Last week here I reviewed Patience with God by Frank Schaeffer.
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Today I will move on, sort of . . .
I suppose I could be labelled an evangelical since I made a choice to trust in Christ at a Billy Graham crusade at age eighteen, but I didn't become a regular in an evangelical or any other church for lots of years. During those years, I visited an array of denominations and the only one to which I often returned was Quaker, and that mostly because it was only a block from my house.
When circumstances or providence led me to the first church that really stuck, it was affiliated with the Assemblies of God. I found it to be a cross between evangelical and Pentecostal.
My take on the evangelical movement was that their gimmick (meaning no disrespect) was based their promise that to accept Christ as our mentor and savior, commonly at a church altar or in front of a crowd at a crusade, guarantees a blessed and eternal life. I consider their promise a fine idea that can at the very least give us hope and point us in a right direction.
The Pentecostal movement -- which is about getting possessed by the Holy Spirit as some of the original Christians did on Pentecost, the fiftieth day after the Sabbath of Passover Week -- I still don't feel quite comfortable with, having witnessed too many instances that seemed more performance than authentic. But I choose not to judge any one for attempting to experience connection with God.
The ones I do choose to judge -- though I will also confess that I am a mighty long way from omniscient -- are those who make a distinction between them and us and argue that them are wrong and so are doomed to perdition unless they convert to become one of us who are right and probably saved for eternity.
Until recently I didn't recognize many us vs them people in evangelical churches. What I found in those places were people of good will who attended in hopes of having encounters with God. I found them to be for the most part humble to the extent that I thought of them as rather innocent compared to most of us humans, and childlike in a good way. At least that's who I thought they were.
But the last few years have horrified me, as I have witnessed the fundamentalist us vs them mentality gaining ground in both politics and church culture. Fundamentalists, whether Christian, atheist, socialist, or vegan, I will characterize as those who profess to have all the answers and who don't any allow discussion about their views, let alone any disagreement.
Not many years ago, I would have argued fiercely that evangelicals and fundamentalists were very different from each other. Now, I don't know quite what to feel, and that pains me deeply as I love many of them. Which is why I was appalled by Mr. Schaeffer's failure, in Patience with God, to distinguish between evangelicals and fundamentalists.
Though I have attended quite a few fundamentalist churches and listened to hundreds of fundamentalist messages, my longest connection with that brand was while teaching at a certain college that calls itself Christian. The attitudes I discovered there disturbed me so much, they enticed me into helping found a college of an entirely different sort.
Mr. Schaeffer's failure to differentiate between fundamentalists and evangelicals made me shiver, because it seems to imply that all evangelicals are fundamentalists, and I fear that implication is becoming ever more accurate.
At the aforementioned college, one of the founders, Tim LeHaye of Left Behind fame, visited and spoke. As soon as he concluded the speech, the theme of which was Us vs Them, my wife Pam and I rushed out of the chapel for the refuge of the office we shared. We shut the door behind us and stood in stunned silence for a minute or so then faced off and yelped in unison, "That guy is SCARY."
I, at least, didn't mean scary in a fun horror movie way.
I meant demonic.
Steve, I have been around lots of evangelicals and never felt that most of them were trying very hard to change people, only to offer then an alternative they thought was worth considering. Maybe I had them wrong. Who knows?
Seems to me like "fundamentalists" think there's only one way - theirs. "Evangelicals" want to change other people. Not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. Not all committed Christians are evangelicals. 🤔