This is a collection of statements from people who have left fundamentalist Christianity. Many of the people are involved in print or broadcast media or some form of entertainment before and after their abandonment of fundamentalism. One was a circus ringmaster, for example. Some were and remain ministers. Overwhelmingly, the accounts are from white men. Only two are from women, and one of those appears as part of a husband and wife team.
Editor Edward T. Babinski uses the term “testimony” to describe each person’s story, a mirror of the Christian term for a conversion narrative. The testimonies are grouped according to the stance the person takes after leaving fundamentalism, i.e., whether the person became a liberal Christian, practices an alternative faith or professes atheism, etc.
In addition, there are sections titled, “What You Should Know About Fundamentalism,” “Fundamentalism’s Grotesque Past,” and (the ungainly) “Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists Who Played Major Roles in Liberalizing the Religion of Their Day.” These provide historical perspectives from the 19th and early 20th centuries. The author also includes four appendices which include quotes, further sources, and comments on Bible passages, etc.
Some of the reasons for leaving fundamentalism include simply no longer being able to believe or friction with church members. Some testimonies, such as that of Austin Miles, touch on well-known scandals like that of Jim Bakker and Tammy Fay Bakker. Miles had preached on their PTL network.
Others are like David Coffin who sees his experience with fundamentalism as both a blessing and a curse. When he was small, his parents filled the house with alcohol-fueled arguing. They and many of their friends were converted and then there were rules and quiet, black and white.
I had been raised in a close ‘cocooning’ Christian community and had left to attend a trade or technical college that would prepare me to make a living… Only time revealed to me that even Christian cocoons require cold hard ‘secular cash’ to keep them going!” (pp. 85-86)
As Coffin grew, however, he found himself neither at home in the “secular” world nor in the church in which he’d grew up. Presently, he is a Lutheran pastor in Ohio.
Some of the testimonies included recount arguments over doctrine and interpretation that come across as arcane to those outside the Christian house. In her testimony, titled “Old Time Religion is Cult,” Marlene Oaks, admits that fundamentalists probably refer to her current faith—First Church of Religious Science—as a cult.
A publication of Prometheus Books (“a leading publisher of the areas of popular science, philosophy, atheism, humanism, and critical thinking”), this book is, to no one’s surprise, unsympathetic to fundamentalism. The reader often gets impressions of sadness and anger more often with Christian brothers and sisters than with faith per se. Nevertheless, each person speaks his piece and share a little of their journey with the reader.