Browsing Tag



learning the words: worldly

myley cyrus

Today’s guest post is from Melissa, a reader who grew up in the Independent Fundamental Baptist movement, but eventually left it with her husband. “Learning the Words” is a series on the words many of us didn’t have in fundamentalism or overly conservative evangelicalism– and how we got them back. If you would like to be a part of this series, you can find my contact information at the top.

Worldly – perhaps no word is quite so “fundamental” to the way hyper-fundamentalists view how they should or should not live as this one.  During my upbringing in the independent fundamentalist Baptist movement (church, school, college), I heard this word used countless times, and always in a highly negative sense.

Simply put, worldly is defined by Webster’s as “of, relating to, or devoted to the temporal world: not religious or spiritual.”  In our lingo, however, it was further defined as describing the things “the world” did and, conversely, things which “we” did not do.  “The world,” by the way, is anyone outside of the IFB mindset.  In short, wordly = bad, sinful, the opposite of Godly.  The less worldly one is, the better, closer to God, more spiritual one is.  The idea is based on Bible verses that say things like, “come out from among them and be ye separate,” and that Christians are “a peculiar people.” [Editor’s note: that particular example is a form of Dominionism, a common fundamentalist heresy.]

Almost anything could garner the adjective “worldly,” depending on who was talking about it, and what his or her personal beliefs were.  I have heard the word applied to the following: clothing, hairstyles, music, amusement parks, malls, movies and movie theaters, TV and TV shows, education, government, books, jewelry, games, make-up, hobbies, jokes, magazines, and probably a few others I can’t remember right now.  In utter defiance of Webster, worldly was also used to describe decidedly spiritual things like churches, Christians, preachers, and Bible translations other than ye olde KJV 1611.

Worldly was used to distinguish the “sinful” forms of these items from the “Godly” ones.  For example, there were “worldly hairstyles” and “Godly hairstyles” – long hair on a man was worldly, as was extremely short hair on a woman.  I remember the handbook for my Christian school containing a picture of a “Godly” male student’s hairstyle, which looked remarkably like the hair of all of the male characters on “Leave It to Beaver.”  Jesus, apparently, could not have attended our school.

Many rules were created to keep us from becoming worldly.  Flip-flops represented the hippie movement, so they were worldly. (I believe this led to rules about girls having to wear socks or hose—it makes it harder to wear hippie footwear!)  Wire-rimmed glasses were worldly because John Lennon wore them.  Black lipstick/nail polish was associated with the worldly Goths.  Can’t use a standard deck of cards, even for solitaire, because that’s what worldly gamblers use.  And worldly music, even Christian music . . .  well I don’t even have time to get into that can o’ worms!

The avoidance of all things worldly, quite naturally led to some practical problems, such as where the line between worldly and godly should be drawn.  I remember a friend in my church had never been to an amusement park, and had only been to a mall once or twice because, according to her father, those “are things the world does.”  Even as steeped as I was in the IFB ideology at the time, I remember thinking, “but ‘the world’ also goes to grocery stores and eats food and drives cars, and we don’t think those things are wrong.”  Another major problem, of course, is pride.  Because so many worldly things were visible, we could tell at a glance how spiritual someone was.  And because worldly = ungodly, the more worldly items we avoided, the more we could congratulate ourselves on how much better we were than “the world,” including those “worldly Christians.”

The first time I encountered the word worldly used in a positive light was just before graduating from my IFB college.  I was with a guy (who is now my husband) at a bookstore and came across a slim volume in a black and gold dust jacket with the title Worldly Virtues by Johannes A. Gaertner.


It seemed like an extreme oxymoron, akin to saying “holy devil” or something.  We were intrigued and each picked up a copy and started reading right there in the store.  The book is filled with one-page reflections on various aspects of being human.  It covers such worldly traits as tact, perseverance, and commitment.  From it I learned:

  • that worry is “an eminently healthy, normal, and human trait.”
  • that fear can be positive because “the person who knows no fear…is either incredibly stupid or harbors a secret death wish.”
  • that discernment is a way to prevent “being manipulated day in, day out, virtually every waking hour of the day.”

We each bought a copy, and from that day I began to understand Webster’s second definition of worldly: “sophisticated or cosmopolitan.”  Kind of like that most worldly of movie heroes, “Bond–James Bond.”  Mr. Gaertner actually helped me reclaim a number of words that hyper-fundamentalists had perverted for their own use.  Now, the label of worldly doesn’t make me cringe – it’s a label I strive to live up to.


what Christian fundamentalism means to us


I started my series on Christian fundamentalism (definitions and a history lesson) for a variety of reasons. First, one of my very good friends was worried that my definition of fundamentalism might be different from the definition of my readers. Handsome likes making sure everyone is on the same page, just on principle, so he agreed.

Then, I began an interesting interaction with a reader who goes by the handle “fundamentalist pastor.” My conversation with him, which has been polite and illuminating, combined with the advice of people I care about, prompted me to start explaining what I thought Christian fundamentalism was. One of the questions that this pastor asked me had to do with the abusive and cult-like nature of the fundamentalist church I was raised in:

“Based upon what you know of me & my ministry from our brief dialogue, if you had grown up in my Fundamental church – as opposed to the other Fundamental churches that you experienced – would you have left my church? Would you have entirely abandoned Fundamentalism in that case?”

My answer is yes– I would have left fundamentalism, even if the church I’d been raised in hadn’t been an abusive cult. The primary reason is that, as I matured into adulthood, I realized that fundamentalism, at least in my opinion, is unnecessary. There’s conservative evangelical culture, there’s Protestant orthodoxy, there’s rigorous theological debate among scholars and thinkers and critics and church-goers. Fundamentalism doesn’t bring anything to this table except a sword– a sword of biblical literalism, isolationism, and absolute certainty.

However, these types of questions also led me to asking what fundamentalism means to you, my readers. I wanted a discussion, I wanted stories. And I got both of those in abundance. So, to wrap up this series, I wanted to solidify many of the ideas that were brought up– to identify the common themes, the common narratives. I still highly encourage you to read the entire discussion, as that will be more nuanced and complicated than this summary.

For those who identified, to varying degrees, with fundamentalism, one of the common elements in their response was to distance themselves from what they saw as more extreme fundamentalists. They emphasized that they disliked the legalism and the lack of tolerance to different ideas that frequently crops up in fundamentalist circles. What they valued about fundamentalism also shared some common elements: they liked that their experiences with fundamentalism encouraged them to a deeper study of the Bible,  theology, or apologetics.

I can personally attest to this. If anything about my experience in fundamentalism could be considered at all valuable, is that I was given an overwhelming amount of information. From my observations, this is motivated by a few problematic ideas. Fundamentalists encourage this heavy absorption in order to create “soldiers of God,” who can put on the “full armor.” The full armor metaphor is pulled from Ephesians 6, where knowledge of the Bible and how to defend the faith are seen as crucial elements to being a Christian. So, I disagree with the reason— as well as the method. I was taught to be familiar with words like sanctification and justification and substitutionary atonement and transubstantiation and baptismal regeneration and unlimited inspiration– sure. I could hold my own in a conversation with most seminary students, absolutely. But I was taught these things from a very narrow, very limited perspective. A perspective where we had all the right answers.

I believe, with all my heart, that most fundamentalists aren’t anything like the leader of my church-cult. I believe that most fundamentalists, including fundamentalist pastors, are only doing what they think is the best thing– the right thing. I consider fundamentalists to be my brothers and sisters in Christ, because I believe in finding common ground among the essentials, and we have that.

