Across the Boundaries of Belief: Contemporary Issues in the Anthropology of Religion

By Morton Klass; Maxine Weisgrau | Go to book overview

about it. He "sacrificed his own son" to his narrative tradition with a calm and assurance, a peace of heart, that I still find difficult to accept. Often that afternoon I found myself at a loss for words as Cantrell narratively generated what for me were novel grounds for knowing and for speaking, but the story of his son's death struck me dumb. He might as well have gone up in a puff of smoke.

A cynic, second-guessing Reverend Cantrell's motives, would say he was manipulative, that he used this painful story to "get to" his listener. But from within born-again culture, this telling was the ultimate evidence of belief, Cantrell's moment of maximum authenticity. If he told me the story for effect, it was to effect the reality of God in me. What God said to him and he said to God in that tragic moment meant that God is absolutely real. This was his own conclusion: "Now I'm saying that, Susan, because he is real. This is not mythology. I'm 46 years old, and I'm no fool. God is alive. And his Son lives in my heart."

Among fundamentalist Baptists, the Holy Spirit brings you under conviction by speaking to your heart. Once you are saved, the Holy Spirit assumes you voice, speaks through you, and begins to reword your life. Listening to the gospel enables you to experience belief, as it were, vicariously. But generative belief, belief that indisputably transfigures you and your reality, belief that becomes you, comes only through speech. Among fundamental Baptists, speaking is believing.


Notes

Many thanks to Faye Ginsburg, Frances FitzGerald, Shirley Lindenbaum, Bruce Mannheim, Roy Rappaport, Rayna Rapp, Jane Schneider, Cynthia Sowers, Kathleen Stewart, Harriet Whitehead, Robert Wuthnow, and Marilyn Young for their comments and encouragement.

1.
All evangelical Christians have received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior and are "born-again." In 1982, Gallup (p. 31) estimated over 50 million adult Americans made this claim. Among them, those who call themselves fundamentalists are the most doctrinally strict, dispensationalist (their eschatology "raptures" them before the tribulation), separatist, and politically conservative. There are no firm figures on how many evangelical Christians consider themselves fundamentalists; among Baptists perhaps 5 million would identify with the fundamentalist label ( Wardin 1980:27,33; Ammerman 1986:487). A recent poll ( Kantzer 1980) estimated 29 million adult Americans identified themselves as charismatics or pentacostals. Many of them would agree with fundamentalists on most doctrinal and political questions, but they part company over the doctrine of charismas (the belief that the Holy Spirit manifests himself in the body of the believer through tongues, prophecy, and healing), which fundamentalists reject. A third major faction of born-again Christians, who are called neo-evangelicals, is more moderate or liberal politically, doctrinally, and socially than are fundamentalists. Finally, those who would simply describe themselves as evangelicals may be as doctrinally strict as fundamentalists but are more moderate in other respects. If Jerry Falwell is the emblematic fundamentalist preacher today; Jimmy Swaggert and Pat Robertson stand for the charismatics, at least the conservative ones; Jim Wallis for the neo-evangelicals; and Billy Graham for the evangelicals.

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