My Journey from Fundamentalism

I was raised a fundamentalist, and I personally embraced fundamentalism at a very early age. I felt a need to be ‘saved’, so I went to the altar and prayed through. I ‘accepted Jesus’ as my ‘Lord and Savior’; and, along with that, I accepted all the harmful and misguided baggage of fundamentalism that came with it.

However, before I was out of high school I began to question certain things. I didn’t rebel, but I started 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, or do a host of other things. Women could not wear pants or cut their hair short, and men could not wear long hair.

Besides imagined specific biblical prohibitions, 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 that was remotely questionable was prohibited. For example, it was a bad idea to walk on the sidewalk in front of a movie theater because someone might see you and assume you had been inside. It was a bad idea to drink a Coke from a can because someone might think it was beer (this was in the 1960s when canned soft drinks were new).

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 was not a ‘sin’, if someone else thought it was a sin then don’t do it. We should not offend others with our behavior, and self-righteous legalist constantly ‘took offense’ at other people’s behavior.
Jesus without Baggage by Dick FordIn the beginning it was not legalism as a concept that I questioned but specific items. Perhaps my first serious issue was movies. At 17, I worked through the arguments and supporting 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 I stopped by a movie theater on my way home from work and saw a delightful film called My Side of the Mountain. Funny thing about tradition and guilt–even though I was 100% convinced that there was nothing wrong with watching the film, my conscience still yelled “Guilty!” I felt as though I were sitting in a den of iniquity. I was sure the ‘rapture’ would occur while I was in the theater.

Sometimes you have to tell your conscience what to do.

In addition to things we could not do, there were lists of things we had to do, such as tithing, constant church attendance, memorizing Bible passages, and ‘witnessing’. Over time, I abandoned legalistic rules completely. I also dealt with other baggage that came as part of my fundamentalist religious tradition 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? Answer: No; No
  • Is our traditional understanding of hell biblical? Answer: No
  • Are Genesis chapters 1-11 meant to be understood historically? Answer: No
  • Is the Bible equal to ‘God’s word’ (inerrancy)? Answer: No
  • Are those who never heard of Jesus ‘lost’? Answer: No

As I worked through many other questions as part of my journey from fundamentalism, I attended a conservative evangelical college and received a degree in Biblical-Historical Studies and even took some seminary classes. Parts of my journey from fundamentalism were very scary, but gradually I discovered that much of the baggage I had accepted along with the message of Jesus was not legitimate.

My journey from the baggage of fundamentalism was quite significant and enlightening. But, at one point, a fundamentalist preacher told me I took away everything and left nothing for people to believe in. He was correct; I focused on exposing the baggage instead of sharing the positive message, and there is a very positive message. After sorting though the baggage, I found that the person of Jesus (as described by his earliest followers) is still very compelling. He is the good news for us.

Jesus remains the most important thing in my life. He included me in his invitation, ‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’ And I accepted his invitation (he also included you.)

Issues of baggage are not exclusive to fundamentalism. Most Christian traditions contain baggage of different sorts. Many evangelicals, Catholics, and others are well aware of it. On this blog, we discuss unloading the burden of the religious baggage that has been added to the message of Jesus, but we will also discuss that wonderful message itself. I invite you join us as we explore Jesus without baggage.

One more thing, starting the journey from fundamentalism or conservative Christianity can be very frightening, as we have constantly been warned to avoid being deceived by ‘Satan’ or ‘false prophets’ and from leaning to our ‘own understanding’ (instead of the understanding of our teachers and our tradition).

In fact, at one point I descended into more than a year of anguish and of grief over the loss of God, which developed in three phases during my journey from fundamentalism. I talk about that in My Spiritual Crisis.

~Tim Chastain

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41 Responses to My Journey from Fundamentalism

  1. Robin says:

    I’m not sure how I stumbled upon your blog, I think through Rachel Held Evans’ blog. I’m so glad I found this and will be tuning in for more. The message is refreshing and hopeful for this former fundamentalist-thank you!

    Like

    • I am glad you find it helpful, Robin! And I hope you continue to find value and community here. I certainly understand former fundamentalists!

      You very well may have found me through Rachel Held Evans’ blog as I sometimes comment there. Have a great day and I hope to see you again soon!

      Like

  2. Rocío Velarde says:

    Hi Tim,
    I’ve been Reading your blog for a while. I’m a Christian but I do not believe in fundamentalist Christianity, How can I contact you to solve certain doubts I have?