For those who felt attracted to fundamentalism, the most common response was they were drawn to the sureness and the certainty. This “certainty” looked different, depending on the person. For Vyckie at No Longer Quivering, what she saw was a “lovely vision of godly families.” She wanted to have the ability to make sure her life, and her family, followed biblical principles. This led her to absorbing more and more fundamentalist teachings and practices– because they guaranteed her a godly family. Reta, in the comments there, pointed out the black and white nature of fundamentalism– and that this approach is “simple.” I’ve been there, personally– fundamentalism is easy. You can have sureness and confidence, without any doubt. This is an incredibly comfortable place to be. Lana Hobbs (who commented here) echoed these ideas, saying that fundamentalism meant “safety” and “security.” Nearly everyone who’d been a fundamentalist at some point resonated with this: there was God’s side, and then there was the wrong side, and being a fundamentalist was being positive you were on God’s side.

For those who had been burned by fundamentalism, there were still common patterns, although the experiences could have huge differences. But, almost unanimously, if we were burned by fundamentalism, it all had to do with questions. Asking a question was seen as “doubting” and doubting was vilified. They were ostracized, they were reprimanded, they were disciplined, they were excommunicated. Not toeing the line resulted in some kind of harm for them– and it didn’t have to be an important line. Or, if we left, it was because of sentiments like revulsion, disgust, shock, horror . . . and none of those words are exaggerations. At some point, it all just got to be too much– and what was “too much” was different for every person. For some, it was that they couldn’t find a fundamentalist church truly willing to engage with social concerns or help the needy– which is not universal in fundamentalism, but this attitude is common.

But, for those of us who grew up and left our fundamentalist nests, it was caused by our engagement with reality– for most of us, for the very first time. We befriended people in the LGBTQ community, and realized that everything we’d been taught about homosexuality (the BTQ part was completely dismissed) was either deeply misguided or just plain wrong. We encountered science for the first time, and for many of us who were taught that Genesis 1-11 was the bedrock of the entire Bible, finding out that AiG and ICR had misrepresented evolutionary theory when we were younger was the first nail in our theological coffins. For many of us, it was simply meeting people. We made friends with Christians who weren’t fundamentalists– we made friends with people who weren’t Christians, and it shook us profoundly. We met atheists and agnostics for the very first time, and suddenly, all our “right answers” couldn’t make sense. For many of us, the psychological dissonance was so bad we abandoned Christianity completely.

Sometimes, we abandoned Christianity for a time, but then we came back– and our Christianity looked utterly different. Some of us are Unitarian now. Some of us are Progressive. Some are Universalist. Some of us are Catholic, or just liturgical. Some of us hold the basic truth that God loves us, and we are trying to see the world through that love and nothing else.

Which gives us another core problem to face in fundamentalism: the absolute certainty, the absolute necessity of possessing “all the right answers” is coupled with another concept known as foundationalism. It’s the notion that there are “bedrock” ideas (like inerrancy and young earth creationism) and that, if those fall, everything else falls with it. And this has held true in many of our lives– our faith, when we took it out into the real world, was nothing more than a house of cards. And it wasn’t because we didn’t believe enough, or weren’t taught correctly enough, or hadn’t been instructed enough, or that we were secretly never believers and just couldn’t wait to “get out.”  It was because of what were taught, it was because of what we believed– that Christ was not really enough.


definitions and a history lesson, part four


I left off my breakdown of Christian fundamentalism with a brief explanation of the Protestant orthodox views regarding inspiration and inerrancy. Hopefully I was clear, because what we’re about to get into is complicated territory. If anything I say seems unclear, unfair, or misleading, please feel free to point it out in the comments.

After the introduction of anti-supernaturalism into critiques of the Bible in the form of German higher criticism (as well as other issues), fundamentalists reacted by proclaiming the teaching of inerrancy to be a basic, fundamental doctrine of Christianity. On its face, I don’t disagree. A proper, balanced, and nuanced view of inerrancy is one of the essentials of faith that I hold to. I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary in order for someone to believe in Jesus, but I think it does become more important in a Christian faith journey. Important, but not necessary. That, I think, is a crucial distinction.

However, that is where fundamentalism and I part ways– and depending on the particular brand of fundamentalism, some might not even consider me to be a true believer after a statement like that one. If they’re being nice, they might refer to me as a “liberal” (a label I would bear with pride). For me, inerrancy is intellectually consistent. I can generally hold with most of the statements regarding inerrancy made in the Chicago Statement of 1979, especially this one:

“We deny that it is proper to evaluate Scripture according to standards of truth and error that are alien to its usage or purpose. We further deny that inerrancy is negated by biblical phenomena such as a lack of modern technical precision, irregularities of grammar or spelling, observational descriptions of nature, reporting of falsehoods, or the use of hyperbole and round numbers . . . “

What the Chicago Statement does in this section is recognize the human component of Scripture. They talk about “observational descriptions” and they also recognize that keeping in mind the context of usage and purpose is extremely important to a proper understanding of inerrancy (and, more practically, hermeneutics). However, if this is not what you think inerrancy means, that’s not a bar to orthodox Protestant beliefs. There’s a range inside of Protestant orthodoxy, and it’s healthy and productive to be willing to engage with different points of view, even on this issue. I don’t personally identify with the Progressive movement theologically, but I can appreciate what they bring to the table, and how listening to their point of view enriches my own.

However, fundamentalists . . . don’t agree. There’s no “acceptable range.” There’s no productive discussion, there’s no other permissible view. There’s the fundamentalist understanding of inerrancy, which they consider as absolutely foundational to every other element of Christianity. They believe that without inerrancy, Christianity falls. Fundamentalists like Charles Ryrie complained that the Chicago Statement was not rigorous enough. He called for an understanding of inerrancy that included “unlimited inspiration,” and he goes one step forward:

“Some are willing to acknowledge that the concepts of the Bible are inspired but not the words. Supposedly this allows for an authoritative conceptual message to have been given, but using words that can in some instances be erroneous. The obvious fallacy in this view is this: how are concepts expressed? Through words. Change the words and you have changed the concepts. You cannot separate the two. In order for concepts to be inspired, it is imperative that the words that express them be also.”

To be fair, Ryrie goes on to describe mechanical dictation (the view of inerrancy where God gave the actual words to the writers) as a “caricature” of inerrancy, but he somehow fails to see that he just made an argument for mechanical dictation. He doesn’t seem to believe that the writers of the Bible were little more than stenographers, but he also believes that the words themselves cannot be changed, or inerrancy falls.

I have a Master’s degree in English, and I’m an editor– the study of words, communication, understanding, clarity, etc., are my business. And if there’s one thing I can tell you after grading hundreds of English 101 papers, is that our language is quite capable of expressing the same exact idea through different words. This actually has a name– it’s called “redundancy,” at least when a writer says the same exact thing a dozen different ways.

However, Ryrie’s idea is a visceral reaction against post-modernism. Jacques Derrida used the word différance to describe the “space between words.” As Derrida explained it, this “space” removes the ability of language to communicate any idea accurately– there is always a breakdown between the idea as it exists in the writer and how the reader ultimately understands the words the writer used to express that idea.

So, just like the first fundamentalists reacted against German higher criticism, fundamentalists like Charles Ryrie are reacting against post-modernism. Just like fundamentalists had to defend the Bible from anti-supernaturalism, now they have to defend the Bible from a post-modern understanding of différance. This reaction, as far as I can tell, always leads to a philosophical defense of mechanical dictation, whether or not the defender is aware of such a defense. Mechanical dictation, as an approach to inerrancy, is not a view typically accepted inside Protestant orthodoxy. But, it results from a fear that a post-modernist understanding of language will interfere in the ability of a reader to understand the “truths of the Bible.”

