by John Ellis
For those who didn’t grow up in it, the world of fundamentalism is beyond weird; it’s utterly foreign. How do you make sense of rules that often include things like prohibitions on women wearing pants and the condemnation of music with syncopation and watching movies in the movie theater? For those of us who grew up in fundamentalism, those rules, and their many, many companion rules, are well-known. However, most people lack a touch point for our fundyland experiences. This has resulted in ex-fundies using the internet, specifically social media, to connect and share our mutual experiences. These online relationships take many forms, from the nostalgic all the way to embittered wholesale denunciations. For many ex-fundies, though, our reminiscences take the form of an honest appraisal of the good and bad found within fundamentalism. Count me among that latter group.
Anyone who knows me (or who has read A Godless Fundamentalist) understands how appreciative I am for my parents’ faithful gospel witness in my life. By God’s grace, I believe that I was honest yet respectful towards fundamentalism in the writing of the story of how the Holy Spirit changed my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. When I pitched my memoir to Crossway, I communicated that I have zero desire to flame my upbringing or the independent fundamental Baptist movement (IFB), as a whole. That doesn’t mean that I do not have serious concerns about much of the methodology and even theology that characterizes the version of the IFB movement in which I was raised, because I do. And that tension – appreciation for important aspects of my upbringing alongside a cognizant articulation of the flaws and even sins of aspects of it – is a delicate tightrope to walk. You can find those who will argue that I erred too far one way and just as many who will argue that I erred too far the other way. While, on one hand, I am wary of those who use the language of escaping fundamentalism, I understand the terminology.
An entire cottage industry arose in the mid-aughts deconstructing and condemning the movement that’s referred to as independent fundamental Baptist (IFB). While not monolithic, by any stretch of the imagination, the IFB can be characterized by a few things that are worthy of criticism: prioritizing secondary separation, a monastic-style retreat from the world, and an undo emphasis on standards, among other things. Again, the movement is not monolithic, to the point where it’s probably a misnomer to even apply the label “movement.” For example, the version of fundamentalism in which my parents ministered is considered liberal by others who claim the tag IFB. Keep in mind, I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts unless I was playing sports, my sisters weren’t allowed to wear pants, and my dad only ever preached from the Bible translation called the KJV. Too liberal, indeed. On the other hand, my dad and his friends were suspicious of the compromises committed by others who also claimed to be fundamentalists. I learned early on that one man’s Christian liberty was the next man’s anathema worthy compromise. Criticizing the IFB is fraught with perils of overgeneralization, temptations to overplay the wrongs while ignoring the good and right, and an overall out-of-balanced depiction of a movement that defies easy categorization. All that to say, when a friend of ours sent my wife a link to the podcast The Recovering Fundamentalist, I reserved the right to be suspicious.
Well, after listening to nine of the currently seventeen episodes, I am happy to report that my initial skepticism was well off the mark. The hosts of The Recovering Fundamentalist treat their subject with respect, honesty, and charity. I appreciate JC Groves, Nathan Cravatt, and Brian Edwards’ collective perspective born out by experiences that helped shape them for God’s glory and their sanctification. All pastors, the three are winsome, knowledgeable, and kind as they discuss fundamentalism. Their chemistry is apparent, keeping the episodes lively and entertaining, even when discussing serious topics, but without crossing into the flippant or being dismissive. Most importantly, the three provide a needed service for those who are still struggling with various theological and cultural idiosyncrasies found within fundamentalism. Their pastoral heart combined with their theological training serves the listener well. Those who have questions about translations, standards, hermeneutics, and even deeper theological questions dealing with soteriology, sanctification, etc. will find the episodes helpful and rooted in a love of God and fealty to His Word. For those who are simply curious about the often weird world of fundamentalism, The Recovering Fundamentalist will be a fun and informative listen.
I encourage you to give the podcast a listen. A link to the website is provided below. If, like me, you grew up in the IFB movement, the website also provides a page for you to share your story.
Listen to The Recovering Fundamentalist by clicking here.
 While my manuscript made it all the to the publication committee they turned it down, Mainly, because no one knows who I am … just in case you were wondering.