Fundamorphosis is the story of the author’s journey from a fundamentalist upbringing, through its Bible schools, and on into its pulpits. It is the story of his questions and experiences that ultimately led to his resignation, not just from the fundamentalist church he was leading as pastor, but also his resignation from its denomination. It is his story with the emergent church and, as he calls it, “the church I always dreamed of.”
I wasn’t far into the book when I asked myself, “Is this man writing my story or his?” The questions he asks and the doctrines he wrestled with were mine too. Furthermore, if they were also mine, then I wondered, to how many others did (or do) they also belong to? Maybe it follows, then, that Fundamorphosis is, in part, the story of all of us who have ever wrestled with fundamentalism.
Fundamorphosis is divided into three sections.
In the first section Ryerse deals with why he felt he had to leave fundamentalism. He shares of how he began to doubt a lot of the pat theological answers that he received (and gave) and of how he felt bound by tradition. He shares his personal testimony of some of the fears he experienced as he began to push the boundaries by asking those hard questions that nobody wanted asked.
One such example was his wrestling with fundamentalism’s view of how right orthodoxy trumps all, versus the good of orthopraxy that he was starting to embrace. He concludes that, while right theology (orthodoxy) is important, it cannot be more important than right behavior (orthopraxy). As he does throughout the book, Ryerse shares personal life stories to illustrate his various points. Ultimately the turning point for him was feeling that he was wasting the best years of his life in a system that he found himself more and more at odds with.
In part two of Fundamorphosis the author describes the process he took through this difficult time. Having now decided to leave fundamentalism, the questions that now plagued him had to do primarily with what to keep from fundamentalism and what to throw away. Here too I found myself relating to the struggle, for in many ways I have also gone through the same painful process myself. I suspect that is true for many of us. Ryerse says, “without careful reflection, our beliefs can arise purely out of tradition and superstition.”
In what he refers to as “Theology as Exploration,” Ryerse pushes the envelope even further by suggesting that maybe we are all theologians in the sense that we have all thought about the existence and reality of God. Since we have all done this, and since we have all wondered at one time or another about the meaning of life, his premise is that then we are all theologians. He says, “Faith doesn’t arrive to us tied up with a pretty bow. It arrives as ‘some assembly required.’”
In this section Ryerse discusses his new definition of theology as, “the life-changing reflection and articulation of who God is and how God works in my life and in the world.” Through yet further awesome real-life stories and examples, we are led to see that theology is, life changing, it is reflection, it is articulation, and it is about God. In short, as the author says, “It is not just what we believe that is important, it is also important how we believe.”
In the third and final section of Fundamorphosis we see how the author’s Christian faith has been reconstructed into what it is today. It is about community, it is about story, it is about transformation, and it is about hope.
Unlike the fundamentalism that he left, we are introduced to the notion that community can, and must, happen in such a way that we do not force uniformity. Ryerse says, “When we try to force uniformity, we end up driving people away from each other. Uniformity destroys the very community that is the basis for life.”
We are introduced to the idea of a more narrative and less systematic form of theology. Instead of the often dry and boringness of systematic theology, we see that “theology is best done through stories,” through your story and through mine. This makes sense when we see this through his previous idea that ultimately we are all theologians.
Theology is about articulation in that ultimately it ought to bring about change in the lives of people. Ryerse shows us that theology is so much more than just something to be pulled off a bookshelf now and then; it is to be transformative, and an instrument of change.
And finally, theology is about hope. It is about eschatology (the end times) and the realization that God is still very much in control and has a plan through which He will bring all things to completion. It’s about the often-joked “Pan-Millennialism,” which says that all end times stuff will “pan out” just as God has ordained.
In reading Fundamorphosis I was left with the reminder that things do change, and that’s OK. I was left thinking that maybe what it means to be alive in Christ is that we are always undergoing a metamorphosis of sorts ourselves. Maybe we really are the “emergent” church; maybe, like the butterfly in the book, we really are starting to come into view as something beautiful. Maybe God really is more interested in our orthopraxy than in our orthodoxy. Maybe everything will “pan out” after all. Maybe, if you’ve ever wrestled with fundamentalism, you also need to read this book. Maybe …
“No fundamorphosis is ever really complete.
I am emergent and always emerging.”