This is a problem for fundamentalists, because, by definition, fundamentalists believe that understanding and applying a universal understanding of Scripture is not just possible, but necessary. They adhere to what they believe are universal, essential, foundational truths regarding the Bible.

This is why, I believe, fundamentalism is a problem. I don’t think it always was– historically speaking, I agree with many of the elements found in The Fundamentals or concepts that were discussed in early 20th century conferences. However, because fundamentalism has continued reacting against new philosophies that they perceive as a “threat” to Christianity, they have become progressively more unyielding. Inerrancy can’t just mean “that Scripture is true in all that it teaches.”

Unfortunately, fundamentalism didn’t really stop at “unlimited inspiration”– today, they also adhere to biblical literalism. Because God didn’t just inspire the concepts, he also inspired the very words themselves, exactly how they appear, the only way to read and understand the Bible is by reading it literally. This is also coupled with the fundamentalist teaching regarding preservation.

Preservation, simply put, is the idea that God, in his sovereignty, kept the Bible intact and unaltered (with the exceptions of things like scribal error, misspellings, inaccurate renderings of numbers, etc). I tend to agree with this view, mostly because of things like the Dead Sea Scrolls– which weren’t discovered until 1946-56, and with Isaiah being dated at sometime at around 135-200 B.C. The Dead Sea Scrolls present compelling evidence for the integrity of the transmission, since the modern copy of the Old Testament (based on the Masoretic texts) barely differed at all.

However, fundamentalists take an extreme stance regarding preservation that affects their teachings in two major ways: first, they believe that everything that existed in the text as of 1611 also existed in the autographa, and that because God preserved His Word for us today, it is a living document that can be applied, literally, to modern practice.

The first teaching results in either a complete dismissal of the science of textual criticism or a fear and distrust of it. This is why many fundamentalists (but not all) are KJV-only, or Textus Receptus-only supporters. Many fundamentalists point to statements like “some of the earliest manuscripts do not include 16:9-20” concerning the finish to the Gospel of Mark, and decry that statement as heresy. The honest study of textual critics and historians have, for the majority, concluded that Mark 16:9-20 were added later. There are some scholars who disagree, but, I’ve read most of that research back in my KJV-only days, and I would describe it as “shabby research.” However, the teaching of preservation according to fundamentalists means that additions and deletions are not possible. Because, according to this teaching, if you can begin to suspect that anything in the Bible was not completely preserved, then the entire Bible falls into shadow. This is a result of the kind of false dichotomies and binaries that fundamentalists set up in their faith system. Many of these binaries are a result of over-simplification; having a faith system that integrates doubt, nuance, and complexity, is foreign to most of them.

The second result of preservation is a heresy known as biblical docetism. In a nut shell, they believe that God Preserved His Word for Us Today, and this results in frequently ignoring the intent of the human author, the historical context in which it was written, or how the original audience would have perceived it. These elements of hermeneutics don’t seem to matter, because the Bible is a divine book, divinely inspired, and divinely preserved. Along with biblical docetism, this frequently results, in more extreme fringes of fundamentalism, in a harsh patriocentric understanding of complementarian and hetero-normative gendered behavior, Dominionism (that God’s promises to the Israelites applies to modern America), and has been used to defend chattel slavery, sexism, classism, and racism.

This is why I moved away from fundamentalism and accepted Protestant orthodoxy and non-denominationalism. Fundamentalism started as something I could agree with, but it has morphed into a collection of beliefs that are rigid and unbending, and that demand total adherence and complete intellectual “certainty.”


open thread discussion on Christian fundamentalism


Before I get buried in talking about Christian fundamentalism in its modern context, I’d like to hear from my readers.

Many of you, I know, grew up in fundamentalism, but over the years have been distanced from it. You’ve found a different kind of faith, or spirituality, or maybe you’re not religious at all. What did fundamentalism mean to you when you were younger, and what does it mean to you now?

On the other hand, I know many of you grew up in it and still consider yourself a part of this movement. What do you find in fundamentalism that attracts you? What do you think they’re doing right?

I know that some of you are like my parents– you didn’t grow up in fundamentalism, but found it as an adult. What made it attractive to you? If you’re still a fundamentalist now, what are the best qualities you’ve found about it? If you’ve made the move away from fundamentalism, what about it prompted that move? Now that you’re away from it, what do you see about it now that you didn’t see while you were in the movement?

I hope you’ll join in with me as I try to figure this whole thing out. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing your thoughts in a comment, please feel free to e-mail me at:

And specify whether or not I can quote you and if you want to remain completely anonymous or use a handle.


definitions and a history lesson, part one


One of my good friends in undergrad was a pre-law major, so part of my “friend duties” (although I did not mind at all) was going to his Debates for moral support. I enjoyed most of them, since the topics they were discussing were all very interesting to me, and I was fascinated by the formality and discipline of their arguments. I’m not very good at hearing logical fallacies– I can see them when I’m reading, but I’m one of those trusting folks that like to listen to people talk in good faith. This has caused me no bit of trouble, in the past. But, the students participating in the debate were sharp, and articulate.

One of the things that I always enjoyed about formal debates was that both parties had an agreed-upon set of definitions regarding their topic, and if one of them introduced a new term they had to define it– and then stick to their definition.

This is . . . well, important. Especially when we’re talking about theology and religion, because there are so many terms floating around in Christian-ese, and these terms have fluid definitions depending on context and denomination. I can bandy around words like sacramental and incarnation— but these words have next to no importance for many Baptists, but they are integral to a Catholic understanding of the world.

One of the terms I use a lot around here is fundamentalist. Specifically, Christian fundamentalists. I know almost nothing about any other kind of fundamentalism, except what pop culture tells me, and I don’t exactly trust that.

Christian fundamentalism is something I’m intimately familiar with, although I will be honest and say that most of my exposure comes from Baptist fundamentalists, but other types of fundamentalists exist. I’ve interacted with Pentecostal fundamentalists and Methodist fundamentalists, and while there are nuances, as far as I can tell there’s not too much difference. For that reason, I’m comfortable with using the larger umbrella of “Christian fundamentalism.”

Many of my friends consider themselves fundamentalists. These people are incredibly important to me, and I value their friendship and their companionship deeply. However, the reason why I care about their friendship and work to maintain my relationship with them is that these people are also open-minded– they are willing to engage with differing points of view, even when we disagree about something. This is a character trait that I value extremely highly– in fact, if you demonstrate stubborn close-mindedness consistently in our conversations, we’re probably not going to be friends very long; either because I’ll piss you off, or because I find having a relationship with you frustrating.

I also need to make something extremely clear: there is a monumental, foundational difference between orthodoxy or theological conservatism and Christian fundamentalism.

I identify as an orthodox Protestant. I believe in the values of non-denominationalism. I find the rich heritage found in Catholicism deeply profound and beautiful, although I don’t agree with concepts like the magisterium or sola ecclesia (more modernly referred to as dual-source theory). I appreciate liturgy– and more spontaneous service structures. I enjoy exegetical, expository, and topical preaching, and believe that you need a balance of these. I believe in a fairly orthodox understanding of inspiration and inerrancy, although my intellectual understanding of these things is slightly more progressive than is traditionally considered orthodox.

In short, I live by in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.

And I think the world would be a better place if we lived by that mott0. It’s a theological Golden Rule, if you will.