    Thank you

    Like

    • Hi Rocio,

      I am happy to talk to you about any issues you wish. I cannot tell you what to believe, but perhaps I can help you with your questions.

      We can correspond privately by email; just reply to the email message I sent to you. I look forward to our interaction. ~Tim Chastain

      Like

  3. I too, grew up being told to witness and not to go to movies. I too, felt my conscience yelling and had to tell it what to do. God does not ask us for blind obedience, He has a reason for everything He asks of us and it is for our own freedom. Unfortunately, people have made something out of God’s plans for us and it has been greatly distorted. Your story of discovery and explanation how you came to the conclusion it was not wrong is healthy. If only we all could do that at a young age and not wear these masks for years until we feel the need to rip them off.

    I also believe Jesus is everything. I don’t think we can understand the rest of the Bible unless we look through the lens of Jesus’s life and teachings.

    Keep sharing! You are helping to set others free from legalism.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thanks Cherilyn, it is good to hear from other former fundamentalists who have abandoned their baggage. I will continue to share in order to help others feel comfortable in their transitions from legalism.

    Have a great day! ~Tim

    Like

  5. I’m shocked and excited that you don’t believe in Satan and I am completely intrigued as to what your thoughts are regarding Hell! I’m also very excited to learn your background in Biblical Historical studies and am just so very very thankful that you continue to blog and share your thoughts and the things you’ve learned by letting go of the baggage and holding onto Christ! 🙂 ❤

    Like

    • Thank you Blonde; you are so kind.

      Indeed, my thoughts have changed! My beliefs on hell are already on the blog, as I wrote a series on the topic. You can now find those articles, along with those of other bloggers, at https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/hell/.

      However, the devil must wait! My blog is relatively new and it takes a while to get to every topic. A number of years ago, I shared my beliefs about Satan with a friend of mine; and the letter is now posted on another website. I do not necessarily recommend it because it is long and boring, but if you are interested it is found at:

      http://www.chastaincentral.com/tims/satan.html

      Like

      • Tim, thank you for the link to the letter regarding your lengthy search into scriptures regarding the existence of Satan. I have been told (with no recollection by who) that Satan celebrates those that do not believe in him as he is able to more easily deceive and misdirect those who are not aware or vigilant against his evil powers.

        I am not solid in what I believe as I would almost have to see Satan himself to know for sure, but can tell you I have felt the presence of darkness and do believe that there is something to the whole demon thing… not that I have concretely witnessed a demonic attack or presence.

        It all comes down to “what does it matter?” If God is for us who CAN be against us? We are told again and again to fear not… so if those evil entities DO exist we have been clearly told to not fear them and that God will always overpower them. So with that in mind I have to say your stance on the matter as written is likely 100% correct!

        So, for now I do not believe in a powerful demonic leader named Satan… if he exists or not it shouldn’t affect my walk with Christ much at all if I keep my eyes on Him and my heart filled with love. God is real and I have every reason to believe he will protect me if needed as that’s the God I know and love… a protector and a giver of Life!

        Demons however I do believe exist and perhaps are just soul energies resisting the call to God out of fear… Who knows? There have been many reported demonic experiences by other rational and reasonable folks in our time for me not to believe they are out there… and I pray regularly for angels to protect me from them… having done this since childhood “just to be safe”! 😉 Perhaps a prayer for the demons would be the next step… unseen enemies should be loved as well… did not Christ Himself direct us to love our enemies as ourselves? 😉

        With Heaven and all it’s splendor described both biblically and by those who have crossed over and returned to share the good news it is VERY difficult for me to believe anyone or anything that knows God would choose anything other than Him… this to me is one of life’s GREATEST mysteries.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Regarding what we call demons, I have no solid opinion about their existence. They might be psychological projections without any further basis in reality, or they could be some other life form–the Universe is a big place and who knows what kinds of strange beings exist. Much of what used to be considered demonic activity has been determined to be physical and mental illness.

          However, I cannot believe the popular idea that they are fallen angels that followed Satan in a heavenly rebellion. This perspective was apparently invented by the writer of the Book of Enoch and further popularized by John Milton in Paradise Lost. It is not from the Bible.

          In any case, I agree with you, Blonde, that whether ‘demons’ exist or whatever they might represent, there is absolutely no cause for us to fear them–this is superstition. Furthermore, if there is some sort of demonic activity, I am convinced that it is not nearly so widespread as many believer would have us think.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Oh… the curiosity of God sometimes tempts me to ponder these things, yet I try not to expend too much energy trying to understand the darkness of our existence as I find I am much more rewarded with the fruits if the spirit if I spend my efforts looking into His Light of love!

