Monday, April 17, 2006

Coming to Terms with Fundamentalism I


A few weeks ago, a The Wall Street Journal reporter interviewed me. Yes, you heard me right: a reporter from, ladies and gentlemen,


I am not at liberty to disclose the details and nature of the interview other than to advise you of the prudence of being nice to people who may be on the verge of fame and wealth. Leaving complimentary comments is an excellent start which may increase the chance of being remembered when I find myself sitting in the VIP section as a guest of honor at a Katherine Jenkins concert.

Okay, so where were we.....?

Oh yes, my interview with the THE WALL STREET JOURNAL reporter. She asked me what my religious affiliation was, and without giving much thought, I called myself an “ex-fundamentalist.”

“That is interesting,” she responded, “I have run into a lot of people who call themselves that. What makes you call yourself that? What's your story?”

That is when I found myself dumbstruck, followed by an awkward silence. And that is also when my dream of the VIP section at the Katherine Jenkins concert evaporated without a trace.

Hence ensued my decision to start a series of blog entries on coming to terms with my Christian fundamentalist past. When I typically find myself assaulted by brewing thoughts in my head, articulating them out in the open in this little corner of the blogdom has helped me not just sort things out, but has served as an invaluable theraputic tool as well.

I have a lot to say about my fundamentalist past. But there is one big reason that has kept me from going forward.

I really dislike theological discourse.

People who know me well may find that a bit puzzling since one sure way to resonate with me is by tapping into my intellectual side. I find it highly stimulating to debate various issues of the day and to engage people in friendly as well as heated discussion as long as it does not degenerate into personal attack.

However there is something very different about theology. Built into the very nature of theology is the lack of "tangibility.”

Let me try to explain by throwing out a few examples. Most issues of the day are based on some concrete data we can point to and debate over. For example, let's take the debate raging over the war in Iraq. People from both sides can point to some "tangible" results from the war such as casualties, the economic progress, costs and other factors, many of which are quantifiable in some fashion to argue over. Of course all data are subject to widely varying interpretations as seen in the polarization of opinions over the war.

The same cannot be said about theology. Nobody recently has clinically died for a substantial period of time (I say that to leave out "near death experiences") and come back alive to tell us if there is life after death and what it's like if there is one. In contrast, many have physically gone to Iraq and come back with not just harrowing stories, but scars as well.

This lack of tangibility opens up doors to useless debates mired in nebulous semantics in which people in disagreement can't even spell out what they disagree on, and to this day, I have yet to see a productive discussion taking place between two parties with opposing views. Most degenerate into name calling and charges of heresy.

The lack of tangibility also gives way to a breeding ground for Mr. Know-It-Alls that I have had the misfortune of encountering way too many times, having embraced the fundamentalist brand of Christianity in the mold of John MacArthur for over 20 years. At various points, I was one as well.

My commitment is to write in plain English with some semblance of tangibility. One of my blogging friends who calls herself an atheist (and boy, is she a fiery one at that :-)) has agreed to proofread my drafts to help me search and destroy the Christian "lingo" so as not to alienate my readership for which I am deeply grateful. Forget you Katherine.

* Part II: Biblical Inerrancy


At April 17, 2006 7:58 PM, Blogger Granny said...

Good post David.

At April 17, 2006 8:24 PM, Blogger Miss Cellania said...

I'll be following this with interest. Had a theological conversation with a colleague today, over the treatment of gays. She is fundamentalist, I was rised in a liberal Christian atmosphere. We could have gone on all day splitting hairs, but we had to get some work done.

At April 17, 2006 9:07 PM, Blogger Granny said...

I have that conversation almost daily one place or another. I don't think I've ever changed a single mind (although meeting my son has gone a long way in some cases).

At April 17, 2006 9:54 PM, Blogger grace said...

I'm looking forward to reading what you have to say David. You won't get any theological arguments from me.

At April 17, 2006 10:44 PM, Blogger Nathan said...

Ah, you're finally following through with your threats. And I was beginning to think you were all rhetoric...

Let the games begin...


At April 17, 2006 11:17 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

Oh boy. Hey everybody, nWC is from my former church and he will be breathing down on my neck.

Well, actually I have asked him to point out factual errors if he sees any when I write about my former pastor and church, so his presence is welcome.

At April 18, 2006 5:47 AM, Blogger DPT said...

I understand your point about "tangibility," but OTOH, "Each tree is recognized by its own fruit" (Lk. 6:44). Once when a "know-it-all" was trying to browbeat me into accepting his point of view, I pointed to that verse and challenged him about the fruit of his theology. That stopped him in his tracks.

Jesus said he appointed us "to go and bear fruit—fruit that will last" (Jn. 15:16). If it's not the fruit of a righteous life, the fruit of the Spirit, etc. then Houston we have a problem.

I'm looking forward to your posts. I hope and pray others will read and benefit.

At April 18, 2006 6:07 AM, Blogger A thinker said...

Wow. Big undertaking, David. I'm looking forward eagerly to hear what you have to say. Best to you.

At April 18, 2006 8:05 AM, Blogger Nathan said...

"Hey everybody, nWC is from my former church and he will be breathing down on my neck."

Can ya feel me now?!?

All joking aside, thanks for the welcome. I'll stay off your back as much as possible. Believe it or not, I don't usually go looking for fights--I'll try to follow your good example of asking questions first, swinging later (if at all).

We should do lunch sometime. Seriously.

At April 18, 2006 10:34 AM, Blogger Silent Thunder said...

"This lack of tangibility opens up doors to useless debates mired in nebulous semantics in which people in disagreement can't even spell out what they disagree on, and to this day, I have yet to see a productive discussion taking place between two parties with opposing views. Most degenerate into name calling and charges of heresy."

I recently attended a conference at Brigham Young University sponsored by the school of religious education entitled, "By What Authority". The conference was attended by Christian religious leaders and scholars from across the country. Just about every major Christian group was represented including: Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Liberal Protestant, Episcopal, Evangelical, Latter-Day Saint, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Church/Disciples of Christ. Each group was given the opportunity to present their doctrinal views on authority. It was a two-day event of presentations followed by a panel discussion of all participants at the conclusion of each day. It was really a great experience. There was a spirit of fellowship and brotherhood that was present. Each of the representatives who participated spoke of how grateful they were to have the dialogue. Though there were obviously some stark differences in opinion and practice, everyone was very respectful. I saw these men and women conversing in a very friendly way even outside of the conference setting. I came away having learned a lot, with a greater appreciation for my faith tradition and the tradition of others as well. I guess my point is that even sensitive dialogue such as what you plan to present can be accomplished with respect. I look forward to reading your entries.

At April 18, 2006 9:27 PM, Blogger David Cho said...

@Granny and Miss Cellania: I will have an entry on homosexuality in the series. Haven't decided where it fits in the whole scheme of things yet.

@grace: Thanks and even though you come from a charismatic background, it is so remarkable to see all the similarities in our stories.

@DPT: Man, are you intent on stealing my thunder? We think so alike. The Houston line is indeed in one of my drafts.

@thinker: Thanks. It may appear to be a big undertaking, but isn't, really because I will be doing this in small installments. How does one eat an elephant? One piece at a time.

@nwC: Yes, lunch would be very nice. I'll be up for that. I may even drive up there to buy Jmac's latest sermon tapes.

@SilentThunder: Thanks for coming by. BYU hosted that? Is there a transcript somewhere I can access?

At April 22, 2006 4:19 PM, Blogger L-girl said...

Good post, David. With all best wishes, signed,

Your friendly neighbourhood fiery atheist. :-)


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