In the history of the Christian church (all expressions, ethnicities, denominations), 20th century American evangelical fundamentalism is a blip on the computer screen of time. While it still has some evidence of a pulse, I'd say like Billy Crystal in "The Princess Bride": "It's mostly dead." The short life span is good news for the future of faith. It's not such good news if you were born in the sixties.
That life span, unfortunately, coincided with mine. Bill Bright (Campus Crusade for Christ) turned evangelism into a door-to-door sales strategy with little booklets and Four Spiritual Laws that paralleled (somehow) the physical universe. John MacArthur (Grace Community Church Sun Valley) redefined the sermon with his lengthy word by word exposition that had the look and feel of a college lecture rather than weekly nurturing from the "head of a flock." The US Center for World Mission approximated the number of "unreached people groups," never remembered to update the number and expected young Christians to give up everything to live in some of the most hostile, unreached parts of the world to win the lost to Christ... all by the year 2000.
Dr. James Dobson (Focus on the Family) "took back the family" from Dr. Spock by advocating wooden spoon spanking and following it up with strict patriarchy. Not content to merely take back the family, he created a following bent on taking back the country as well. Randall Terry (founder of Operation Rescue - pro-lifers who gladly went to jail to save babies) proof-texted the Old Testament to shame evangelicals into civil disobedience until he got tired of jail himself and started a bad radio show. John Wimber discovered that Christian pop worship music was big business and then proceeded to believe all he'd been taught about the Bible being literally true. (I admit to admiring that about the guy.) Unlike the rest of the conservatives on the landscape, he tried to "do the stuff" that Jesus did. Depending on who you ask, it's hard to say whether or not he ever succeeded.
Mary Pride led a revolution of large family-ism, home business, home education and home collapse. I remember back in the day explaining to my mother that Jon and I were going to go off of birth control to have as many kids "as the Lord wanted us to have." My mom's memorable response: "We're Catholics. We already tried that. It doesn't work."
New models and methods for "sharing" our faith were being fast forwarded into an exhausted movement of people who had prayed the prayer, had burned bridges with old friends, bosses and family by standing up for the Gospel, who had prayed for intimacy with God in tongues, in closets, on 40 day fasts, who'd studied the Bible until the pages wore out, searching for insights that would reinforce evangelical doctrines. Husbands were keeping promises to wives, wives had given up careers to stay home, children were being raised to distrust the culture, the public schools, Hollywood, and to expect men to lead and women to submit.
Evangelical Christianity became its own self-reinforcing loop of similar people who spoke one language, who saw themselves as embattled good people victimized by the ever-intensifying secular humanist American world. But even more than that, they saw themselves as reflecting true, orthodox, original Christianity, just updated by pop music, Veggie Tales, theater style buildings, television and radio shows, and hip male pastors.
It's so glaringly obvious now that this thing, this culture of evangelicalism, had more to do with a reaction to the slide into postmodernism than anything to do with Christianity of the historic formulation.
Some smart people in my life have tried to tell me that the Christianity I believed in was not the "real" Christianity. Gawd, how that used to bug me. I was living in this massive arena of evangelical interconnections that included superstars, the biggest publishing industry in the country, the most easily spotted Christian movement the media could identify. How could these non-evangelical Christian friends not know what I was talking about or who the heroes of this "true Christianity" were?
Even more, as I began to surf ex-fundamentalist sites, it was clear that there were loads of people like me who had thought that Christianity equaled the evangelical version of it. Proof that the version I knew was legit, representative of real Christianity, literal Christianity... at least by that measurement.
In a classic "baby and bath water" argument, a few of my friends on the outside of this suffocating movement have pleaded with me to reconsider my faith so as to retain a better version of it. Honestly, this is how I wound up in graduate school. I have never liked the "I was this, now I'm that" feel of ex-fundamentalism. I was no more qualified to evaluate arguments for evolution post-evangelical than while living as one. So the quick move to trusting some other "expert" (usually science for ex-fundamentalists) to define my worldview worried me a lot.
Worse, I still found things to like in the Bible, in Jesus and in Christianity. It wasn't all smoke and mirrors. The "commitment to marriage and family" arc of evangelicalism actually served my marriage and family (though I know it hasn't always worked that way for everyone). I loved my community of close friends in the homeschooling movement. I loved the community, period. And the themes of redemption, forgiveness and suffering, valuing the "other," and being a part of lasting change still speak to me loudest through Christian writings, theology and teachers.
Graduate school became the place where I discovered this big huge world of Christianities that I hadn't ever known, loved, understood or considered. It was like leaving the McDonald's playland for Disneyland. No comparison. Made the old version of faith look childish and insufficient.
As a result, I've come to agree with those critics in my life. I was in an aberrant form of the faith.
So now what do I do? Adopt another? Reject them all? Instead of Disneyland, I'm hanging out at the beach for awhile. I'm not ready to get the annual pass; I don't feel ready to commit to one location and call it home. My beliefs? Who really cares? They've not defined me very well for most of my adult life. I'm a bit gunshy of declaring "new convictions" given my history of changeableness.
I decided to try something else. Today, I live by faith, not sight. I got the idea from that one guy in the Bible, in fact. It's a really nice way to live, with lots of different people dropping in for tea and a chat.