            Even if demonic activity is widespread and a dominating force of evil… believing in it or not is irrelevant if your eyes are on Christ Jesus and your focus is on living in His will.

            Love in action will dispel evil… whether it be real, projected, or imaginary. From what I’ve understood fear feeds the enemy so if we don’t really buy into it we are definitely not going to be feeling fearful that’s for sure… and that can only be a good thing, right? 😉

            Like

      • I thought a most interesting and balanced documentary on heaven and hell is: Hellbound. http://www.hellboundthemovie.com/
        And also Rob Bell’s book; ‘Love Wins’ really shed light on the subject for me.

        Thank you Tim for sharing your thoughts with us on this blog; you’ve got me interested!
        Greetings from an Dutch girl tired of churchy dogma, but endlessy fascinated by Jesus.

        Like

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Anne, join the growing number of us who are “tired of churchy dogma, but endlessly fascinated by Jesus.” I think you are in good company.

          And thanks for sharing the trailer; I had not seen it before. I plan to catch the movie sometime, and I also ‘liked’ the Hell Bound Facebook site just now. Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

  6. I certainly agree with you Blonde!

    If demons exist, they are irrelevant to us. And it is much more useful to focus on the love of the Father and its impact on our lives than to be bogged down in speculations about dark forces. Well said!

    Like

  7. Alice says:

    Sometimes you have to tell your conscience what to do.

    That is awesome!

    Like

  8. Pingback: Creationism and Tim Chastain’s spiritual crisis | lotharlorraine

  9. I think you may have noticed I have spent nearly the whole day on your blog. I was led here this morning by Eric of Christian Evolution and I am quite grateful. Your insights are helping me with my own struggles of trying to reconcile things that I have always believed and things I can no longer stomach quite frankly. I am sure I will have questions as soon as I can find the best way to word them. I hope you will do me the honor of pointing me toward answers if you can. Thank you for sharing here. Wonderful title, by the way!

    Like

  10. jesuswithoutbaggage says:

    Hi Wild Heart!

    I did notice. I am glad that are so many posts that you found helpful.

    Eric at Christian Evolution is an excellent progressive Christian blogger. When you decide what you want to talk about first, you can email me at tchastain@cfl.rr.com or you can use the post comments. I am happy to interact with you and help you in any way I can.

    Like

  11. Neville Emerson says:

    I must say that I find your blogs to be like a breath of fresh air Tim. I believe as Christians we are guilty of complicating our Christian walk with rules and regulations and I must say that seeing God in the light of Jesus, as opposed to the OT is very liberating. Thank you and keep up the good work.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Thank you Neville; I am so pleased. My objective is to provide ‘a breathe of fresh air’ to those who want to remove the burdens and complications of their old way of following Jesus.

      Indeed, the Father Jesus tells us about is very liberating. He liberates us from fear, guilt, and alienation. I hope you continue to visit here.

      Like

  12. John Messimer says:

    I am fortunate not to have accumulated a lot of religious baggage. My late priest (Episcopal) taught, “if it doesn’t happen today, it probably didn’t happen then.” In regards to the flood, parting of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, water from the rock, burning bush and other made-for-movie-type scenes. He was an Old Testament and Greek scholar so I still hold his teachings in my thinking. Fundamentalists seem to waste a lot of time attempting to make Jesus fit the Bible; he doesn’t and never will. He has redeemed it and also the world.

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Hi John, I am glad you never accumulated a lot of religious baggage. I certainly did, and it was difficult and frightening working through it to find Jesus–not the Bible–as the foundation of my life and beliefs.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: One man’s escape from legalism. | Flying in the Spirit

  14. Karen says:

    Hi Tim, I have just found your blog and I am enjoying your posts. I believe in having an intelligent faith – one that puts scripture into context, uses reason and experience and focuses on Jesus as our Savior. At present I am still working through my opinions on the Bible. I do believe it reveals truth necessary for salvation – Faith in Jesus as our savior…I wasn’t always a Christian and was in fact an atheist. Can’t wait to read more!

    Like

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Karen, I am glad you enjoy the blog! I think you are taking a healthy approach to your journey with Jesus. As you work through your opinions on the Bible, let me know if you are interested in my take on any issue.

      I hope you stick around as long as you find the blog useful!

