Friday, January 11, 2008

An Email, a Phone Call, and Some Advice about Fundamentalists

A while back now I was given an award from Fuller Seminary. Part of accepting this award was writing a letter of thanks to the people who provided the money for it, which I did several months ago.

Then yesterday I received an interesting email. Dr. Charles E. Carlston, author of The Parables of the Triple Tradition and a book about Matthew co-authored with Craig Evans which is forthcoming, wrote to me thanking me for my letter and giving me some information about himself and his spiritual/academic pilgrimage. In his email, Dr. Carlston indicated that he wished that he had my phone number so that the two of us could dialogue.

I quickly wrote an email back to him, thanking him and giving him my number. Low and behold, tonight (the next day) at around 8:30 he called! We had an excellent conversation, which lasted for some thirty minutes! He was very kind and offered me a lot of great advice.

At a particular point in our discussion, Dr. Carlston asked me what my denominational background was. This is a tough question for me to answer because my background is very weird, at least from an intra-Baptist perspective. I was raised in a moderate Southern Baptist church but became a fundamentalist as a teen because I thought that was what I was supposed to do. I then went to a moderate Baptist university associated with the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT). After that I attended a moderate seminary, which was affiliated with the BGCT and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and began as a protest against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. While in seminary I was ordained in a Southern Baptist church pastored by a moderate BGCT pastor. Now I am at a moderate interdenominational seminary getting my PhD, where I attend a conservative Congregational church. Phew!

As you might imagine, it is hard for me to put a simple label on my background. Would moderate Southern Baptist work? How about Texas Baptist? What about simply Baptist? I actually don't like any of these titles; I prefer to tell my story and let people decide for themselves.

After telling Dr. Carlston my story, he said something that I found very interesting. A little context first: he related to me that he came from a fundamentalist Baptist background too and that he has many friends who did as well. Then he gave me a great piece of advice:

It's okay to be an ex-fundamentalist but it's not okay to be an anti-fundamentalist.

I was blown away by his statement. How often have I been guilty of being "anti-fundamentalist"? Way too often to even begin to remember! And how ironic. Think of it -- one of the biggest complaints against fundamentalists is that they are separatists; they try to distance themselves from people who disagree with them. Isn't that exactly what I was doing by having "anti-fundamentalist" feelings?

Since I attempt to live my live with moral and intellectual integrity, I cannot go on harboring this disdain. I have to stop "hating on" the fundamentalists so much and I have to at least attempt to restart some of my severed relationships with my fundamentalist friends. They may or may not respond, that's not my business. It is my business, however, to do my best to live at peace with everyone!

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