I'm taking a small break from my series on 'summing up the Bible' today in order to begin some occasional reflections on my own past experiences in Christian Fundamentalism. I want to do this reflection from within my own skin, trying to capture the way I was, the way I thought, the way I viewed my world and Christian faith. That way, perhaps no one can accuse me of jumping on a soap box and giving a rant. I share my experience, of course, to make certain points---many of which will be unavoidably negative.
This may seem strange to say, but I don't really know if I was truly raised a Fundamentalist Christian. I mean, our family went to church and all. And the church was quite fundamentalistic, but I still don't know if I was raised to be a fundamentalist. Certainly, our Southern Baptist (Grapevine Missionary Baptist!) church was very conservative and the central social and theological concern was 'getting saved." You had to get saved, you had to get other people saved. This persuasion was expressed in the most emotional way. Our pastor was, by any measure, a kind of Elmer Gantry-like preacher. He could move about the front of the church---raising his voice, preaching on the afterlife, and, in general, scaring the hell out of us. As I will explain later, this eventually took a toll on me emotionally, but I think one of the things that tempered this impact and made it somewhat bearable was the kind of family I had. Also, there were plenty of other distractions along the way. Church was a regular part of my life, but it wasn't the only part, it certainly wasn't the main part. My friends and I were busy doing other things. Going to school, playing hard, getting into mischief, watching Westerns on television, and participating in sports. Church was what we attended on Sunday mornings, or it was the youth programs I was involved in. But mostly, church stopped there. It wasn't something we took home with us much. We had church friends, but we didn't disect sermons and discuss the Bible. Church and Bible were kind of mysterious stuff--stuff about 'getting saved'--whatever that was.
But since I decided to 'give my life to Jesus' at age 16, the church experience started to become more meaningful. I started going to church more often, even attending Wednesday evening prayer meetings. By the time I was a senior in high school, I was becoming a fairly serious Christian. I even tried to get a couple of other people 'saved.' Yet, it was probably after I left home for college that I truly became a Fundamentalist Christian. Up to then, Christianity was about my church, my friends, and some good times.