A sincere, caring Fundamentalist friend of mine came over to our home one night to ask me some questions about whether I was a true fundamentalist or not. His love for me was genuine and I felt his care. My friend kept asking me if I was a fundamentalist. And in turn I kept asking him to define the term for me. He did not, but responded with the same question as to whether I was a Fundamentalist or not. I asked him to define the term and around we went in a winsome, non-threatening kind of way. I’m still not sure why he never answered my question. I am a “fundamentalist”. The core “fundamental” doctrines of the Christian faith are near and dear to most all Fundamentalists and these fundamentals are most certainly near and dear to me.
In short, I believe in the fundamentals of the faith. This is what was documented at the beginning of the 20th Century by a group of men who were trying to bring clarity to a Christian religion that was becoming more and more fragmented by the inroads of liberalism. I believe in much of what those guys laid down. However, what I don’t believe in is the later externalizing of those beliefs to where the externals have, in some sense, displaced the fundamentals or at some level have become co-equal with these core doctrines. I would not equate dress codes with “salvation by grace alone”. I wouldn’t equate movie theater attendance with inerrancy of Scripture. Drinking alcohol is not co-equal and a reason to separate from someone like the perversion of the Gospel. Modesty, social drinking, different bible translations and video viewing are secondary issues at best and all Christians should be aware of these preferences and responding to them in a biblical fashion. However, none of these issues meet the criteria of “fundamentals.”
I think it is good and in some ways necessary for Christians to relate more to their culture w/o compromising their “fundamental” beliefs. However, there can be a strong temptation to externalize our faith to the point that faith can morph into a set of propositions or standards to live by while drifting from the heart of the gospel. At my depraved, animating center is the heart of a legalist. I’m a very proud person who can be easily tempted to boast in what I do rather than what Christ did.
I think it is okay to choose certain Christian contemporary songs with cross-centered lyrics over a more antiquated genre of a bygone era. I enjoy the old stuff as it is cross-centered. And I love some of the contemporary music as well, when it is cross-centered. For me it is not as much style-driven as much as content driven.
From my dear friends perspective I went off into the big, bad world of liberalism. I was on the slippery slope and heading downhill pretty fast. What he could not see is that it was freeing. Christ was liberating me. My new life was a manageable lifestyle; not easier, but manageable, livable. It has been a life that makes more biblical sense to me than the life I lived. I don’t have to qualify, footnote, explain, seek to make sure the tassels of my robe are the right length and I don’t have to be concerned about the hedge around the hedge around the hedge of the law.
In this journey I began to learn more about idolatry of the heart, with a secondary emphasis on the externals. It sounds almost Christ-like. You know, like what Jesus said in Matthew 23 where they cleaned the outside, but the inside was full of corruption. Or like what John said in chapter two of his first epistle where he defined worldliness as being in the lusts and desires and not in some form of Gnosticism, the physical. Yes, this was a different way of thinking and living for me. Additionally, I found out that God was more concerned with my proud, self-righteous, legalistic heart more than the liquid I put in my body, the clothes I put on my body and the music I listened to.
It is ironic for me because in some ways it has been much harder to be free than to be the Pharisee I was. To serve my wife, my children and my world takes more energy and time (Read: to love God and neighbor). To repent more often, to confess my sin, to live in integrity, to be transparent with my sin, to recognize that I’m the biggest sinner I know has been a bigger challenge than isolating myself from my world. It was easier to erect a hedge about myself, cut myself off from my world and not engage my world or my heart.