I grew up in a fundagelical church. We were Pentecostal and thus charismatic with a heady dose of dispensationalism and culture war conservatism. As I reflect back, it strikes me that the worldview I was given was incredibly dark and pessimistic. For example, we were raised to believe the following (either through explicit teaching or imbibed more indirectly from the cultural milieu):
- Human beings were abject sinners: all our actions and motivations are corrupted by sin.
- God didn’t want us to suffer the consequences for our sin and so he tortured and killed Jesus in our place. The suffering and death of Jesus satisfied the Father’s terrible wrath against our sin, but only if we accept Jesus (more on that below). If we didn’t accept him, the Father’s terrible wrath would crash down upon us eventually resulting in our unimaginable terror and agony (more on that also below).
- The world is on a trajectory toward destruction: things will continue to get worse until they spiral into a great cosmic battle: Armageddon.
- Jesus will come back at a moment when you least expect it to take his children to heaven in the rapture. Everyone left behind could look forward to a seven-year tribulation of unimaginable agony and upheaval.
- If you were left behind during the tribulation, your one chance of salvation was reduced to martyrdom such as being tortured or crucified. I still remember the horrifying lyrics of one Christian heavy metal song I listened to at the time which captures the mood: “When they ask you to take the mark of the beast, scream in their faces, ‘I want to be beheaded! You’ll see head chopped off, body rot. And then, reign with Christ. And then, you’ll fry!” Um, okay…
- At Armageddon, the earth would be consumed in a fire that would destroy all things and the believers would be brought to heaven. (Somehow, I missed the idea of the general resurrection though it does play an important role in dispensationalism.)
- In order to be saved by Jesus, you needed to pray a sinner’s prayer to Jesus. Most people never did this and thus, most people would go to hell.
- Hell was a literal lake of fire in which the souls of the damned would scream and moan in unimaginable anguish for eternity.
- Meanwhile, heaven was something like an eternal church service in which the small remnant of the saved sang hymns forever. (Granted, this was better than hell by a lot. But still, when thirty minutes of hymns seemed to take forever, what would actual forever be like?!)
- Because the world hates God and is fated to destruction, we could expect as Christians to be mocked and persecuted for our faith. But if we persevered to the end, we would have our place in heaven singing songs forever.
- Because the world hates God, we should also be distinct from the world and that meant having our own church-related social events and watching Christian movies and listening to Christian music. You could watch some “pagan” movies and listen to some “pagan” music but only if it was very “wholesome”. Interestingly, while “secular” and “worldly” country singers sang a lot about women and drinking (and cowboys and pick-ups) they seemed to be generally safer than rock and roll. That was bad news if you hated country music, as I mostly did, then you were left with mostly Christian music.
- All sorts of other things were generally verboten or at least high risk ranging from trick or treating to school dances. (Thankfully, my parents were quite inconsistent: I was only held back from trick or treating once and I only sat out one school dance.)
- Finally, we always had to be careful of the wiles of the devil. You never knew when the number ‘666’ might appear. I still remember the one time my mom threw away some products we had from Proctor & Gamble after she heard they were in league with Satan. (That was a big part of the Satanic panic of the 1980s.) And we were always wary of ouija boards (I will never forget spotting the Parker Bros board game version at a toy store: I was horrified!)
To sum up, while we still preached a version of the “Good News” it was almost completely obscured by all this incredibly pessimistic and paranoid wrapping. Sunshine and rainbows this was not. For more on my journey, read my book What’s So Confusing About Grace?