My Personal Spiritual Journey

Many traditions have a lot of baggage attached to their teaching of Jesus, and this is extremely counterproductive in drawing people to Jesus and his good news. One of these traditions is fundamentalism.

I embraced fundamentalism at a very early age. At seven years old I felt a need to be ‘saved’, went to the altar, and prayed through. I accepted Jesus as my ‘Lord and Savior’, and, along with that, I accepted all the baggage of fundamentalism that came with the decision.

However, before I was out of high school, I began to question certain things; I didn’t rebel but began to consider things that did not make sense to me. My first big issue was legalism. In our fundamentalism of that time, we could not watch movies, wear shorts, swim with the other gender, dance, drink, listen to ‘worldly’ music, and a host of other things. Women could not wear pants or cut their hair short.

There were two driving principles behind these restrictions. The first was to ‘Abstain from all appearance of evil,’ as it was stated in the King James. This meant that anything remotely questionable was to be prohibited. For example, it was a bad idea to walk the sidewalk in front of a movie theater because someone might see you and assume you had been inside.

The second principle was, in the King James, ‘It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak.’ The idea was that even if something is not a ‘sin’, if someone else thinks it is a sin, don’t do it. We should not offend others with our behavior.

At first, I questioned specific issues rather than the concept of legalism. Among the first was movies. At 17, I worked through the arguments and biblical principles that were applied against Christians watching movies and, after considerable struggle, concluded that the prohibition against movies was not biblically valid. Christians were free to attend movies.

This was not rebellion; it was theology. In fact, I had no great need for movies, but one day after work I stopped by a theater on my way home and saw a delightful film called My Side of the Mountain. Funny thing about tradition: Even though I was 100% convinced that there was nothing wrong with watching the film, my conscience yelled, “Guilty!” I felt as though I were sitting in a den of iniquity.

Sometimes you have to tell your conscience what to do.

Over time, I abandoned legalistic rules completely. I also dealt with other baggage that came as part of my fundamentalism and asked:

  • Is the KJV the exclusive word of God? Answer: No
  • Is the dispensational worldview biblical? Answer: No
  • Are our beliefs about Satan true?  Is he even real? Answers: No; No
  • Is our understanding of hell biblical? Answer: No
  • Are Genesis chapters 1-11 meant to be understood historically? Answer: No

I worked through many such questions as part of my journey from fundamentalism. Even while earning a degree in Biblical-Historical Studies at an evangelical college, I continued to examine my Christian beliefs. Parts of my journey were very scary, but gradually I discovered that much of the baggage I had accepted along with the message of Jesus was not legitimate.

However, Jesus, as described by his followers, is still compelling to me. I discovered that all my beliefs stem from that. Jesus is the most important thing in my life. He includes me in his invitation, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ And I accepted his invitation.

Does Jesus appeal to you? Do you have difficulty with the baggage? Tell me about it.

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4 Responses to My Personal Spiritual Journey

  1. I’m a fan of this blog. When I left Christianity, I couldn’t make sense of faith without an inerrant Bible. I couldn’t see how “picking and choosing” from the Bible, as I called it, was any different from arbitrary wishful thinking. These days, I have more respect for the idea that you could use your own judgement in discerning the useful parts of the Bible, as you would with any other book. Personally, I don’t have faith, but I find your writing very interesting.

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    • Tim Chastain says:

      Hi Jonny,

      Thanks for your kind words! I am especially honored to have you read and respond to my blog because I respect your blog so much at http://leavingfundamentalism.wordpress.com/. We have had similar experiences in leaving the intellectually dysfunctional world of fundamentalism. It does not bother me that you do not have faith, and I have no goal to persuade other people, but it would be a joy if your thinking came to include a consideration of Jesus without baggage.

      Thanks again! ~Tim

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      • Thanks Tim. You’re very kind.

        I could get on board with much of the idea of Jesus without baggage, although I don’t think the New Testament picture of him is completely unblemished. I think, for example, that saying that lusting after a woman in your heart is the same as adultery has been interpreted to cause a lot of unnecessary guilt. I think cursing the fig tree seemed a touch unjustified. The implication that the Canaanite woman was a dog seems not so awful given the cultural context, but if I am considering Jesus as divine, it seems like he could have known better.

        Now, I know you don’t take the Gospels as inerrant; you just say there’s enough of a picture of Jesus in the Gospels for you to want to follow Him. I would agree that he said lots of fantastic things in the Gospels. So how do you see instances like the ones above (you have probably heard militant atheists raising other criticisms – perhaps, for example, that casting demons into the pigs wasn’t very kind to the pigs or their owner)?

        Do you interpret them differently? Or do you think they are probable corruptions by the writers? Or do you think that they are mistakes Jesus made, but which don’t lessen the impact of the great things he said and did?

        So I can come to an appreciation of Jesus without baggage, I think, but only as a human who had some great things to say, many of which were ahead of his time.

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        • Tim Chastain says:

          Jonny, you said, ‘I can come to an appreciation of Jesus without baggage, I think, but only as a human who had some great things to say, many of which were ahead of his time.’

          I certainly agree that, at the very least, this is true about Jesus. I believe there is a bit more to him, but I cannot prove it and I could be wrong. If I am, there is no damage done exept to my expectations of resurrection and eternal life, and I won’t even be aware of that!

          I think part of the problem with SOME apparently negative passages such as you mention above is that written description does not communicate the full scope and nuance of events. This is true even today in books, letters, and emails; they do not properly convey the attitude and intent of the writer. Specifically, I think people are accustomed to ‘hear’ Jesus in a certain way–perhaps in the straightforward, authoritative voice of Alexander Scourby. Many do not notice that Jesus uses a number of verbal devices including hyperbole (the lusting heart) and humor to make his points.

          In some cases the writers might remember or interpret things differently than Jesus’ intention. In others, cultural factors were likely involved or Jesus chose to make one point instead of another. Jesus dealt with major issues; he did not try to correct every little misunderstanding of the day.

          With this being said, I have no need to ‘explain away’ those parts of the Jesus’ story that are difficult. However, I have novel notes that have interesting (fictional) elements to both the Canaanite woman and the demonic pigs! Perhaps they shall appear in print some day…

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