Like many of you, I grew up in Fundamentalist traditions, specifically, Independent Fundamental Baptist traditions that are prevalent in the Southern Appalachians. You and I can recall the days when the pulpit was hot with topics like the evils of alcohol, rock n roll, and the movies. For me, it seems like a distant dream…a bad one.
If you are reading this article though, you have probably moved on from that expression of Christianity. More than likely you’ve assimilated into an Evangelical Church, and your past is a part of your personal history that you have learned a great deal from but are determined not to repeat.
Part of that resolve has come from the experience that many of us had in leaving the church. Many people who are now in the game of apologetics represent the very statistics that we preach to our new churches. We were the 80% that left after high school and by the grace of God we are the 35% that came back after marriage and children. We still have the bad taste in our mouths that our former traditions left when we realized the gross neglect of grace and the focus on the law that they so vehemently preached but so vulgarly read into the Scripture.
More than likely you are stalwartly opposed to legalism. It may have been the very inconsistency that drove you away from church. After your parents gave you the okay to live freely, you shed yourself of the chains that you knew held you down deceptively and the message that the Bible was a book of do’s and don’ts was the first to go.
Furthermore, the accusations of the self-righteous folks who remained but tried to explain you away as if you were some heathen opened your eyes to even more hypocrisy. “Have these people ever heard of grace?” might have been your response. The answer may have been, no.
It’s been several years since I experienced my departure from church. I can actually say it is a miracle of God’s grace that I returned, and let’s just say that I was generous in my former illustrations about leaving fundamentalism. Your experience may have been even worse.
There is one mistake made by those people who judged me as unchristian when I left that I have been resolute not to repeat, though. I will not judge those who confess Christ as unregenerate merely because they have left the church, “because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, ESV)
So if I am willing to admit that about Christians who have left the church, how much more should I be willing to give the same consideration to those who remain in fundamentalist traditions, even though grace is clouded by their fear of freedom? How much of my antipathy to fundamentalism should I be willing to set aside for the sake of my compassion for fundamentalists, especially their young people?
You see, although I have left that tradition far in the past, and although I see some of the legalism associated with IFB traditions, I have a great passion for the people who remain there. They are my people. More importantly, they are God’s people.
My worry is that apologetics is leaving fundamentalist young people behind.
Here’s the rub. They may not want our help.
An important piece of the fundamentalism puzzle is the intrinsic mistrust of anything outside of itself. It is that very mistrust that gave birth to the fundamentalist movement in the first place.
In reaction to liberal theology, Christians withdrew into their own subculture. “We are in the world, not a part of it”, was their anti-battle cry. Soon, not only liberal churches couldn’t be trusted, in their minds no other church could be trusted. Becoming so self-extracted from the world inherently breeds mistrust and that attitude gave birth to the independent church movement. It is also the reason that it will be so difficult to convince IFB churches to implement apologetics programs.
But, I only see this difficulty as a potential bump in the road for those of us interested in apologetics in small churches and an almost non-existent problem for the God who both governs them and us. To those of us who love small churches and understand the dynamics of rural American theology, there may be opportunities others who are outsiders may not enjoy, and the God who knew our very paths before we traveled them gives us both the desire and the means to serve his Church, no matter how it is expressed. The question is of course, what are the means?
If we have a love for the Church of the Living God, and we understand that to include Fundamentalists, then what will we do to insure that apologetics won’t leave Fundamentalist kids behind?
The question I leave to you is this, will apologetics leave fundamentalist kids behind?