The title of this post may have already triggered a series of other questions in your mind. Questions like:
“What do you mean by a fundamentalist?”
“A fundamentalist what?”
And: “I wonder if there’s anything better on TV?”
A little while back, prompted by some comments I’d made, a friend posted the following question on Facebook: “Is Jesus a fundamental Christian?” For whatever reason, his question didn’t attract a single reply.
So here’s my response to the question, which I’ve re-interpreted as:
“Is Jesus a Christian fundamentalist?”
Just to get the obvious answer out of the way first… Jesus couldn’t be a Christian, or he’d be a follower of himself. That conjures up an image in my warped mind, of a Messiah spinning in circles chasing his robe. So…no, let’s forget that.
But would he align himself with fundamentalist Christianity?
At this point, when I started writing this a couple of months back, I was going to give you my own definition of fundamentalist Christianity, followed by an opinion on whether Jesus would identify himself with that kind of religion.
But those ideas just didn’t sit right and I shelved this post till now. If we love Jesus, then the Holy Spirit has a way of directing the paths of our minds, and in this case taking my response to the question on a somewhat different path.
One anecdote that influenced this change of direction is a little Biblical episode I re-read, in which Jesus’ disciples are outraged that someone outside their group is casting out demons in Jesus’ name.
His reaction? It’s fine, relax. Whoever’s not against us is for us. So he belongs to a different group? He’s still one of us1.
In the past, Christians would pit evangelicals against Catholics (some still do). Nowadays it might be progressives and liberals versus conservatives and fundamentalists. But you know what? That other group that thinks differently from you also loves Jesus, also serves Jesus. They may have a different slant, but their goal is roughly the same. Like you and me, they want others to know Jesus and have life.
Taking that idea a bit further…I’ve come to realise that every single Christian (or person) has his/her own individual idea of who Jesus is. And it’s not just about the theology we’ve been taught or the denomination we belong to. Our concept of Jesus is influenced by our whole life experience, our personality, and our experience of church and of other Christians.
It’s dawned on me that, often, the Christians I disagree with theologically also differ widely from me in their personality, whereas Christians who are similar to me in nature are more likely to be like-minded in their view of Jesus and of the various thorny issues that we grapple with. Personality may play a bigger part than we realise in our theology and our view of Jesus.
A charge is sometimes made that humans make God in their own image. To an extent that can be true and is certainly a potential pitfall.
But supposing God actually does reveal himself differently to each of us?
“To the faithful you show yourself faithful, to the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.”2
Now that may be the psalmist’s poetic way of saying that to the faithful, blameless and pure, God is also all those things, but that the crooked need to beware, because God will come and deal with them in a similar way – rather than claiming that God will reveal himself differently to every individual. Or is it the latter?
After all, Jesus made this scary declaration: “Do not judge others, and you will not be judged. For you will be treated as you treat others!”3
Jesus comes to us, in some sense, on our terms and deals with us as we’ve dealt with others. In the gospels, we see him dealing very, very differently with different individuals. A Samaritan woman, a Pharisee, a Roman centurion, a disciple struggling to believe…all receive very different treatment from the Messiah.
To the merciful, Jesus will appear as merciful – now and in the life to come.
The rule-bound – Jesus might judge them by their own rules.
To the fundamentalist, perhaps Jesus asks, “How have you measured up to your own message?” (Whatever that message may be).
What I do know is that Jesus longs for every type of Christian to know and love him and enjoy the life he gives, more than they love their theology, doctrine or even scriptures (which point to him):
“You diligently study the scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life”4.
And I also know that there is room in his heart for every type of Christian; in fact, every type of person. The good news is that he came and lived and died and rose again and gives his Spirit, in order to call everyone into his arms of grace.
In the prodigal son parable5, I identify with the wayward younger brother, embraced and accepted on his return. Maybe you do too. But don’t forget that the older brother – the legalistic, party-pooping son – held an equally precious place in the father’s heart – was spoken to by his father just as tenderly and generously.
If you see yourself as a progressive Christian, don’t be too ready to knock or write off conservative or fundamentalist Christians.
If you’re a conservative, don’t rubbish progressives.
If you see yourself as a fundamentalist Christian, whatever that is, that’s OK too.
As long as Jesus is our common goal.
How about we put aside our labels and pursue love, mercy and unity, and most of all Jesus, who embodies all those qualities.
Back to the question: “Is Jesus a fundamentalist?”
My answer would be: “Maybe to some”.
1. Mark 9:38-41
2. Psalm 18:25-26
3. Matthew 7:1-2
4. John 5:39-40
5. Luke 15:11-32
Roger (or ‘Roj’) and his wife Janine have 3 lively children ranging from teenager to toddler; he goes to work for a rest. A trained nurse, he’s in his ideal job, using his skills and passions to run a homeless healthcare service, and learns a lot from the people he works with, including the idea that God is far more inclusive and compassionate than people give him credit for. To let off steam, he runs reasonably fast around the hills of Hastings (England), where he lives. Now writing for We Occupy Jesus, he’s childishly enjoying being ‘Roj of WOJ’.