For that reason, I can appreciate certain aspects of Christian fundamentalism– the ones that are in common with theological Protestant orthodoxy.

My appreciation ends there.

I believe in finding common ground with everyone, and I do have common ground with fundamentalists– I believe in the importance of the regula fidei, which is Latin for “rule of faith.” A simple definition of this would be that the regula fidei are “representational of the essential doctrinal and moral elements of the faith contained in Scripture.” The regula fidei are the early church’s summary of basic doctrines. These things are found in elements like the Apostle’s Creed. These, to me, are the essentials— the “fundamentals” of our faith, if you will.
However, what fundamentalists have traditionally defined as “fundamental” go so far outside these basic Gospel principles that they are almost inherently dangerous. To understand that, we need a history lesson.


It’s the turn of the 19th century in America, and there’s a few big things starting to happen. There’s the Industrial Revolution, the philosophical beginnings of post-modernism, and German higher criticism.

The Industrial Revolution, as nearly anyone can tell you, was pretty dang awful. Child labor, the cotton mills, North England, the Civil War, mechanization . . . not very much good came out of it. Hence why we have books like Oliver Twist and North and South and The Jungle. The Lord of the Rings has some fantastic imagery– I don’t think there’s a more epically awesome scene in all of literature than the Last March of the Ents.

Christians living through this time were aware of many of the societal horrors that were caused by industrialization, and so they started trying to help. This is the time when we start hearing about ideas like social justice and the social gospel. The YMCA and the YWCA both came out of a Christian desire to physically meet the needs of people suffering from the upheaval and chaos that occurred during this transitory period.

Modernism, and in about another 20 years, post-modernism, is really starting to appear at this point, too– it’s disseminating outside of academia and philosophy, and slowly starting to make its way into popular literature. Post-modernism defies definition, but, a reductionist and overly simplified definition could be that post-modernism is based on the “breakdown” of communication– post-modernism recognizes that their is an arbitrary relationship between words and what those words represent (known as signifier and the signified), and that the arbitrary nature of this relationship causes problems.

Lastly, you’ve got German Higher Criticism. On a very basic level, the “higher critics” took a strictly historical approach to the Bible– and they took issue with things like miracles and the Resurrection of Christ. Understandably, this led to some problems in Christianity. They’d never really had to face anyone raising serious objections to the Bible before– at least not like what they were hearing from the German critics.

There’s also things like Karl Marx and Charles Darwin and Sigmund Freud. They are important to this discussion, but if you aren’t familiar with these three… uhm . . . yeah, go read Origin of Species and Notes on James Mill and The Interpretation of Dreams and then come back.

Hopefully that lays some basic groundwork.

Now, out of all of these things (and many others, history is INSANELY COMPLEX), we have the birth of Christian Fundamentalism as a movement, and it all started with The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. This was a multi-volume set written in response to socialism, Darwinian evolutionary theory, German higher criticism, and other things. It’s basically a systematic theology written by almost a hundred different writers– many of whom I respect and admire greatly. On the whole, it’s not a bad thing to have around or read. With caution. This was, however, only the beginning.


I’d really like to make this a three-part series, with a breakdown of modern Christian fundamentalism to follow this one. For part three, I’d really like to have an “open thread” post– and I want to hear from you. I want to hear about your perspectives, your response. Do you come from a background of fundamentalism? Do you consider yourself a fundamentalist now? It would be incredible to hear what your thoughts are on fundamentalism. What do you think are basic elements and patterns in modern fundamentalism? If you’re not comfortable sharing your thoughts in comment form, you can e-mail me at:

In your e-mail, let me know if you mind if I quote you, and whether or not you want to remain completely anonymous or use a pseudonym.


learning to live with not knowing

no handles

The summer after my freshman year at a conservative Christian college was tumultuous, for a variety of reasons. My year away from the fundamentalist church-cult, while still not spent in a healthy spiritual environment, had given me a spark of identity. My life was still dominated by the teachings I had grown up with, but I started trying to spread my fledgling wings.

My relationship with my parents became strained as I began openly rebelling– I started back-talking my mother, something that had never been tolerated at any level. My innate know-it-all tendencies were even more pronounced; I started making ridiculous pronouncements and unsupportable sweeping statements just to voice a disagreement. We all had difficulty adjusting to my insistence that I was becoming an adult– looking back, the difficulty of this transition was exacerbated by the teachings about parent-child relationships that exist in fundamentalist churches. Children, in these churches, are not really considered independent people– they are very much described as the property of their parents: “an inheritance of the lord,” as “arrows in the hand.” We exist to be trained “in the way we should go,” to become the “Joshua generation.”

During this particular summer, my mother took my sister and I to visit her best friend in Texas. After almost eleven years at our church-cult, my family had been the target of a variety of attacks– my mother and me especially. The leader needed my father, and knew that my father had a strong desire to follow Christ. He took advantage of that, and he used my father’s generosity and loyalty to his own ends. This led to him focusing on silencing and disenfranchising me and my mother. Anytime my father had to work through church, the leader would bombard my mother with vicious attacks. Every time this happened, my father would confront him, and he would deny it– or promise not to let it happen again, and it would get better… for a little while.

So we went to Texas, in order for my mother to spend some time away while my father gave the leader yet another ultimatum. The week we spent in Texas was freeing for my mom– she spent a lot of time talking through things with her friend; after eleven years, this was really the first time that I understood what had been happening in our church– how deep the abuse went outside of what I had experienced. The silence of other victims was that profound. My father spoke with the leader while we were gone, extracted yet another promise, and we came back in time for church.

Nothing had changed. The second my father was gone, the leader preached his most vicious sermon, screaming it from the top of his lungs at times. When my father got home, my mother pulled him into their bedroom. I remember sitting on the sofa with my younger sister, listening to my mother plead with my father to leave the cult.

We left– and when we did, the leader excommunicated us. He forbade me from speaking to his daughter ever again, and he blamed my mother for “turning my father away from God.” When we had begun attending the church-cult, there was no sign that the leader was a narcissistic sociopath. He seduced my parents with the siren call of a life dedicated to holiness and righteousness- of dedicating themselves to being good parents– servants of the Lord. He convinced my mother she was insane. He persuaded my father that God needed him to be a part of the church-cult. The fact that we stayed as long as we did was not my parents’ fault. They were victims just as much as I was– even more so, in some ways. I don’t blame my parents for “keeping me” in the cult. I didn’t have a choice– and neither did they, not really.

I’ve forgiven them, completely. But I have to live with the consequences of what happened to all of us.

We began attending another church, and my mother began stretching boundaries and enjoying freedom and liberty. For my parents, who had entered the cult as adults, recovery was not easy– but it was straightforward. Once we were out, it was possible for them to return to the core of their faith. They had other churches, a lifetime of experiences for comparison.

I didn’t.

So, when my mom cut her hair and started wearing pants, my sister started watching Harry Potter, and my father ordered cable television, superficial as these things are… my world fell apart.

I had grown up believing in the principles espoused by fundamentalists. My parents, in their earnest desire to raise godly children, had unwittingly encouraged a lot of the internalization of various doctrines– like the inferiority of women, or that men are not responsible for their sin toward women. That, as a woman, I had no choice about the course of my life. That God did not love me, and was not interested in my desires or feelings.

