We all know fundamentalists, but most of us would never admit to being one.
Truth is, I’m a recovering fundie. I was baptized in a particularly conservative church and believed that somehow I’d been fortunate enough to be baptized into a congregation that was right about everything—lucky me.
Someone recently asked me to define the word “Fundamentalist” because they’d heard it used so often, but she’d never heard a good definition. I came up with this:
Fundamentalists reduce the complexity of life into an overly simplistic equation based on an unswerving commitment to truths they’ve been taught and never bothered to question.
When I get into discussions with fundamentalists about the gospels, there are five things about Jesus I’m always surprised we disagree on:
1. Jesus conflicted with people who thought they knew it all
I sat in a church service a short time ago where a visiting pastor casually dropped the words “retards” and “homos” during his passionate homily against sinners (and liberals). My eyes welled up with hot, angry tears during this “sermon.”
In discussing it with him later, he assured me that, not only was his fervor acceptable, he was following Jesus’ example. “Didn’t Jesus turn over tables? Didn’t Jesus call out woes upon individuals who were in the wrong?”
I guess you can say that. But we need to remember that when he did it was in conflict with a religious culture that:
- spared no expense or effort in proselytizing but only churned out more unspiritual hypocrites (Matt. 23:15)
- focused on the letter of the law but ignored mercy, justice, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23)
- excelled in appearing religious while having hearts that were far from God (Matt. 23:25)
- adored the perks that came with their positions (Luke 11:43)
I think the self-righteous posture displayed by many in today’s religious community mirror the very attitudes that Jesus raged against. You can’t invoke Jesus’s flipping of tables in the temple if you’re a money changer,
2. Jesus was gracious to a fault with sinners
There was a scandal of grace that surrounded Jesus. The kingdom he ushered in was one that was infinitely too inclusive for the Pharisees’ taste. Not only did he tell crazy stories where the heroes were people the Jews hated (Luke 10:30–37), he treated women from those cultures with greater kindness and respect than Pharisees even showed their own women (John 4:7–26).
Jesus came to be known as a friend of sinners, tax collectors, and prostitutes, and the religious community tried to discredit him by calling him a drunk and a glutton (Luke 7:33–34).
If I learn anything from Jesus it’s this, you aren’t made more righteous by your hatred of people you define as “sinners”—quite the opposite.
3. Jesus made service the standard for his followers
“The kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
This is the message that Jesus proclaimed everywhere, and his message was accompanied by healing the sick and confronting the demonized. I think it’s wrongheaded to assume that the good he did was just to validate his message. I think that the kingdom of God will always be demonstrated by the goodness of its citizens, and the kindness experienced by everyone in its shadows.
Jesus took his disciples to task when they were requesting (through their mother) places of honor in his kingdom. He told them exactly what was most honored in God’s kingdom and it wasn’t:
- scriptural knowledge
- theological acumen
- political power
It was simply this:
“. . . whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:26–28
I would give anything if Christians were trying to outdo each other in their service.
4. Jesus promised his followers would be despised
When I hear Christians complain about not having a political or social platform for their agendas, it confuses me. The way some go on and on about the persecution they suffer at the hands of the liberal media or any other imagined boogeyman is insane for two reasons:
- When people disagree with you, vote down your bill, or don’t give you airtime, it isn’t persecution.
- Jesus promised his followers would be persecuted so, even if these things did count as persecution, why would you be surprised?
In Matthew 10, Jesus tells us that we, his disciples, are not greater than he is. If he is maligned and called the devil for the good he does, what kind of treatment can we expect?
We really shouldn’t be surprised when we’re mistreated. But if we’re maligned and abused let’s make it because of our proximity to Christ—and not because we’re self-righteous and obnoxious.
5. Jesus valued the poor
I cannot say this strongly enough. Jesus’ words and parables about the poor are so strong and unnuanced that it would be easy to for a listener to walk away thinking that their salvation stands or falls on this one issue. There are very few issues that Jesus discussed with such pointed zeal.
Whether it’s the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matt. 25:31–46) or the discussion of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16:19–31), one could easily be left thinking that Jesus favors the poor. These sorts of words come so frequently from him that we place ourselves in jeopardy when we ignore or bury them under a mountain of theological justification.
To dismiss taking care of the least of these as “social gospel” places us in an insanely precarious position.
What characteristics or teachings of Jesus do you think are ignored? Leave me a comment.