Elitist Christianity cannot survive the rigors of hard discipleship. But my grandparents did. And they handed me a legacy to follow. There are many points of doctrinal disagreement that I would have with my grandfathers. But they had a form of battle-tested grit that would outclass their less rugged peers. These were men who endured hard lives and suffered. And they’d learned how to suffer well with contented hearts. These are the sorts of men that deserve our respect and admiration. Men who finished well and stayed true.
There once was a certain kind of evangelical Christian I felt free to scorn.
In 2010, I planted a church in the inner city of Cincinnati. It was growing rapidly. At the time, the coveted demographic for urban church planters was millennials, and we were attracting them in droves. With a combination of contemporary worship, ancient liturgy, and theologically rich preaching, I thought we had cracked the code. Having successfully planted a church in a challenging, urban cultural context, my sending organization flew me around the country to share my success stories and train younger planters in “the way it’s done.”
Things were going well, but a spirit of elitism began to infect us. There was no one to correct us because everyone was in on it. On occasion, I would make fun of conservative, uneducated, backwoods, KJV-only, fundamentalist Christians. People like this lacked the theological sophistication and cultural insight I had acquired while doing campus ministry and studying at seminary.
I knew these “fundie” Christians well because I grew up around them. I came from the hills of West Virginia. Appalachian, born and bred. But I had moved on. I was better than them. I was more learned and cultured than them. I had “seen the world” and they hadn’t.
I would not have admitted this at the time, but deep down, I felt superior to my hometown people and their “country religion.” The success of my own ministry was at least partly driven by a desire to separate myself from them and prove that “I’m not one of those fundie Christians.”
But over time, something began to dawn on me: I was standing on the shoulders of giants. My own grandfather, “Popo Curt,” was one of those country preachers. He provided for his family by working a physically demanding job in a steel mill his whole life. His family was poor, but he did what needed to be done to take care of them.
Popo Curt had only received a 6th grade education. He didn’t know how to read or write very well. On his 45-minute commutes to work, he would listen to the KJV bible on audio cassette. Up and back, every day, listening to the Bible. King James! Scripture got under his skin.
My mom told me a story once. When he was filling out paperwork or writing something and didn’t know how to spell a word, he would try to remember where that same word was used in his KJV Bible. Then he would look it up to see how it was spelled.