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Fundamentalism Can Make You Mental

Written by: on February 21, 2018

mental disorders

Before I was a therapist, I was a preacher’s kid, a Christian school teacher, pastor’s wife, and actively involved in church leadership. From 4th grade on, I have attended private schools, universities, and ultimately seminary. I often felt valued and impressed upon to be an active part of church and community leadership due to my education and experience. When I pursued a career as a therapist, I was shocked at the distinct difference in which I was treated by some of the local church leaders, especially by the fundamental religious community. Religious people and leaders who were unfamiliar with my background, approached me with caution and wariness since I was educated in the “humanistic field of psychology.” Some pastors in my area openly condemned therapists as being dangerous to employ as they led people astray from spiritual teachings.

To argue, defend, or even acknowledge such rigid perspectives became a dreary exercise I had no desire to participate in since I found their value for psychology or anything intellectual absent. Noll’s statement rang true for me: “Evangelicals do not, characteristically, look to the intellectual life as an arena in which to glorify God because at least in America, our history has been pragmatic, populist, charismatic, and technological more than intellectual.”[1] To the fundamentally religious, therapists were not divinely inspired to bring glory to God, and were leading people to look inward instead of upward for guidance.

Adhering to a rigid set of beliefs and promoting exclusive teachings while resisting outside influences is unhealthy for individuals or groups, for it produces narrow-mindedness and segregated thinking. Relationally it is problematic, as it can be offensive to those outside of the fundamental beliefs who are dubbed as “heathens” and “heretics” since they do not fit within the fundamental culture. It is limiting and dangerous for the emotional, spiritual, and neurological health of an individual to exclude outside intellectual concepts. In addition, it cripples the task of developing a healthy thriving community of diversity. Although a bit dramatic and a tad overstated, I can appreciate the heart of Noll’s words: “The treatment of fundamentalism may be said to have succeeded; the patient survived. But at least for the life of the mind, what survived was a patient horribly disfigured by the cure itself.”[2]

Ironically, the familiar tune of fundamentalism rings loudly in the message of revivalists as they urgently insist their followers to acquiesce to their perspectives and revolutionary beliefs. “Revivalists, moreover, regularly challenged their hearers to seize the faith immediately. They insisted that what had gone on in the churches through the centuries was irrelevant to what must be done with respect to the faith now.”[3] Not unlike the fundamental movements, this has an arrogant tone as it demands followers to dissociate from their past beliefs systems and rituals, while blindly embracing their newly introduced belief system. Again, this points to an absence of critical thinking skills and devalues the intellectual and spiritual wisdom of yesteryears. Personally, that’s why I love rearranged hymns as they bring the old and new together, in a nostalgic yet trendy, vintage sort of way.

In stark contrast to fundamentalism, it can be disturbing to see the evolution of the church in today’s society, as Noll’s words describe a consumer church mentality, with marketing questions guiding the church’s development: “What message would be most effective? What do people most want to hear? What can we say that will both convert the people and draw them to our particular church? The heavy pressure for results meant that very little time or energy was available to think about God and nature, God and society, God and beauty, or God and the shape of the human mind.”[4] This is a disheartening truth for many churches today. Numbers, size, giving, and expansion plans often dominate conversations, sermons, and meetings. Consumerism seeps into our congregations, relationships, and leadership as we find the topic of God’s role in our lives and society subtlety hi-jacked. There is nothing wrong with a well-done marketing campaign, but when that is primary to the voice and direction of the Holy Spirit, we must give pause for concern for the sacred development of the Bride of Christ.

In conclusion, Noll recaps his writing with a dismal summary and a familiar negative reference to fundamentalism: “In the preceding chapters I have argued that contemporary “evangelical thought” is best understood as a set of intellectual assumptions arising from the nineteenth-century synthesis of American and Protestant values and then filtered through the trauma of fundamentalist-modernist strife.”[5] Fortunately, he doesn’t conclude his writings there and offers hope for a promising church future. “Even a brief examination of recent evangelical thought in politics, science, and philosophy leads to inescapable conclusions: Evangelicals now are participating fully in the renewal of Christian thinking that has been underway for several decades in North America.”[6]

With the renewal of Christian thinking, it is a great contribution to the health of the church and its leadership. A profound task of Christian leaders that cannot be understated is to develop healthy leadership, churches, and organizations. “Creating an emotionally healthy culture and building a healthy team are among the primary tasks for every leader, whether that leader is a senior pastor, a para-church ministry department head, a nonprofit or a marketplace executive, a church board member, or a small group leader.”[7] Healthiness becomes a possible task when rigid, fundamental beliefs give way to intellectual thinking, and respectful appreciation is expressed for enlightened works. A closing message for the fundamentalist: scientists, politicians, engineers, health providers, philosophers, and even therapists can be a part of pointing people towards a loving Creator and bringing glory to God.

Hope

[1] Mark A. Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2010), 55.

[2] Ibid., 146.

[3] Ibid., 63.

[4] Ibid., 67.

[5] Ibid., 211.

[6] Ibid., 238.

[7] Peter Scazzero, The Emotionally Healthy Leader: How Transforming Your Inner Life Will Deeply Transform Your Church, Team, and the World, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan), 213.

