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5 Things Fundies Forget about Jesus

770px-StJohnsAshfield_StainedGlass_GoodShepherd_PortraitWe all know a fundamentalist, but would never cop to being one.

Truth is, I’m a recovering fundie. I was discipled 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 this often used but seldom defined term, and I came up with this:

Fundamentalists reduce the complexities 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 fundies about the gospels, here 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 all world’s sinners. 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.

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 (Luke 7:33–34).

If I learn anything from Jesus it’s this, you aren’t made more righteous by your hatred of “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 showed to its neighbors.

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
  • purity
  • 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

Man, 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 counted 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. Let’s just try to make our mistreatment because of our proximity to him 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.

14 Comments Post a comment
  1. Enjoyed your post Jayson! My one quibble would be regarding #3.

    “’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.”

    So true, but we must not forget the all important imperative that precedes the proclamation of the Kingdom: repent. Not that you are denying this to be an important aspect of the Gospel message, but it is one that is sadly obscured from the pulpit of many pastors in America. While fundies may be guilty of focusing too heavily on the imperative, those desiring to disassociate themselves from the fundies swing too far the other way and forget that the call to discipleship is one of repentance and self-denial.

    At any rate, thanks for the reminders.

    October 6, 2013
    • You’re right Cliff . . . since I wasn’t really talking about repentance and was talking about Christ’s good works, I neglected the times when repentance was tied to his proclamation of the kingdom. I don’t know that I agree with it’s obscurity in pulpits or that people who want to distance themselves from fundamentalist Christianity swing too far the opposite way. I think they might see the call to repentance differently. One thing that I find interesting is the “we value right repentance more than these people” thing you find in a lot of Christianity.

      Thanks for the comment!

      October 6, 2013
  2. Chaprich #

    Repentance is more than responding to an altar call and reciting the “Sinners Prayer”. Sometimes repentance is the fruit of conversion.

    October 6, 2013
  3. I really enjoy your posts.
    #4 – so many fundamentalists I know are so quick to call everything persecution. You cannot expect not to be despised in a country with many cultures and religions if you expect your religion to be the only one represented. By engaging in public prayer at school events, excluding other religions celebrations, etc., you are making yourself a target.

    October 7, 2013
  4. I appreciate your thoughtful commentaries. Found your site a month or two ago from a link on “out of ur”, which I found from a link on Skye Jethani’s site, which I found from listening to the Phil Vischer podcast. Oh yeah, this internet thing is fun. And i’m writing this from a desert island in the Caribbean. I also read the daily “slice of infinity” from the Ravi Z ministry. One writer, Jill Carattina, is usually pretty esoteric, but her piece on “reputation management” was easy to follow, and ties in eloquently with a couple of your points in this post.

    October 7, 2013
  5. Jayson,

    I recently came up with a definition of “fundamentalist” as well. It is interesting that we both used the idea of reductionism. My definition was this:

    One who reduces the Christian faith to a core set of fundamentals of his own choosing.

    The fundamentalist takes the entirety of the Christian faith and reduces it, so that things outside of the fundamentals are viewed as outside of the faith altogether. So, fundies condemn the things they don’t know. And of course, different fundamentalists have different fundamentals, so they often condemn each other.

    October 7, 2013
  6. Jayson,

    I recently came up with a definition of a fundamentalist. Like your definition it contained the idea of reductionism. Here it is:

    One who reduces the Christian faith to a core set of fundamentals of his own choosing.

    Anything that is outside of their fundamentals is considered to be outside the faith altogether. So they end up condemning people who are actually doing things according to faith in Christ. And each group of fundamentalists have their own fundamentals, so they end up condemning each other.

    Jesus conflicted with people who reduced the faith, and so did Paul.

    October 7, 2013
    • Oops, sorry for the re-post, but WordPress told me it was not able to post my first comment. FWIW I prefer the second one. 🙂

      October 7, 2013
  7. froginparis #

    I’ve been saying these things to my fundi friends for years. They pat me on the head and tell me to go to another Bible study or women’s retreat. So grateful to know I am not alone.

    January 14, 2014
  8. It is interesting to me and thought provoking to read a post that seems to say or point out that “Fundies” are mis-lead or self righteous… Where does that lesson lead those who agree with the writer? Does it leave room for the good in all people no matter their religious bent or does it lead to self righteous, mis-lead “non fundies”? PS I have no idea really what a “Fundie” is and don’t attend a church because of some of the thought processes you describe. I find myself enjoying all people and not asking what their religious bias is as that leads to an incredible amount of hurt feelings. It is crazy to me when people I have known for years ask me what religion I am and then fade away when I tell them that I don’t have one. Why is that? What does it matter? Are you a good warm caring person or not… I don’t get it. I love listening and learning from people who are trying to teach others to be accepting. I usually learn something. 🙂

    January 14, 2014
  9. Becky #

    I’ve been scrolling through your posts, reading and reading and reading. Thank you. For your words and your ability to say things honest and forthright without giving the reader the sense or motivation to grab our own bat and start hitting. I’m refreshed and grateful to have found you.

    May 6, 2014
    • Awwww. I am not particularly good at taking complimens, so I’m gonna just say, “Thank you, Becky!”

      May 6, 2014

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