For a year after this, I wanted absolutely nothing at all to do with God. I instinctively felt that if you took away the fundamentalist cult, all you would be left with is an empty structure without any truth left in it. I didn’t want to know a god who was only waiting up in heaven to strike me down. Reading the Bible became nearly impossible– because, to a fundamentalist, there is only one correct interpretation of a verse or passage– and after eleven years, nearly every passage in the Bible had a fundamentalist interpretation attached to it. I didn’t want to go to church anymore– any church I tried, I spent every single second of the service on guard, waiting for some massive boot to drop on my head and crush me.

There were two ideas that brought me back, slowly, inexorably. The first was a compelling argument– at least, for me. I didn’t know who God was, but I was compelled to believe that he existed. Intellectually, I had to be honest– just because I believed he existed didn’t at all define his nature. Maybe the deist system was right, maybe he existed as Allah, or maybe he could simply be the Uncaused Cause.

The second idea was the historically substantiated existence of Christ and his Resurrection. From the perspective of a historical scholar, we have more raw material– and not just the Bible– about the life of Jesus than we do about Alexander the Great. For me, this was an anchor. I don’t know about a lot of things. There are a of lot things I still struggle with, sometimes violently. But for me, I can accept that God exists, and Jesus exists. I can live my life with the motto “In essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity.” I don’t have to have every single last question hammered out in order to believe.

Today, I’m happy. I married a man who finds the fundamentalist religion I’m familiar with completely foreign. He grew up free to question– encouraged to doubt. I grew up with a false sense of certainty, and once it was removed everything else in my life was shaken.

Doubt, I’m learning, is the only healthy place for me to exist. I can have confidence, but certainty, as a fundamentalist would define it, is a dangerous place. I go to a church that is open to an exchange of ideas, and comfortable with tension. They focus, not on being “right,” but on helping the physical needs of our community. There’s no authoritarian leadership, no member roll– everyone pitches in, everyone helps. I’m comfortable here, where there’s no Church Constitution, where there’s no contracts or covenants. We try to live our life based on the Greatest Commandment– to love God, and to love our neighbor as our self.

And I’m learning to not just be “ok” with not knowing all of the answers– I can embrace not knowing. I want to live in a perpetual state of uncertainty, because as long as I’m searching for an answer, I think I’m closer to the truth.



spiritual abuse and how it shaped my identity

broken piano

My fundamentalist church-cult was incredibly small. I remember at one point counting around seventy people and thinking that it was a huge number. But, on average, we usually had around thirty or forty people regularly. At one point after my family finally got out, I sat down and made a list of all of the families the church-cult had hemorrhaged over the years we attended. I estimated over two hundred and fifty people– the church-cult had gained and lost seven church bodies in ten years.

I know many of their stories, now—have told a few of them, here. For one man, it was because the leader of the cult called his unbelieving wife a whore the single time she visited—in her nursing scrubs. She had come straight from work, and the “pastor” had called her a whore, to her face, because she was wearing pants. She died in a car accident a few weeks later.

When one family joined the church-cult, the leader invited himself for dinner, and when he arrived, sat at the head of the table—and told the husband and father that he’d sat in that chair for a reason—it was to show that he was the authority now.

One Sunday evening, the leader walked up to a woman who was grieving the loss of her mother to cancer, and screamed in her face during his sermon that she was giving Satan a way into his church by allowing demons to oppress her through her depression.

After a new couple joined the church, he told the newlywed husband that he had made a grave mistake by marrying a Chinese woman, but how it was now the husband’s responsibility to make sure his wife knew who was the head of the home.

I tell you these snatches to communicate the breadth of the spiritual abuse that happened. It was small, it was not well-connected. It was one church, one man, one insignificantly tiny congregation. Most of the people who came didn’t stay very long—but some of us did. My family was one of those who stayed, for reasons far to complicated to explain now, and because of that, I grew up in this environment—where a spiritually abusive pastor was the only kind I knew.

The spiritual abuse that was focused on me was integrally connected to my identity. The only significant part of my identity in this patriarchal and Quiverful-laden environment was that I was a woman.

However, I had something special: I was a talented pianist. I’d loved music since I was a baby, had started learning to play the piano when I was a toddler and by the time my family reached the influence of this abusive leader when I was ten, I was fairly accomplished. About a year after we joined, I was capable of becoming the church’s pianist. I also began accompanying the Ladies Chorus, who sang every other week. I absolutely loved it. I loved practicing for offertories. I loved coming up with arrangements of hymns for the Chorus. I loved improvising during the “invitation,” coming up with a new way to play every verse of “Just As I Am”—no matter how many verses we sang.

Slowly, so slowly no one in my family noticed what was happening, the church-cult and its leader took over our lives. My mother has an angelic voice, so she was frequently called upon to sing “specials.” I would play for her, and I appreciated all the attention we got and the praise the leader heaped on us. At one point when I was about twelve or thirteen, though, the leader started calling our house late Saturday night and telling my mother that he “wanted” her to sing in the morning. Sometimes these calls came so late at night that mom had to drag me out of bed so we could practice. These late-night practice sessions, at first, started off fairly well. I was excited—I felt honored that the leader had felt “moved by the Spirit” for us to perform in the morning. Over time, though, resentment grew. I didn’t want to stay up until two or three in the morning to perfect a brand-new arrangement. Me and my mother started fighting, and at one point I told her to tell the leader of the cult no—I was not putting on a “special” in the morning with no notice. If he wanted us to sing, he should have called earlier.

She agreed—but the next morning, the leader came to me and told me, in no uncertain terms, that I was never to refuse him again—because I wasn’t really refusing him, I was refusing God. It terrified me, and made it absolutely clear that telling the leader “no” was a sin. The only thing I could offer God, as a woman, was my talent as a pianist– to deliberately withhold that ability, regardless of my feelings, was the rankest sin.

Every year our church hosted a “revival.” Over the years it became incredibly obvious to me that the leader of our church-cult told the guest evangelist of “problem members” and their “sin”—and the evangelist would target them. Supposedly, being an “outsider,” we were supposed to receive his rants as “divine revelation.” One evangelist came more than any other, and his son, Jason*, a talented musician, usually came with him.

When I was fifteen, the Ladies Chorus sang during one of these revivals, and after the service was over a few of the teenagers were talking around the piano. Jason sat down at the piano, and began sarcastically mimicking my arrangement for the song; he openly mocked its simplicity, which he dismissed as “easy” and “child’s play.” My fifteen-year-old ego was devastated, so the very next night when Jason walked me to an unlit area behind the church, I went with him willingly, happy he was being nice to me. He assaulted me, ignoring my weak attempts to stop him. When I tried to tell the pastor’s wife and daughter about what had happened, they dismissed me, telling me to “quit being so jealous because he was a better pianist than me.” I needed to surrender my pride and accept that men are just naturally more gifted, and I shouldn’t object to that.

As I got older, playing for the congregational singing became excruciatingly painful. Part of it was the church’s spinet piano—it wasn’t capable of producing enough sound, so I had to practically beat on it for it to make enough noise. My grandfather knew how much I loved playing, so he donated enough money for the church-cult to buy a new piano. The leader took me along to the music store for my opinion—which he proceeded to completely ignore. He decided to purchase a “student” piano—a piano that I was incapable of playing with my wrists and arms in the condition they were. After a few weeks of trying to play but then having to wrap my arms in ice packs to dull the pain, my mother took me to the doctor. I had tendonitis, and if I continued playing the piano I might need to have surgery.

