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In the World but Not of It

Stereotypes about American Fundamentalism are challenged in a true story about one family's faith

By Aaron McCarroll Gallegos

In the World but Not of It:
One Family’s Militant Faith and the History of Fundamentalism in America
By Brett Grainger
(Walker & Company, New York) $24.95 

Canadian writer Brett Grainger’s In the World but Not of It offers a sympathetic view of a fundamentalist family, and an insightful history of Christian fundamentalism in North America. Though fundamentalism has a negative connotation in most circles today — Grainger calls it “the F-word” — this book challenges the stereotypes and shows that in many ways, fundamentalists aren’t too different from the rest of us. The fundamentalists Grainger grew up with “sold shoes, answered phones, pumped gas, pushed pencils, poured concrete,” he writes.

But while fundamentalists can be like you and me in some ways, they can be totally other-worldly in others. In a story that is captivating but painful, Grainger tells of his grandfather, an itinerant preacher, who calculated the date that the rapture would whisk all true believers into heaven. Grainger’s grandfather risked his reputation going from church to church to warn his community. Then he sat down with his wife on Sept. 11, 1988, to await the shout of trumpets that would announce the beginning of the end.

The couple sat in their living room all day praying and waiting. As evening came and nothing happened, Grainger’s grandmother quietly moved into the kitchen to prepare a roast she had taken from the freezer that morning, just in case.

While Grainger’s writing about his family’s fundamentalist experience is the most powerful part of In the World but Not of It, the book also offers extensive coverage of the history of Christian fundamentalism in North America. Grainger traces the movement’s rise through the dispensationalist theology of John Nelson Darby in the 19th  century to the opening of the $27-million Creation Museum in Petersburg, Ky., in 2007.

Grainger shows how fundamentalists, once simply a community of believers who withdrew from the world to offer themselves to God, have now become the shock troops for the religious right and the Republican Party in the culture wars taking place south of the border.

The lesson of this book is that Christians can become so consumed by their own vsion of faith that they become blind to the movement of the Spirit in the world around them. This selective blindness afflicts not only the theologically conservative, but liberal Christians as well. Grainger shows us the value of keeping our eyes and hearts open to the surprising work of God in these times of change.

Aaron McCarroll Gallegos is a producer for the United Church's Emerging Spirit campaign and WonderCafe.ca.
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