Steven Waldman, editor of Beliefnet, recently sat down with Rick Warren for an interview, and in the midst of that interview Rick Warren said a negative thing or two about the social gospel. Waldman’s had several posts about the interview. Paul Rauschenbush, grandson of Walter Rauschenbusch, the architect of the social gospel, came out swinging and I thought Paul was unfair to Warren and needlessly trashed him. So I pushed back on his blog … and was I surprised by the response of the so-called liberals. They sounded worse than fundamentalists, which gives me a chance to speak about an issue I’ve observed: fundamentalist flip-flopping.
One the best things about growing up fundamentalist is that we absolutely knew we were on God’s side or perhaps it is better to say that God was on our side. Knowing God is on your side breeds confidence as well as other things … and I want to have a conversation today about those other things. I’m not concerned today about what a fundamentalist believes. Facts clearly show that fundamentalists and evangelicals and Catholics and orthodox Christians believe many of the same things. What I’ve tried a number of times to do is to think my way into why it is that many get upset with fundamentalists. What is it?
Zeal, too much of it. Relentless zeal. Imposing zeal. Absolute confidence in everything they think is important.
Here’s what I have observed: my experience shows that former and anti-fundamentalists can be just as fundamentalistic — zealous and absolute — about their anti-fundamentalism and new-found beliefs. In other words, they absolutely confident liberalism is another form of fundamentalism.
These anti-fundamentalists (and anti-evangelicals) can be just as confident and cocky that they’ve got it all figured out. That they stand high above the rest in their perceptions of truth. They can be just as zealous for their new convictions, some of them petty. Once they saw all non-fundamentalists in danger of perdition, now they find everyone who doesn’t fight for the cause they believe in as hopeless or apathetic or non-Christian. I call this fundamentalist flop-flipping, from being a pro-fundamentalist fundamentalist to being an anti-fundamentalist fundamentalist.
There’s some good news here. I don’t believe we need to say “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist.” No, God mercifully grants us grace to find a different way, a third way, the way of grace and love that can hold firmly to one’s viewpoint and yet treat the other with respect and dignity.
At the bottom of the problem many of us have with fundamentalists is the lack of grace or mercy or — and I’d prefer this term the best — love. Jesus taught his followers something that can reshape anyone from zeal-spirited fundamentalism, whether on the rebound or not. He taught them that the whole law hung from two basic commands:
Love God with your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
I call this The Jesus Creed
and the discovery of the importance of this Creed to Jesus can reshape more how we live and relate to others than what we believe. Love has the power to reshape fundamentalists from the inside out. I’ve met plenty of them.
Fundamentalist or not, this is what Jesus wants of us: to love God and to love others. No one who loves God and loves others lives in that angry spiritedness, flop-flipper or not.