 

 

 

About the Author

mm

Jennifer Dean-Hill

12 responses to “Fundamentalism Can Make You Mental”

  1. Mary says:

    Jennifer, yes there are lots of problems with “Adhering to a rigid set of beliefs” including calling others who don’t agree with you “heretics”.
    But I came across another “disconnect” in our church related to, “Religious people and leaders who were unfamiliar with my background, approached me with caution and wariness since I was educated in the “humanistic field of psychology.”
    I suggested to our pastor that we allow women who were trained at seminary to be counselors in our church. After all, they would be using bible principles. But the problem was that they were women.
    How can they keep cutting off their noses to spite their faces!?!

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      I was encouraged by the story of the woman at the well in John. The story says she went to tell the MEN about Christ and many were saved because of her testimony. Jesus was no dummy. He was tired and needed to rest up, and wanted the people to come to Him. What better way to get the news out that he was in town than to tell an exuberate women who would get the people to come to Him? He loves his women preachers and counselors, even if others do not. No doubt about it. Simply put: excluding women from ministry in any capacity is not the heart or works of Jesus.

  2. Jim Sabella says:

    Jenn, what an excellent post. I think that you make a good distinction when you speak of fundamentalists within evangelicalism. This is part of the challenge I have when evangelicalism is the focus of research when maybe only one slice of evangelicalism or even a smaller subgroup is actually being studied. I’d be interested to hear how you responded to those who told you that you were…educated in the “humanistic field of psychology.” Enjoyed your post.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Thanks, Jim. When I was challenged I would let them know I also have spiritual training and can incorporate that in my work when needed. I also respectfully pointed out that therapists have a job to do just like car mechanics. Do you expect your car mechanic to pray over your car and have theological discussions or do you want him to have some tools to fix it? I would then say, I have some tools from my training to fix your relationships and I’ll be praying while I do it. That seemed to work for most.

  3. Lynda Gittens says:

    Jen your statement “this points to an absence of critical thinking skills and devalues the intellectual and spiritual wisdom of yesteryears. Personally, that’s why I love rearranged hymns as they bring the old and new together, in a nostalgic yet trendy, vintage sort of way.”
    In days past the congregation wasn’t encouraged to read and study outside the church. The pastor was their leader and hears directly from God. If you study on your own you may challenge the pastor.

    I too love some of the hymn remixes, but some I can do without. smile

  4. Stu Cocanougher says:

    “Scientists, politicians, engineers, health providers, philosophers, and even therapists can be a part of pointing people towards a loving Creator and bringing glory to God.”

    On the flight back from our last Advance, Johannesburg to Frankfurt, I sat next to a mathematician. To be honest, I really hate math. Yet, here was a woman who would spend months working with a team to solve ONE MATH PROBLEM. That’s it. That was her life. Yet, I felt the Holy Spirit promoting me to share the gospel with her. As it turns out, we did have a common point of reference. Here was a woman whose life was spent focusing the fact that there was ORDER to be found in the minute details of our reality. In her mindset, there were no math problems that were unsolvable. She was open to God (although very far fro religion) because she understood that the universe had a distinct order to it.

    • mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

      Interesting connection Stu! Like you, I’m not a big math fan, but what an amazing job creating a spiritual connection with such a math wizard. Months spent solving ONE MATH PROBLEM? Sounds like a little piece of hell to us social workers, huh?

  5. mm Katy Drage Lines says:

    I appreciate the recognition you make that, working in a professional capacity where you’ve had to study(!), that many Christians deride and downplay the hard work. I grow weary of hearing Christians critique “intellectual elites,” even fellow clergy.

    You write, “the familiar tune of fundamentalism rings loudly in the message of revivalists as they urgently insist their followers to acquiesce to their perspectives and revolutionary beliefs. “– in Life of the Mind, Noll writes on the strengths & weaknesses in evangelicalism: “Compassionate concern for the immediate needs of individuals and their families, addressed right now, has been the defining trademark…. Yet these commendable traits pose problems for intellectual life, since serious thinking takes a lot of time” (152).

  6. mm Jennifer Dean-Hill says:

    Yes, serious thinking takes a long time. I am reminded of our book, Deep Work. It never seems like I have enough time to just think deeply, much less produce deep work.

  7. Kristin Hamilton says:

    Thank you for this, Jen: “It is limiting and dangerous for the emotional, spiritual, and neurological health of an individual to exclude outside intellectual concepts. In addition, it cripples the task of developing a healthy thriving community of diversity.” I was talking with a couple of college-aged students today and they told me that, once you have studied theology, going to church can be frustrating. These aren’t theology students, they just happened to take a couple of required classes and were forced to think about the Bible intellectually. When I asked why it was frustrating, they said they don’t get the sense that people want to hear more, know more, or ask more. That is exactly the kind of thing that cripples relationships and diversity of thought. I don’t think we have been taught to disagree well or to hold differing opinions in tension.

  8. Christal Jenkins Tanks says:

    Jen I would agree that all of us our tasked with pointing atleast one person to Christ. The way in which we do so will be different. Our faith is fluid and less conventional. I am curious to see where the Church goes from here?!

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