My father told the leader that I wouldn’t be able to play for church anymore. It was a phone conversation, and I remember sitting at the kitchen table, listening to my father argue with the leader, with me listening and sobbing. Losing the ability to play for church was devastating, and for years after this I often attributed my feelings to pride. I believed that I was just upset about losing the spotlight, about not being able to show off anymore. Now, after healing some from these wounds, I can see what was really happening. My existence had been reduced down to whether or not I could play the piano. Everything about who I was in that environment was tied to my talent. The only thing I could possibly bring to God was my music. The only way I could serve him in church was through the piano. The only way I had any value as a human being was tied to this ability– because, as a woman, I had nothing else. A woman is not allowed to speak, for it is a shame unto her. A woman is not allowed to question. A woman is not capable of leadership. A woman cannot hold responsibilities, because she is innately untrustworthy. The only thing I had access to in this system was music. When I lost that, I lost everything.

After I stopped playing for church, I went into physical therapy for almost a year. It was a painful road back to health– although no one ever fully recovers from tendonitis. It plagues me every day– wrist braces, ice packs, and plenty of Advil are always within easy reach. My mother also found a new piano teacher that could work within my limits and focus on healing my body so I could keep playing. Both of these allowed me to practice, but I literally had to start from scratch. I was playing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” for months in order to re-learn my technique.

About six months into this process, the leader’s wife approached me in the parking lot. She took both of my hands in hers and looked me directly in the eyes. “Samantha, I’m frightened for you,” she began. “Christina* says that you’re still talking piano lessons.” I nodded my head solemnly. “Why aren’t you playing for church, then?” I tried to explain, haltingly, trying to tell her how much pain it caused, but she interrupted me. “No, no– you don’t understand. If you keep on playing the piano, but you don’t use your talent to glorify God, he will take it away from you. If you think that God will let your rebellion go unpunished . . . God will not be mocked, and you can’t serve God and mammon. You know that. You need to repent and come back to God– you need to be willing to play for Him, even if it causes you pain.” Again, I tried to explain that I was trying to preserve my talent, to make sure I could physically be able to play in the future. She just put her hand on my head and told me to remember what she had said when one day I woke up and God had taken it all away.

The terror crept in. I was sinning. I was being selfish. How dare I to presume to know more than God. I wasn’t trusting him to heal my wrists– I was depending on my own might, my own power. The arrogance. But my parents wisely forbade me from trying to play the piano in church again.

A few months later, my uncle died. My parents and grandfather left to take care of the funeral and the estate, leaving me and my sister behind in the care of one of the leader’s daughters. The Sunday morning while they were gone, the leader gave a message on the Parable of the Talents. Halfway into the sermon, he launched into one of his “illustrations.” I will never forget his words.

“There is a young lady, right here, sitting in this church service. She has a prodigious talent for music, and has used that talent here, in this church, to bring glory to God, as is her duty. But now– oh, now, she is being stubborn. She faced one solitary, tiny, easy little trial, and at the first sign of hardship, she gave up. She turned her back on God– and now she is open rebellion before Him. She has decided to put herself first. She’s decided that she is so much more important than any of us. Oh, she’s better than us. She wants to make sure she can become some famous musician and leave anything truly important behind her. She has forsaken the worship of a Holy and Righteous God, and she better look out, because he’s going to come for her. One day, she’s going to wake up and God will have reduced her to nothing. She thinks this talent is hers, to do whatever she wants with it? She’s wrong, and she will face the consequences.”

To this day, thinking about those words immobilizes me. I want to disappear, to melt away, to run and hide. While he was ferociously screaming down at us from the pulpit, I remember desperately trying not to look at anyone or anything– it felt like I had gotten the wind knocked out of me. I remember looking to my right and seeing one of the married woman scoot further away from me, and looking across the aisle to see faces turning around, craning their necks to get a look at me.

I got home, picked up the phone, hid in my mother’s closet, and called my parents. They were horrified– but not surprised. He had done this before. He had done this so many times before. When they came home, me and my father went to the leader to confront him. Oh, no, he said– I had misunderstood him. I had mistaken him. He hadn’t been talking about me at all– it was very clearly intended for someone else.

He looked me straight in the eyes and lied to me. Lied to my father. He said I was too young and immature to really understand his true meaning. After all, and he laughed a little bit, how can you expect a girl to really understand anything?

That was the moment that I left that cult. My family didn’t leave it for another four years, but I stopped being present. I began ignoring everything the leader said. I took up journaling and writing during the church service– under the pretext of “taking notes.”

But, in many ways . . . it was too late. The spiritual abuse I had endured for years had their result. I became afraid of stepping inside a church building. I cringed at common passages and phrases. And I was trapped inside a system that told me I was worthless. That I was less than any other human being. I had no power, I had no voice. Any ability to make choices for myself was gone, scrubbed away by a fundamentalist indoctrination.


uphill battles and feeling like Sisyphus


I went to my county library’s “MEGA Book Sale!!!” (at least, that’s what they called it in the e-mail I got), and I came home with a trunk load full of books. Not an exaggeration. We were worried that we wouldn’t be able to fit them all. They did, with some finagling. I joked that we should have brought my station wagon and gone back for more.

We spent most of our time browsing the non-fiction section, as I’m one of those types that eagerly anticipates the release of my sci-fi/fantasy novels and buys them as soon as they come out, so most of the time I’m good for fiction (although I did look for Tamora Pierce and the Abhorsen books . . . no luck, Hilary and Little Magpie– but I will keep looking!). My husband is obsessed— still not an exaggeration– with fighter pilot books. So non-fiction is where it’s at, for us.

I nabbed some real finds– Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegitable, Miracle, which I’ve been looking for, and Reading Lolita in Tehran, which sounds like it should be a fascinating read. I eventually wandered over to the Religion and Philosophy section, which was pretty much the entire back corner. I was hoping to find a few of the great philosophers’ works– I’m dying to get my hands on Kierkegaard, and I loved reading Kant in grad school but didn’t really have the time to really dedicate myself to understanding him.

Sadly, the “Religion and Philosophy” section was really just the Religion section, and even books representing religions besides Christianity were scarce. They had piles and piles of Billy Graham books. Max Lucado books were scattered everywhere. I found three separate stacks of Joel Osteen’s books. Joyce Meyer’s face grinned up at me every few feet. I picked up a book whose title intrigued me and set it down because Rob Bell was one of the authors.

I barely glanced at them.

And not because they weren’t what I was looking for. Not because “inspirational” books aren’t really my speed.

It was because I instinctively did not trust them.

And not because I’d read them before and decided I didn’t agree with their theology. Not because I was familiar with their writing style and didn’t care for it. Not because I knew anything about these men and women.

It was because I had been taught that these writers are wrong. These writers have purposely dedicated themselves to destroying the “true Christian faith.” They are liberal. They accepted and encouraged corruption in their theology. They’re extremists. They’re wolves in sheep’s clothing.

Without even realizing it, I completely disregarded five leading authors simply because of what I’d been taught. Not because of facts, or research. Not through personal discovery. Not because I’d had an open mind at one point and decided I didn’t much care for them.

That process was completely preempted by my indoctrination. What I’d been instructed in the course of being taught “discernment” over-rode my ability to make a conscious decision. I didn’t even realize that this was happening until hours after I got home.

This frightens me, sometimes. I worry about where else this is happening in my life– sometimes, my indoctrination feels like it’s slapping me in the face because, in the middle of a simple, rational discussion I become intensely emotional when I realize the ground has fallen out from underneath me. I frequently find that whatever I’d been “arguing” for had no rational support whatsoever, but it was the only thing I’d ever been taught, and I had been taught to cling to it. I automatically clutch my indoctrination harder when it’s challenged and defend it vociferously . . . only to later realize that what I’d been defending was absolutely horrifying.

