Scot McKnight posted about zealotry the other day, describing it as going beyond the Bible to protect things that aren’t necessarily in the Bible. And zealots feel that their zeal for God makes them immune to criticism.
The self-deception of zealotry, which is all-too evident these days, is closely related to a very common error of fundamentalists.
David Bebbington claims that four features constitute an evangelical: Biblicism, cruci-centrism, conversionism, and activism. I’ve heard George 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 I perceive some fundamental of the Christian faith to be threatened, I have the prerogative to be violent.
The implicit logic at work here is 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 my thoughts are God’s thoughts; my cause is God’s cause. This divine alliance makes me exempt from obedience in order that I might 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.
That’s all fine and good.
But when I feel that the stakes have been raised, I toss all of that 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 behavior 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.
Quite honestly, this isn’t only a problem for fundamentalists. It’s a perennial human problem, a temptation for anyone and everyone who is provoked, insulted, or who grows frustrated with others.
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).