flaws, I do think that fundamentalism has been very forthright about the person and saving work of Jesus, even if that message is often a bit muddled with poor atonement theories and hell-fire, pulpit-pounding.

Nevertheless, a clarity about the person and work of Jesus is refreshing after you’ve been bombarded by many competing voices in the culture that wish to turn Jesus into a gnostic guru, a civil rights leader, or reduce him down to a social revolutionary, and nothing more. Liberalism at its finest.

Liberal Christianity today is really just a post-enlightenment version of Thomas Jefferson’s sanitized Jesus—a Jesus stripped of his divinity, his miracle-making, and muzzled from making exclusive truth claims.

If a person comes to believe in such things, they shouldn’t even call themselves a “Christian” anymore. If you can’t affirm Christ’s divinity, his saving power by the cross, and his literal resurrection… you’re not a Christian in any historical sense of the term. If you want to start the Church of Jefferson, fine. But please leave historic Christianity to us Christians.

Progressive Christianity has much to say in response to pop-culture evangelicalism. Progressives like Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Shane Claiborne, and many others need to be heard.

I can see and hear Jesus in these guys. I’ve benefited from them.

For example, I agree that the teachings of Jesus have been neglected and that doctrine (orthodoxy) has been emphasized over Christ-like living (orthopraxy). I believe that salvation begins in the here and now, that social justice is integral to discipleship, and that evangelicalism needs a more responsible biblical interpretive method.

I’m passionate about those things!

But I must say that I particularly take issue with how “progressives” have created a synthetic fog over a handful of biblical passages dealing with homosexuality, and seem to be using a “join-us-or-you’re-a-bigot” approach to responding to evangelicalism’s overall failure to love our gay neighbors.

Progressives appear to want nothing less than full support of the LGBT community, meaning that you agree that homosexuality is an acceptable way of being human, and that Jesus would approve of gay “marriage” (going beyond civil unions to the church blessing the relationship), or you’re “homophobic” and an enemy of all that’s good.

Let’s be honest. If this is the way progressives are going to frame the issue, reflecting the typical polarities of hot-button issues within politics, they are only going to perpetuate the vitriolic climate in society—a climate they say that they lament. But I do wonder if they’re not being just as divisive and dishonest as the folks over at Westboro Baptist.

Is it “bigotry” to disagree with someone on a moral/religious issue? Is it “hate” to believe another person’s life choices are destructive to that person and to society? Is it “homophobic” to believe that homosexuality is a sin like adultery, greed, or idolatry, and oppose elevating it to normal human behavior, as if it were an obvious evolution of mankind? Is it “intolerant” to want to maintain laws (church & state) that support a historical, time-tested institution (heterosexual monogamous marriage) for the good of society?

As many of you know, all of this has been leveled at those who disagree in any way with the LGBT community and her “progressive” supporters. I see a constant stream of this stuff on social networking and online magazines, especially in light of Rob Bell’s recent affirmation of gay marriage.

This is the message I’m getting: You’re either a supporter of LGBT or you’re likely an intolerant bigot who hates gay people.

I think this is unfair and dishonest. It leaves no room for a third way of responding to the LGBT community and those in our local communities that have embraced a gay identity. It claims that in order to love your gay neighbor you must accept their lifestyle.

Why must this be the case? Do I have to accept the violence, greed, and idolatry of my neighbor and enemies in order to love them? Of course not. So why should it be any different with gay folks in our communities? One extreme (fundamentalism) doesn’t justify another (liberalism).

If you consider yourself a “progressive” Christian, I want to encourage you to consider how LGBT supporters can be more honest and fair in their treatment toward those of us who disagree with you, but at the same time want to love their gay neighbor and accept them as created in God’s image.

Listen to Tim Keller represent a third way with grace and truth.

What do you think? Do you believe there is a third way that’s being overlooked? Please share your thoughts and experiences.

D.D. Flowers, 2013.

Have You Checked Your Filters Lately?