      Like

  15. katiesdream2004 says:

    The biggest argument against fundamentalism in my life has been fundamentalists. Being a female fundamentalist particularly those influenced by the reformed dogmas, which people like John Piper represent is a little prison of a life for women. We get one role, submitted to men in this hierarchical farce they call “chain of command”.
    The patriarchy of extreme male dominance is in fact quite influenced by Bill Gothard, that turns out is quite the predator that time revealed. What I experienced living under that bondage for decades was a battered heart that atrophied. Those theologues *Piper, Grudem, etc write 1000 page tomes explaining what women cannot be and do, defining their entire existence by a few twisted bible passages all of which let women know they were born to serve men.

    Their entire identity is wrapped up in doing the will of men and the exploitation of that position is astonishing. The levels of domestic violence that spring out of those man centered doctrines is criminal. I spent decade after decade getting beaten down. One of the catalysts of my journey out was going to college at age 45 and being astonished at the world of ideas and books and thoughts.

    My mind exploded into creativity like being let out of a cage I flew. On campus as I got a BA and a MA I had my first experiences of my entire life of feeling accepted, valued and treated with respect. 45 years as a fundamentalist the only honor I ever experienced happened in a secular college that Christians would consider a pit of heathenism and yet… it was more real love and kindness than I’d ever experienced in a fundamental church. Something about being allowed to think after you mind has been in a little box is transformative. I routinely waked across campus with tears of joy running down my face not an experience I ever had in fundie land.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Wow, Katie! You had a terrible experience, but unfortunately it is a common one for far too many women. I was in various stages of fundamentalism for more than 30 years before I walked away from it completely around 1990. My fundamentalism put restrictions on woman, but not as much as the extreme forms of fundamentalism today.

      I am so glad you found a community to help you feel more of a person. A proper education produces healthy critical thinking as well, something frowned on in fundamentalism. I feel badly that these misguided teachers are creating such burdens for people–the opposite of what Jesus teaches: Come to me you who are burdened down and I will give you rest.

      I hope your journey continues to go well. It can be a scary thing at the start (what if they are right?), but it seems you are beyond that. You are certainly welcome to continue reading and interacting on the blog if you find it helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. luckyotter says:

    Hi, Tim,
    I just stumbled on your website yesterday, after praying and praying for some kind of enlightenment about Christianity, which I had been struggling with for years due to all the legalism and hellfire and brimstone preaching I’d been inundated with. I feel like today’s fundamentalism is turning people off to Christianity and is not Biblical at all. Your website speaks to me on an emotional AND intellectual level. As a person who believes science is about the truth, and always had trouble reconciling this with Christianity (but also wasn’t willing to give up Christianity), your website is the answer to my prayers. I had been struggling with my fear of death mostly due to my inability to believe the Bible was the literal word of God, and my feeling that God comes across as a terrible, angry, narcissist — but fearing I’d be going to Hell for not being able to cotton to the Bible. But through your website (which I cannot stop reading!) I think I will be able to read the Bible now from an entirely new perspective. I understand now that the only thing Jesus hates are hypocritical, hateful, judgmental people who use religion legalism and threats to terrify and control. That is NOT Christianity; it is control. God hates narcissism, and if God really sent those who cannot believe in him to burn in a firey pit for all eternity, he would be a hypocrite and every bit as narcisisistic as the Pharisees. This is one of the reasons I couldn’t fully embrace Christianity. But I think through your site, my spirit can finally find peace and rest in Jesus and stop being so afraid.

    Thank you so much for making this website. It’s food for my soul, and I was starving.
    There’s so much more I want to say, but it will have to be said later. For now, I want to give you this link to a post I wrote just before I found your wonderful site.
    https://luckyottershaven.com/2016/04/23/the-ultimate-dissociative-experience/
    God bless you, Tim.

    Liked by 2 people

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Lucky, I am glad you found the blog so useful! This is the reason I write–to help people who are struggling with misguided doctrinal baggage placed on them by other people.

      I read your blog post and all its comments. I am impressed; you express yourself very well in a genuine way and seem to help a lot of people. Since you mentioned hell in your comment here, I was going to include the link to my Resources on Hell page for your consideration, but in reading you comments on your post it seems you might have already read it. But here it is in case you did not.

      https://jesuswithoutbaggage.wordpress.com/books-and-resources/hell/

      I welcome you to visit and interact with this blog as you are inclined. Have a great day!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. “Sometimes you have to tell your conscience what to do”…yes! I have often had the similar thought “Not all the voices in your head are from God”.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Ben Masters says:

    “Funny thing about tradition and guilt–even though I was 100% convinced that there was nothing wrong with watching the film, my conscience still yelled “Guilty!” I felt as though I were sitting in a den of iniquity. I was sure the ‘rapture’ would occur while I was in the theater.”

