Saturday, November 10, 2007

Confessions of a Bible Thumper

Why haven't I posted anything in a while someone asked? Well, I've been busy working my day job and on a new writing project (could turn into a book) that I will begin to preview here. I welcome all your comments.

How a Former Evangelical Survived the Christian Right, Rejected the Radical Left, and Recovered a Rational Faith

Introduction

The enigma of Christian fundamentalism and most of evangelicalism is the loss of the biblical concept of freedom and the development of the unbiblical system of performance-based religion. Based on their preoccupation with biblical inerrancy and literalism, most of evangelicalism has succumbed to a deep-seated and insidious legalism that grips conservative bible-believing Christians with an iron fist that refuses to let go. From the asinine superficiality of extreme fundamentalism to the more thoughtful faith of moderate evangelicals (but no less performance- and law-based) the conservative church is in spiritual bondage, suffering from a severe drought of grace—something with which it should be inundated given what the Bible truly teaches. As one conservative church member said to me recently when I asked him why he stopped attending church, “I got tired of jumping through hoops.”

Although there may be glimpses of freedom among some progressive evangelicals, legalism typically reigns supreme, taking various forms within individual churches and denominations. The censorious gradations include on one side of the extreme written and unwritten codes for dress, behavior, speech, sex, ministry, and non-essential doctrines (e.g., restrictions on skirt lengths, body piercings, alcohol use, most if not all divorce, certain sexual behaviors even among married couples, women in ministry, adherence to the King James Bible only, and fundamentalist statements of fairh). Moderates aren’t nearly as strict yet have their own written and unwritten legalistic codes that include measuring a person’s godly maturity based on how well they practice spiritual disciplines, such as praying and reading the Bible, and their degree of commitment to, and financial support of, an institutional church. In short, legalistic evangelicalism focuses primarily on what believers must do for God rather than on what God has done for them. Afraid of teaching true biblical freedom, the institutional church attempts to control people through its emphasis on creating and enforcing laws derived from misinterpretations of the Bible and traditional non-biblical teachings rather than allowing individuals to govern themselves under the overriding law that Christ taught—love for God and neighbor.

Shamefully, the church also suffers from a shortage of clear thinking. Mark Noll laid out that case in his seminal book where he stated in the first sentence, “The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.” Not exactly an encouraging sign. Although Noll recognizes certain virtues of evangelicals, such as sacrifice and generosity to the needy, he concludes they are not exemplary for their thinking.

Ironically, the enigma of the radical religious Left is their extreme emotional overreaction to the Christian Right. Garry Wills calls this “the new fundamentalism”, a term he uses to describe the work of the team of scholars who make up the Jesus Seminar. “Though some people have called the Jesus Seminarists radical, they are actually very conservative. They tame the real, radical Jesus, cutting him down to their own size.” Wills is no card-carrying fundamentalist.

Confessions of a Bible Thumper is the product of my journey of 25 years as a card-carrying evangelical who, frankly, got tired of jumping through hoops. Disillusioned with anti-intellectualism, superficial platitudes and pseudo-spiritual pat answers, both blatant and subtle legalism, litmus tests for outsiders, and the gross and widespread mishandling of the Scriptures, I left my bible-thumping ways only to find that many liberal alternatives to the Christian Right aren’t much better.

Read entire Introduction...

5 comments:

sterling-95 said...

Dear Michael;

I found the introduction to your book online. I read through the entire introduction and immediately went looking for more. Hope to see more of your thoughts soon.

I agree with you that there has been a problematic trend in modern Christianity, a focus on absolute literalism, on historical authenticity sometimes minus the literary, anthropological and religious symbolism. On one hand, you have strong fundamentalism, which sometimes becomes more about rules and codes than grace. However, I find authors such as Spong, who sometimes seem equally single-minded, and determined to throw out all the mystical and spiritual elements of Christianity in favor of a fuzzy neither here-nor-there belief, both emotionally and spiritually unsatisfying. However, with books coming from both sides at a rapid pace, sometimes it becomes difficult for the average believer to know which books to examine, which sources to trust. The jeering from the peanut gallery (Dawkins, Harris, etc) doesn't exactly help matters

I will look forward to reading your thoughts on the concept of Grace, the Resurrection and being a Christian in the mental, emotional and spiritual sense. Thank you for posting this

Michael said...

Yes, Sterling. Thanks for your comments. I have developed portions of 3 other chapters and will post those soon.

You summed it up... clowns to the Right and jokers to the Left, and we're stuck in the middle with... well, post-evangelicals are looking most attractive.

Anonymous said...

Michael!

I LOVE your intro chapter...

I can tell from it ALONE that you are going to love my website too:

http://greatchristianlife.com/

As we are very much on the same path!

I can't wait to read more chapters, and to buy your book when it comes out.

In love,
Caleb

Andy Arnold said...

I describe myself as a recovering fundamentalist (although perhaps I have completely recovered). My conclusion that reason/rationality leads to agnosticism. I have recently read Robert Wright's "The Evolution of God" which provides an outline of an argument that leads to belief in a "divine purpose." Not sure I buy it, but am keeping an open mind, but recommend the book to those like yourself (interested in facts but prone to faith).

Michael said...

Thanks for the heads up, Andy. I'll check it out. I see some people slide toward agnosticism from reason/rationality and others, like Antony Flew, slide toward belief in God. I like the reason track much better and am finding new paradigms for faith in God.