The Fundamentalist on My Shoulder
Many people have seen the old cartoons of the devil sitting on the shoulder of the person or animal and the angel on the other shoulder. The devil whispers in the ear of the person or animal “Go ahead and do it. You’ll enjoy it. You know you want to.” Then the angel will whisper in the other ear of the person and say, “But the better part of you knows that it is wrong to do this. You want to be a better person so resist the temptation to do evil and do what is right.”
As I sit in seminary class, I often hear this little fundamentalist that seems to be sitting on my shoulder. As I listen to my Old Testament professor try to explain the two versions of the creation story that appear in Genesis, the little fundamentalist whispers in my ear that this professor is denying the validity of the Word of God. As I sit in my Christian Theology class and hear my professor explain the good points of postmodernism, the little fundamentalist on my shoulder whispers in my ear that she is denying the real truth.
That little fundamentalist made a home on my shoulder when I was born into a Southern Baptist home. He upgraded his home on my shoulder when I was enrolled as a kindergartener as a fundamentalist Baptist school. He whispered in my ear the whole time that I was not good enough, that there was no way that I could ever be good enough for God to look with favor on me.
When I was eighteen, the Holy Spirit joined the fundamentalist and my head and heart were often filled with the sounds of war. The moment that I began to try and apply the objective truth of God’s word to the subjective truth of my experience, the fundamentalist would whisper to me that this was not possible. The fundamentalist would demand of me that I follow the rules, that I dutifully hold my head down and submit to God’s Word. Whenever I dared to question the validity of any teaching, the fundamentalist would scream in my ear, “Who are you to question the Word of God?” The war between the Spirit and the fundamentalist took its toll and I called a truce. I did not call it because either side had won. I silenced both of them by living the life that I wanted to.
A year later, the Holy Spirit invited me to reengage…and I did. The Spirit fired the opening shot and he began to trounce the fundamentalist. Very soon, the fundamentalist was relegated to a defeated, but still very vocal part of me. He has remained there until this day.
I do not want to flick him off my shoulder and disregard him completely, because in that whispering and sometimes yelling, there is an underlying commitment to the truth. I always want to be concerned with truth, but never at the expense of the gospel. The gospel is a freeing, liberating, wonderful thing. As I read about the theology of Martin Luther and his experience with the gospel, I am reminded that the gospel liberates us from the law that we cannot uphold and brings to a place of worship of Christ.
With all due respect to the fundamentalist and the concern for truth, I now realize that God is more concerned with my love for him and my relationship with him than whether or not I get every single doctrinal issue correct. The process I now begin is the flicking of the fundamentalist off of my shoulder, but only after I have extracted the truth-seeking passion from him.
My relationship with God should exist first and foremost as just that, the relationship. Once I get that right, truth becomes secondary, but also consequential, the results of my right relationship with my Creator.