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When fundamentalism is liberalism

I was very interested by the most recent Louis Theroux programme on the Phelps’ family church in the USA. These people are self-styled fundamentalists, they rejoice in all of God’s “judgements” (ie. when someone dies of cancer, or in an accident, or fighting in a war… the Phelps’ family church thinks that these are signs of God’s anger and therefore we should all be joyful about these tragedies). Louis had a great time with his trademark liberal tone and bringing his own worldview to bear on theirs.

The interesting thing is that I came away from the programme thinking that these people had a lot of good things to say (about taking the Bible seriously, and taking God’s judgement seriously) but they had missed a huge dimension of the Bible’s portrayal of God: his character. Countless passages in Scripture say how judgement is God “strange” work, and how his heart breaks to see humanity so rebellious against his good rule (Ezekiel 18v23; Hosea 11v8 etc etc..). Absolutely, his wrath is directed now against the world as we all go our own way further and further into immoral living and wickedness. But it is insane and deeply unnatural to rejoice in individuals’ deaths as if somehow God is rejoicing about tragedies too. The Phelps family have made God in their own image: self-righteous, unbalanced, and uncaring.

They have taken Bible passages about rejoicing in the final judgement of God (Revelation 19v3), and have viewed every event in life through that lens, skewing the meaning of other passages to fit that. I’m not even sure they had read some bits of the Bible.

“Liberals” in the church are those who take their scissors to the bible and cut out the bits they don’t want. The liberal movement has done much to undermine Christianity in our society over the last century or two. “Fundamentalists” are supposed to be the opposite of that. But isn’t it interesting that “fundamentalism” can become the new “liberalism”? Whatever your particular agenda, when you’re selective, rather than taking the bible as a whole, it’s liberalism.

“Fundamentalism” is the great evil in our world, in popular opinion. Fundamentalists do terrorism, start wars, make enemies. But true Christian fundamentalists are not like this. Christian fundamentalists want to know God as he chooses to reveal himself in the Bible, and not a version of God we have invented ourselves. That’s what it is to follow Jesus fundamentally. Christian fundamentalists love their enemies. At least that’s what Jesus told us to do. We have a wonderful God who does not ignore evil and will judge, and we rejoice in that, but that doesn’t take away from his compassion, forgiveness for those who trust in Christ, and above all, love.