    Believe it or not, it’s been the same with me over the past several years, but with television. Why, you might ask? Well, seven years ago, I was watching a DVD of an old NBC/CBS series called Get Smart (this being the classic one w/the late great Don Adams), and I went to get my mother’s cellphone, and as I was running back, I hit my head on the doorframe in my bathroom. I was dazed from the shock of it, and then tried to return to what I was watching. It didn’t help, as I found that I couldn’t finish it, and then when I tried to watch anything in the years that followed, I would hear a voice in my head yelling “Immoral!” (I think that could have been my conscience). It didn’t matter whether it was classic or modern, B/W or color, sports, game shows, sex or not, violence or not– my conscience would condemn me for it. Even black and white classics were condemned in my conscience; basically, it was a result of the teaching that I heard from the televangelists saying that television was immorality, and I took that to mean that all of it was.

    Fortunately, that voice quieted down over the years, and I have seen a few shows lately that I have really enjoyed, but for those years, I couldn’t enjoy anything (and I mean anything) without pangs of conscience.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Ben, I am sorry you could not finish the episode of Get Smart; that was one funny series!

      But I identify with what you are saying. My early religious circles were mixed regarding TV. Some had TVs, while others were fiercely opposed. One pastor I had would say you could drive down the street and see where the devil lived because his horns were sticking out of the rooftop (TV antenna; this was a long time ago). In one church I was in, the pastor agreed with those who were against TV, but he also accommodated those who had TVs and this caused a minor split in the church as some left over the issue.

      This kind of legalism is a great burden. I am glad we are mostly beyond that regarding things like TV, and I am also glad that your ingrained ‘conscience’ has been conquered over recent years. Yet for many believers legalism, ‘conscience’, and guilt are still issues.

      Like

      • Ben Masters says:

        Thanks for your response on what I said! This is likely OT here, but I’d just like to add to what I said that one of the shows that I’ve seen and enjoyed (at least from what I’ve seen of it so far) is a 1957-63 CBS Western called Have Gun, Will Travel, w/the late, great Richard Boone.

        Why have I enjoyed what I’ve seen of it? Because it’s not what generally has kept me away from other Westerns (by which I mean that the title character, Paladin, had a gun that he carried with him on the jobs that his clients hired him for, but only used it when he needed to [i.e. no other choice]). This is in contrast to Westerns where there were gunshots pretty much all the time; that’s why those didn’t appeal to me.

        I’ve seen two seasons’ worth of it on DVD, and I think you might like it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

          Wow, Ben, I really liked Have Gun Will Travel as well. But I watched it in its original TV run (man am I getting old). Another character I liked was Marshall Matt Dillon on Gunsmoke; he was another who was slow to shoot someone.

          The tremendous violence in many westerns were a big turn-off for me as well–especially in the self-righteous and widely acceptable slaughter of ‘savage and evil’ Native Americans. It is amazing how strongly such scenes were shown with assumed cultural approval.

          Like

  19. billiejlusk says:

    I stumbled upon your blog by accident. This closely mimics my own faith journey (being raised in a Nazarene church, taking issue with the legalistic stances, questioning the authority that enforced it, being tired of those in leadership preferring to beat people over the head instead of loving them, and my intellect railing over the willful ignorance of faith vs science).
    I’ve recently found the Presbyterian church, and it’s refreshing to have found faithful who have the same questions, who enjoy pondering upon the mysterious, and embrace the science as well as the faith in our lives.
    Yet I’m still sometimes at odds with the old teachings… they are so embedded. It’s rough.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Billie, it is rough; those old teachings are ’embedded’ but for me it has gotten better over time to the point that they no longer bother me. I am glad you have found a compatible church where you feel comfortable. I think that is important.

      Like

  20. Amy says:

    Thanks Tim, for another well written and thought out article. Fundamental Christians scare me. They try to force their version of Christianity down everyone’s throats. Love and following Jesus by example is the best way to get people to listen.

    Liked by 1 person

    • jesuswithoutbaggage says:

      Amy, I see that you have encountered some genuine aggressive fundamentalists! Their worldview tends to force them to be aggressive in this way, since they think they have the answers from God and are expected to deliver those answers to everyone around them.

      Like

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