My Fundamentalist Education

February 4, 2006

Last Tuesday I mentioned to the students at Word of Life Bible Institute that on the flight to New York, I had finished reading My Fundamentalist Education by Christine Rosen. The book recounts Rosen’s years as a student at Keswick Christian School, a large evangelical Christian school in St. Petersburg, Florida. Unlike many other “I’m no longer a fundamentalist” memoirs, this one looks back with affection and some appreciation for the years she spent learning in a Bible-saturated learning environment. If you were raised in a Christian school, you will certainly find many points of contact. Readers who wish to understand the evangelical subculture will also find the book illuminating.
In the end, however, the book is tinged with sadness because Rosen says in the last chapter that she is no longer religious in any sense of the word. After all those years of memorizing Scripture and learning Bible stories, and after surviving the warnings about missing the Rapture, and after watching endless missionary slide shows, and even going to Christian Skate Nights where the couples could skate to “Love in Any Language” Sandy Patti, and after learning how to Walk-Thru the Bible and the dangers of “backward masking,” after trying and failing to convert her friends to Jesus, somewhere along the way, evidently after she left Keswick, she lost her faith altogether.
I learned about the book when I happened to catch a few minutes of an interview she did on Good Morning America. In many ways Rosen still looks and talks like a well-educated, attractive, Christian school graduate. She speaks with fond appreciation of her years at Keswick, but she no longer calls herself a Christian. Exactly what happened is hard to say because Rosen stops her narrative when her parents take her out of Keswick in favor of another Christian school that is evidently a bit less strict. The loss of faith must have come later.
She does mention two points that bothered her, even as a child in elementary school. She had trouble with the concept that everyone is lost and needs to be saved. This goes to the heart of the contemporary debate over the uniqueness of Jesus. Years later she was exposed to evolution while attending a science camp and could not find a way to reconcile what she learned at the camp with what she was taught at the Christian school.
But there were other issues as well, including a troubled relationship with her mother who abandoned her and her sister when they were very young. Nowhere does Rosen clearly say that she was born again. One can only assume that while she heard the truth many times, it never ultimately penetrated her heart. The very last sentence of the book quotes the famous words of Jesus that “you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31). But truth always cuts both ways. Simply knowing the truth is never enough. Unless the Holy Spirit opens your heart, you can go to a Christian school for years, and even have fond memories of it, and still end up living an entirely secular life, as Christine Rosen has done.
Since I do not wish to end this review on a negative note, I should add that my wife (who for many years served as the administrator of a Christian school) read the book and commented that the final story has not been written. There is “something there,” she said. I smile as I write these words because I know what she means. That’s why preachers preach and teachers teach, because we believe that truth implanted may be dormant for years and then bring forth a harvest of righteousness. Who knows what God will do? The grown-up Christian schoolgirl who leaves her childhood faith may find it once again.

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?