That may seem like an odd title. My friends and colleagues in religious studies will think immediately of an entire host of fundamentalist errors. I’m thinking, however, of George Marsden’s description of a fundamentalist with reference to David Bebbington’s four-fold definition of an evangelical.
Bebbington claims that four features constitute an evangelical: Biblicism, cruci-centrism, conversionism, and activism. I’ve heard Marsden say a few times that in addition to these, a fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry.
This is the error I have in mind.
The fundamentalist error is the assumption that when the Christian faith is seriously threatened, one has the prerogative to be violent.
It is the assumption that at critical moments the best way to defend the Christian faith is to betray it. The most effective way to advance the cause of Christ is to disobey his commands. It is the conviction that James is wrong when he says that “the anger of man does not bring about the righteousness of God” (James 1:20).
The underlying assumption is that one’s own thoughts are indeed God’s thoughts, one’s own cause is God’s cause. This divine alliance gives one leave from mundane obedience in order to bring about God’s purposes.
In the normal ebb and flow of life it is good to be kind and compassionate, to speak words of life and grace, to resolve conflicts and deal with anger, to forgive one another and learn habits of cruciform love, and to reconcile with one another.
But when I feel that the stakes have been raised, all of that goes out the window and I have special permission from God to demonize a brother in Christ, to accuse a sister of evil motives, to slander someone’s reputation, to pronounce them outside the faith, to mock a person made in the image of God.
Confessing Christians have committed this error very publicly and it is a profound grief.
It is sinful behavior. It is unfaithfulness to God, a lack of faith in Christian realities.
Anyone who acts like this confesses with their life a lack of confidence that the way of Jesus can account for any and every situation. It is the conviction that when Christian truth is under attack, the way of promise is to step outside of obedience to Jesus and do violence to others.
Christian people cannot act this way. We are learners in the way of Jesus and one of the things we need to learn is how to converse with one another in ways that radiate grace and life.
If we get fired up, we need to learn self-control so that we don’t do damage to one another. When we fail, we need to learn how to confess our sins to one another, grant and receive forgiveness, and forge new Jesus-shaped relational patterns.
James says that the tongue is “a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we both bless the Lord and Father and curse human beings made in God’s likeness. Blessing and cursing come from the same mouth. My brothers and sisters, it just shouldn’t be this way! (James 3:8-10, CEB).