I remember reading a story where a student sitting next to Albert Einstein turned to him and asked, “What do you do?” Einstein replied, “I am a student of physics. What do you do?” The student replied, “Oh, I finished studying physics last year.”

I think it’s important to be reminded that as followers of Christ, and as believers of the Scriptures that reveal Christ, we ought to see ourselves as students on a continual journey of learning and enlightenment unto Jesus—the true source of all wisdom and knowledge (Col 2:2-4).

“Disciple” means one who is a student and a learner.

The Journey of Life & Death

The Christian journey is one of multi-lane freeways, straightaway interstates, winding single-lane roads through hills and valleys, and the occasional hike off the beaten path into the mysterious unknown.

It’s a journey that recognizes that need for constant change and evolution of thought and practice. It’s characteristic of life itself. It’s built into all of creation. It shouldn’t surprise us that it’s also common to our spiritual life.

And now that Christ has promised us resurrection life, we know that death is only a part of the journey. It’s even a necessary part of our spiritual growth. Remember what Jesus said to his disciples:

“If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.” Matt 16:24-25

If we’re going to grow on this journey with Christ, we must be willing to revise, adjust, and sometimes change our views and our living based on new insights into the Lord. We’re going to have to deny ourselves.

We may even need to give up what we discover to be broken, sometimes even idolatrous, theological and biblical frameworks, and allow the Lord to give us a new vision and understanding altogether.

Are You Willing to Grow?

I’ve met many evangelicals who dislike theological challenges, even seeing them as an evil intruder seeking to demolish their faith or the faith of others. This shouldn’t be if we’re on a true journey with Christ.

I will go so far to say that if there hasn’t been a change in you and your beliefs for some time now, you’re probably not growing in the Lord to the extent he desires. Change is a part of “growing” up into Christ.

As followers of Christ, we should welcome challenges. When we’re challenged and honestly receive that challenge, it causes us to rethink and reexamine our previous beliefs and living. It’s characteristic of a living faith that is always moving forward in the Lord.

I see this as a win-win for us. You will ultimately discover that either you were on the right track with your previous belief, thereby strengthening it all the more, or you will find that your belief and practice were wrong, and correct it according to new light and understanding.

And we should never let the consequences of that change deter us from making the necessary moves toward truth that sets us free to faithfully follow Christ. If we’re out of our minds, it’s for Christ’s sake.

Check Your Filters

I have found that one of the greatest hindrances to our spiritual growth are the filters by which we perceive and judge ideas that are new to us, or that we’ve simply been told are bad for us by people in our group that we trust.

Filters are meant to screen things out that don’t belong. But the more threads or restrictions to the settings on those filters, they can actually work against you.

What happens when our filters end up collecting valuable items that are perceived as trash by the filter?

Have you ever had an important email unknowingly get collected in your SPAM box? Have you ever found a diamond ring or some other valuable item in those filters of yours? It happens.

I believe this sort of thing happens quite regularly to Christians on journey with the Lord. How does this happen to us when it comes to theological challenges? And what can be done about it?

Preunderstanding & Presuppositions

Our spiritual growth is stunted when we do not recognize how much our own cultural context and situation in life has shaped our theological perspectives. Please stop and think about this with me.

Consider this…

I’m a white Southerner. I was raised in a small East Texas town with no black people in a dry (no alcohol) county. I grew up in a fundamentalist Southern Baptist church that pledged to the Bible and the American flag during Vacation Bible School. This theological upbringing forged a commitment to reformed theology, Left Behind eschatology, and that women can’t be ministers in the church. And that’s just the beginning of it.

My wife grew up in a “King James only” congregation. This means that they only believe the “authorized” English version of the Bible should be read by Christians. Her tradition was even more dogmatic than my own. They forced girls to wear culottes at their church camps! (In case you don’t know, “culottes” are knee breeches first worn by men in the 16th century.)

Do you think these things impacted (and still impact) the way we think? Of course! And your own upbringing has shaped you as well. You need to acknowledge this if you wish to grow.

