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Born Again and Again: Surprising Gifts of a Fundamentalist Childhood
Jon M. Sweeney
Paraclete Press, 2005
173 pp., $19.95
Betty Smartt Carter
The Lost Sheep
For evangelicals and fundamentalists, faith in God is a communicable condition rather than genetic. It's passed through close oral contact, occasionally through the airwaves or a shared tract, but never via chromosomes (or baptismal water, for that matter).
The first time I met anyone who thought differently, I was a young teenager on a missions trip at Appalachian State University. My partner was a long-legged, long-faced man who carried a Bible the size of Moses' actual stone tablets. He had no college degree of his own, nor could he count on me for intellectual backup, but he wasn't a bit intimidated. "I'll do the talking," he said, "and you just watch and pray."
We cruised the campus and witnessed, ineffectually, to a sweet-natured hippie and then to a devotee of Transcendental Meditation. After an hour or so we came across a young man on the steps of the student center and asked him if he knew Jesus.
The young man smiled like we were long-lost friends. "I sure do! Known Jesus all my life. I was born a Christian."
"Son," replied my witnessing partner in a firm but patient voice, "weren't nobody ever born a Christian!" As arrogant as he sounded, he didn't mean to offend. He was merely echoing the teaching so dear to all fundo-evangelicals: that Jesus saves through his own blood, and not through the blood running in your veins, or your mother's veins, or even the veins of your grandparents who founded a mission in Argentina. Various groups may add nuances to this doctrine (covenantalists emphasize God's promises to children of believing parents), but the basic teaching stands: belief is a choice of the individual, offered anew to each generation.
Only now do I really see the poignancy of that theological stance. Consider the interconnectedness of fundamentalist/ evangelical culture. After so many years of shared church and missionary life, not to mention a mind-boggling amount of intermarriage, American fundo-evangelicals have become a quasi-ethnic group, much like American ...