This is why my journey is so important to me– because I feel like the inside of my head is a minefield. But, I’m routinely going through as many things as I can– reading and researching and talking and writing– and sometimes, a mine explodes. I’ll cry, or I’ll get so angry I’ll storm out of the room . . . but it will pass, and then I’ll have a gaping, scorched hole in the ground to fill in with soil. And I’ll make sure to replace it with something worthwhile– sometimes, that’s a simple “I don’t know.”


the dangers of biblical counseling, part three


[This is part three of a series. Here are parts one and two.]

I graduated from my fundamentalist college, and because of my circumstances really had no other option but to move back in with my parents. They had moved halfway across the country, so coming back to my parents, in some ways, wasn’t really coming “home.” As a military brat, though, I’d learned to adapt quickly so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They had found a new church– this time, there was nothing fundamentalist about it, although still conservative Baptist. During the summers, the church holds a variety of “classes” on Wednesday night, and the summer after my graduation they began a class that was an introduction to NANC– the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (Nouthetic being just another word for biblical). NANC is one of the largest associations of biblical counselors, but they are primarily a certification program for pastors and laymen– one that they claim is “attainable for even the busiest pastor.”

However, NANC makes it supremely clear that in order to be certified, it is important for you to confirm that “your personal theological views and those of your church align with NANC’s views.” It became clear to me very quickly why this was so important to them– while NANC is not as bad as many of the other associations as far as their relationship with psychology is concerned, the certification program is really more of a theology course than anything else. And one of the elements about theology they emphasize is how vital it is to have a “correct” theology.

And that is where NANC and I part ways. Because I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “correct” theology among men. There are a plethora of systematic theologies that have been developed by individuals or by denominations– and every single last one of them disagrees with another. I believe that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and while it is a Christian’s duty to “rightly handle the word of truth,” I don’t think that forming a “correct” systematic theology is possible. There is orthodoxy, and I think that’s as close as we can possibly get. When it comes to theology, especially, the ancient motto of “in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity” should be our north star.

Yesterday, when I was trying to explain to my husband why fundamentalists despise psychology so much, I realized that there are two underlying reasons:

1) Fundamentalists believe, to their core, that they have the “right” theology. This is even evidenced by their name.
2) Fundamentalists distrust and despise “humanism” and “secularism,” which they define as false, man-made religions. I was taught that even humanists think that their belief is a religion– they use the opening paragraph of the Humanist Manifesto I to prove their point.

Like most faith systems, fundamentalism is a vast network of ideas that are linked and interwoven. It’s difficult to try to pick it apart, so if I miss something, please feel free to point it out in a comment.

Fundamentalism is essentially reactionary and fear-based, and one of the biggest things they fear is science. They’ll deny that until they’re blue in the face, claiming that it’s not science they don’t like, it’s metaphysical naturalism, but they also argue that modern science is inherently naturalistic, so . . . Basically, it goes like this: fundamentalists argue that modern science is based on neo-Darwinian evolution,  and they also argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is false to the highest degree. Evolution teaches that mankind is not created in the image of God, we’re just one step above the animals. This leads science to ignoring one basic, “fundamental” truth about human beings: that we are born with a sin nature.

Therefore, anything that springs from this naturalist view of the world must be wholly wrong. This include ideas like empowerment, personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and even happiness. They believe that everything in modern psychiatry and psychology is based on Freud, who they refer to as a “perverted drug-addict.” They put blinders on and refuse to acknowledge that most (with extremely rare exceptions, but I’m not a psych student, so I can’t be absolute) modern psychologists parted ways from Freud decades ago. Modern psychology ignores the need for “repentance,” they say. They teach and believe that nearly anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is actively destroying our nation’s “Christian principles”– like marriage:

How many marriages have been weakened or “put asunder” in the name of helping achieve empowerment or personal fulfillment? Where is their absolute stand for the foreverness of marriage and family as required by God’s holy Word? Where do such christian psychologist’s get the authority to justify encouraging divorce on the basis of abuse allegations or spousal misconduct? Why do they ignore the covenant aspect of the marriage institution? Have they forgotten that these sacred institutions of marriage and family are not secular but were ordained by God and are not to be put asunder? [emphasis added]

Many people, including those involved with A Cry For Justice, talk about how many Christians over-emphasize the importance of marriage, even in the face of abuse. Leading fundamentalist leaders, like the Perls, advocate that a woman “submit” to her husband in nearly any situation, although they don’t outright encourage staying in an abusive marriage (which, in reality, is a moot point, but I’m trying to be fair). This idea has even trickled down into mainstream contemporary Christian fiction. But fundamentalists don’t just imply this– they are overtly explicit on this point: there is never a good reason for a divorce. You can “separate” from an abusive spouse, but you are not allowed to legally divorce that person, no matter what danger that might pose to you or or your children. Because of this belief, every single fundamentalist I know will tell you to seek biblical counseling– because “secular” and “humanist” psychologists will not prioritize your marriage over your health and safety.

However, the fundamentalist approach to psychology also completely dismisses things like “repressed memories.” Now, there is still debate regarding the validity of repressed memories, even in non-Christian circles, but fundamentalists in their fervor extend this dismissal to completely valid psychological events, like dissociation  in PTSD, or the incredibly common and well-documented feeling of sexual abuse survivors, especially children, feeling “outside their body,” as if the abuse was “happening to someone else.”

Many in the church today have accepted a psychologized gospel in place of the biblical gospel. It has gotten so bad that preachers in some churches are even hiding out the adult daughters that have falsely accused their Christian parents of abuse, some of whom are preachers themselves and active in their faith. Brethren, this should not be!

How does it lift the cause of our Lord to support questionable abuse victims who testimony is based on delayed recall and without the necessary two witnesses, slandering parents in ways which defy the biblical principle decreeing honor for both our father and mother? Parents who have been given authority over us by the Lord cannot be rebelled against simply because they fail in their duties. All authority is really God’s authority and because it is, dire personal consequences attach to those who show that authority such rebellion and disrespect. [emphasis added]

I should take a moment here to make something blindingly clear: this is not a rare teaching. This horrifying idea is deeply entrenched in fundamentalist teachings about psychology. Because they dismiss “repressed memories” and “delayed recall,” this leads them to dismiss the claims of adult abuse victims who have never had the opportunity to speak out against their abuser. They tell children that they simply cannot be abused by their parents, and if they think they’re being abused, they should just be grateful for their parents “disciplining them.”

The “sufficiency of Scripture” comes into play, and to many fundamentalists, this extends to the notion that “if it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t exist” (my inner Star Wars geek is hearing the Temple librarian, Jocasta Nu, tell Obi-Wan that “if it is not in our records, it does not exist.” And, yes… I knew all of that off the top of my head).

Search the scriptures and compare your psychology to the life of Christ. Did Jesus Christ practise any psychology when he drove out demons and healed the sick? Did he use psychology to explain sin? Not likely and the bible does say whom we are suppose to follow as Christians. Jesus said come and follow me. He warned his followers and his followers warned others of false teachings to be aware of them. See if you can find any thing in scripture that pertains to psychology. You won’t find any thing that speaks for it because if you study the scriptures the word of God maintains that we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all shall be added unto us”. That means that God will give us the Spiritual Gifts that we need to reach out to others.

Just . . . so much . . . ugh. Again, solo scriptura takes over freedom and liberty, and confines fundamentalist to a narrow understanding of reality. The teaching that the “sufficiency of Scripture” extends to every single area of our life — and that we are forbidden from going “outside of Scripture” for answers. There is nothing we need that cannot be found in the Bible– going out “into the world” for help is sinful.