Our preunderstandings and preconceived notions that we bring to the biblical text and the Christian faith, (both consciously and unconsciously) greatly impact the way we think and live.

This preconditioning causes us to think that we already know and understand something about the Scriptures, making it harder to face the challenges that the Lord may be bringing our way to grow us spiritually.

Cultural Christianity

Our own cultural context and formation is a subtle aspect of our preunderstanding. We can easily attempt to interpret Scripture according to our cultural norms, and miss the real meaning.

For example, if Jesus said, “love your enemies” (Matt 5:38-48) but our culture has already shaped our thinking on the matter, we must immediately interpret Jesus in such a way that does not conflict with our cultural norms.

What is the norm here in America? Well, some killing and violence is acceptable as it promotes security, democracy, freedom, etc. Therefore, your filters force you to privatize and dilute the teachings of Jesus. As a result, the Bill of Rights often ends up trumping the real Jesus and the rest of the New Testament.

So much for serving two masters (Matt 6:24).

Regardless of how Jesus lives this teaching out, and the indisputable fact that for the first three hundred years of church history Christians refused military service and rejected all forms of violence, we are tempted to conform Christ to our cultural Christianity.

Duvall and Hays write in their book, Grasping God’s Word: A Hands-On Approach to Reading, Interpreting, and Applying the Bible:

Our culture is a combination of family and national heritage. You learn it from your Mom at breakfast, from the kids on the playground at school, and from television. It is a mix of language, customs, stories, movies, jokes, literature, and national habits. For Americans it is comprised of Big Macs, Barbie Dolls, Tiger Woods, and the Back Street Boys all mixed-in with George Washington, Babe Ruth, the Mississippi River, Walmart, and the space shuttle. (pg. 89)

Did you grow up in a big city or a small town? Did you grow up Protestant, Catholic, or some other tradition? Were you exposed to other cultural and theological viewpoints growing up? Have you ever spent any time outside of North America? Did you grow up in a healthy family? Were you rich or poor? Was your dad around? Did he show you love?

As it pertains to “love your enemies”… how often were you taught the teachings of Jesus in his historical context and shown how to live them out in your own? And I don’t mean the American Jesus version.

All of these things (and much more) matter when it comes to our cultural Christianity and learning how to navigate in the world on our faith journey. They add to the prefiguring of the settings on our filters.

For better or worse, our cultural context shapes our biblical worldview.

I don’t believe that everything we’ve ever been taught is entirely wrong, but we do need to recognize that our traditions and influences (good or bad) have added to the settings on our own filters.

Our preconceived ideas and our cultural baggage often keep us from knowing the first-century, olive-skinned, Palestinian, construction worker from Nazareth, that believed he was the Messiah foretold by the prophets. 

Remaining Objectively Honest

It is true that being totally objective in biblical interpretation and in our Christian walk is impossible. However, simply being aware of our cultural upbringing and the filters that our own traditions have prefigured for us will help us to look afresh at the ancient Scriptures and consider how we might better follow the counter-cultural Christ in our own context.

I do believe that some basic historic presuppositions and settings on our filters should be used when choosing to walk the Jesus way. I recommend the historic Christian creeds, like the Apostles Creed.

This confession leads us to embrace the Scriptures as inspired testimony about God’s work in the world through Jesus of Nazareth.

Beyond this general confession of our faith in Christ, we ought to be open and honest with other brothers and sisters in pursuit of Jesus. In fact, Christians ought to be leading the world in exploration of wisdom and knowledge. We know the Source. What are we afraid of anyway?

This is only possible by being mindful of the filters guarding our hearts and minds. And adjusting those filters when it’s necessary for further growth.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and with one another. We have all been conditioned to read the Scriptures and follow Christ according to our own traditions and cultural norms. Have you checked your filters lately?

How have your filters been prefigured for the Christian life? What is stopping you from reconsidering certain challenges to your theological and biblical worldview? Pray the Lord will help you grow.

D.D. Flowers, 2012.

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