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Book Review - Leaving the Fold

This article is an electronic version of an article originally published in Cultic Studies Journal, 1997, Volume 14, Number 2, pages 311-312. Please keep in mind that the pagination of this electronic reprint differs from that of the bound volume. This fact could affect how you enter bibliographic information in papers that you may write.

Book Review - Leaving the Fold. 

 Edited by Edward T. Babinski. Prometheus Books, Amherst, NY, 1995, 450 pages.

Leaving the Fold concerns itself with fundamentalism only among Christians, although the phenomenon can be found also in other religions and political philosophies. The editor brings together the contributions of many who, like himself, became disenchanted with the type of Christian religions that are described as "fundamentalist." They describe how they came to be committed to a style of religion shaped by a firm belief in biblical inerrancy-an unimaginative trust in the Bible as literally the word of God in a fashion that seems to prescind from the all-too-human collaboration. As a mind-set, fundamentalism is not confined to men, although no women are among the witnesses in this volume. The book is a report by more than 30 men who had been ardent adherents of very rigid groups, but who eventually came to the conclusion that they had organized their lives based upon a misreading of the Bible. Some of these men, upon awaiting, abandoned the ultraconservative style of religion for a more liberal one; others turned to non-Christian spirituality; some became agnostic and others atheistic. This variety of options should not appear surprising; it simply demonstrates what can happen when people begin to think for themselves. As one reads through these personal stories-uneven in quality though they may be-one is inclined to wonder why the conversions were so long in coming about. Timothy William Grogan said, "Fundamentalist theology is one of the most boring disciplines extant" (p. 313). For him, it was the boredom that spurred him toward the exit. For Conrad Hyers, it was the humorlessness that turned him away. And he added, "The first inconsistency to strike me forcibly was the common sacrifice of Christian love to Christian belief' (p. 103).

In the first chapter, Babinski makes clear the direction of this book: "According to Protestant Christian fundamentalists, with which this book specifically deals, it is a belief in the 'fundamentals' of the Christian faith: the truthfulness of events recorded in the Bible, miracles and prophecies described in the Bible, morality prescribed in the Bible and Chris6an doctrine, derived from the Bible." This work compiles the testimonies of fundamentalists who have "seen the error of their ways." It does not pretend to be a study of theological scholarship, nor does it aim tc) solve the "problem" of fundamentalism. Nevertheless, it could be a help for many troubled people who are still caught up in this narrow view of scripture. And it ought not be surprising that the interpretation of these holy books should present challenges: we can even find the apostle Peter cautioning that the writings of Paul contain things difficult to understand (2 Peter, 3,16). Yet, the progress of biblical studies in this past century alone is astounding, with one publisher promoting a volume of up-to-date commentary with this bold statement: "During the later eighteenth century the Bible underwent a shift in interpretation so radical as to make it virtually a different book from what it had been a hundred years earlier."

In this ecumenical age, Catholic and Protestant scripture scholars gladly share one another's insights, and both pay careful attention to what is taking place in the ranks of Judaism. For example, both will listen with respect to these wise words of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel:

It is usually assumed that the biblical writers had a bent for lofty, swelling language, a preference for extravagant exaggeration of statement. However, pondering about the substance of what they were trying to express, it dawns upon us that what sounds to us as grand eloquence is understatement and modesty of expression. Indeed, their words must not be taken literally, because a literal understanding would be a partial, shallow understanding; because the literal meaning is but a minimum of meaning. (Between God and Man, p. 77)

Rev. Walter Debold 

Seton Hall University

Cultic Studies Journal, Vol. 14, No. 2, 1997