Another area of fundamentalist teaching I’ve talked about before. It’s the concept of dualism– the view that the physical realm is evil, but the spiritual realm is good. This leads to a disconnect between our minds and our bodies to a fundamentalist– the idea that our mind can affect our bodies, but our bodies cannot affect our mind. We can get ulcers from being stressed, but getting ulcers doesn’t cause stress. Our mental “strongholds” can give us bi-polor disorder, which can in turn be reflected in chemical imbalances, but chemical imbalances are not the cause of bi-polar disorder. It’s not a two-way street, to a fundamentalist.

Which is just crazy.

All of this is bat-shit insane, in fact. And absolutely terrifying. Teachings like this come to fruition in places like Sovereign Grace Ministries, or Mars Hill, or Calvary Chapel, or Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Bob Jones University.

If there is anything else that you’ve experienced in fundamentalist– or even just plain evangelicalism– please share. I can in no way be exhaustive, but this is an important area of teaching that the church needs an immense amount of healing.


the dangers of biblical counseling, part two


[This is part two in a series. You can read part one here.]

Like most teenage girls, I did a smattering of baby sitting. There were only a few families in our fundamentalist church-cult who had young children, and most of the babysitting opportunities went to the pastor’s daughters, but I did, occasionally get my chance. One of the ladies that I baby sat for with any frequency was Laura*. Most of the time, with other families, I baby sat for “date night,” but when I baby sat for Laura it was often in the middle of the day. She would call and ask if I could come over, and then she would go out. Sometimes, she would work on getting house work done while I watched the kids. Other times, she would go into her bedroom and shut the door for a few hours.

She never asked the pastor’s daughters to baby sit. I didn’t really understand why, but I loved her kids so I never asked.

One afternoon she was visiting with my mom while I entertained the kids in the living room, and I overheard snatches of their conversation. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term bi-polar, and I had no idea what it meant. From context, I understood it to be some sort of mental . . . thing. I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about things like disability or illness. She had gone to the leader of our cult about her struggles, and he had told her to go off her medication. I remember that she started to cry at this point, telling my mom that she had gone off her medication, but it had made everything so much harder. She didn’t know how to cope, and she wanted to go back on her meds– she asked my mom what she should do. She was confused, distraught– she wanted to do the “right thing,” but she didn’t really think that her bi-polar disorder was sin in her life she hadn’t dealt with. She’d been divorced and re-married– was God punishing her for that?

My mom has never been one for giving advice– she listens, and tries to empower people to make their own decisions. It’s one of the most beautiful things about my mother, that she never gave in to the culture of elder women “teaching” the younger– in reality, giving younger women a legalistic, formulaic list. She listened to Laura, and eventually Laura decided to go back on her meds– for her own sanity.

Laura did go back on her meds. Somehow, the leader of our cult found out about it, and within a matter of weeks Laura and her family were gone.


My junior year in college I took a class called Educational Psychology– which, I found out later, was only called that so that students who graduated with an education degree could try to get a teaching license. In reality, the focus of the class was only on summarizing the history of educational psychology and giving hundreds of reasons why all the teaching methods based on psychology were hideously, perniciously wrong. Their answer to “psychology in the classroom” was just to mete out more punishments. The only project I had to do for the class was write a paper explaining my “philosophy of classroom discipline.”

The main textbook for the class was, unsurprisingly, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. I read it, and to my shame swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. At this point in my life, my mother had decided to seek counseling for depression. They had just moved across the country, and she was still deeply struggling with the ramifications of being viciously attacked in our church-cult for years. She told me this right after I’d finished reading this book, and in a fit of anxiety I told her to make sure she found a biblical counselor, and not to go to someone with a secular degree. They couldn’t help you– they’ll only make the problem worse.

The book’s jacket description is fairly vague, offering a bunch of different questions that are representative of various viewpoints. But, here’s some of the positive reviews from goodreads:

A must read for ANY Christian. It truly explains how psychology has NO business in the church or the lives of Christians and confirms completely that God’s Word alone is sufficient to help us with all of our supposed “mental health” issues. Sin needs to be called sins, not diseases.

I just love that mental health is in quotation marks.

I had to read this book for the first Biblical Counseling class I took, and it really influenced the way I looked at psychology. I had always sort of distrusted much of psychology, but this book opened my eyes to specific ways in which it is unbiblical. It also pointed out areas where it has crept into the church, to our great detriment.

From anecdotal experience and what I’ve been told, this book shows up in a lot of counseling/psychology classes at evangelical colleges, even ones that are more “liberal” than the fundamentalist college I attended. Here’s another review from amazon:

This is an eye-opener. Dr. Ed Bulkley has written a book that should be read and taught in every ministry training school, or church. As a devoted student of God’s word, I have always approached secular psychology with an air caution. Now, I have greater reason and sound documentation to remain cautious.

The overarching theme of the book that is painstakingly clear is that “psychology is unbiblical and dangerous,” and from the fact that most of the reviews were positive, most readers seem to think that this opinion is just fine and dandy. Most of the reviews reflect one simple principle:

The Bible is all we need for life.

This perspective actually has a name: solo scripturaThis theological position is different from the typical Protestant orthodox view of sola scriptura. Solo scriptura is very, very common among fundamentalists. They reject the regula fidei, they reject any notion of the creeds. They have no need to pay attention to the church fathers, or even modern, respected theologians and apologeticists. If they even acknowledge the existence of men like Clement, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Lewis, or Schaeffer, they are as passing references and treated with an extreme amount of suspicion– especially the early church fathers, who are perceived as being “Catholic.” Reason and emotion are swept aside– the only thing the matters is the Bible.

This results in a complete dismissal of the validity of things like mental illness, mental disorders, and depression. These things become nothing more than “sin problems.” Much like Job’s friends, fundamentalists view any sort of mental problem as being strictly a matter of the person not being “right with God.” You’re not really struggling with depression– you’re just bitter. You aren’t ADD– you just weren’t spanked enough as a child. You’re not bi-polar, you lack temperance and are prideful. You just need to get over yourself and learn some self-control. Or, among hardcore fundamentalists, sometimes mental illness (especially schizophrenia) isn’t a matter of sin– you’re demon possessed. Most commonly, you’ve let Satan build a “stronghold” in your life.

I believed all of these things. I pontificated about how ADD and ADHD are over-diagnosed and these kids are just a bunch of stubborn, willful, spoiled rotten brats. I believed that depression was simply a lack of self-control, and if those pansies just sucked it up and dealt with their bad feelings like a grown-up, no one would have a problem. I dismissed things like “chemical imbalances” wholesale. Rolled my eyes at PTSD. Scorned medication as merely a patch on a deeper soul problem.

While I was in the grip of these beliefs, I could not see anything in my life clearly. I struggled with mild panic attacks and depression– but they only confused me. I had no idea what was happening– nausea could stay on me for days, and I lost 30 pounds over the course of a few months. My heart would start to feel like it was about to explode, and even though it frightened me, I had no resources to understand it. All I ever wanted to do was sleep, and it took mountains of effort to even communicate with someone. Just a few words could be exhausting, at times. I felt sick, tired, and achy every single day. I was only suicidal once, but I very dangerously dismissed those thoughts as insignificant. A friend who knew better than me asked me to give her all of my prescription pain relievers– and I did, but I felt silly and idiotic for doing it.

But, I had no idea that these are textbook symptoms of depression. And because I had been robbed of the ability to identify these things, I couldn’t even see that I had a problem. This was just life now.