More on Fundamentalism

I have received several comments re: my three-part Weekly Messenger series on fundamentalism (May 23, 30 and June 6). Here is another response, sent to me second-hand.

Armstrong’s articles on fundamentalism were disappointing. It was all over the map, i.e. unclear. It also seemed to conclude that our belief in the truth rests in seeing the events of Christ as being factual and the only way this happens is when the Spirit works in our hearts. Where does this leave us when people claim to be moved by the Spirit to contradictory interpretations of thefacts of Christ?  This is surely another form of irrational emotionalism. It is also very dangerous for him to say that there is a difference between divine revelation and the Bible. I guess he is fighting against a narrow biblicism, i.e. worship of the Bible. But who does that? It is a straw man.

What about what Josiah required in 2 Kings 22 and 23. All the people were to listen to the Lord as he spoke to them in the book of the covenant. This was the way to love and serve God. Josiah was a fundamentalist according to Armstrong because Josiah saw obeying the words of the covenant written in the book of the covenant in Hebrew language as tantamount to obeying and serving the Living God. There was no distinction between divine revelation and Scripture.

Inspiration and innerrancy underlay the authority that the Book of the Covenant had. To say these are minor, fundamentalist issues is to step over the edge of evangelical faith, or what has been held as evangelical faith. It was accepted as God’s very words by Josiah and it was not to be doubted nor were certain portions accepted or rejected based on whether the Spirit was using that portion of the Word to touch their heart. It was all true–objectively true, even propositionally true–and to be obeyed without question.

There is more in these comments than than I can address fully in a few paragraphs but I will try to give a little perspective on several things. I believe most readers can move beyond the emotional words used in this kind of reaction.

1. My articles were not "unclear" to scores of readers who know exactly what I am talking about since they have either been fundamentalists or have been profoundly influenced by the ministry of one or more fundamentalists.

2. My articles referred to the "tone" and "spirit " of fundamentalism as understood in Dr. E. J. Carnell’s reference to fundamentalism being "orthodoxy turned cultic." This was clearly the burden of my first two articles, which I am unsure this critic carefully read.

3. That there is a difference between the Bible and divine revelation is nothing more than good, solid, orthodox theology. This writer seems to think that I am positing the idea that the Bible does not actually reveal God to us. Nothing could be further from the truth. I did not say Scripture "contains" the Word of God. What I said was that Christ is the Word of God who is revealed to us by the Spirit through Scripture. There is a huge difference here and I am not sure this critic understands that difference or its importance.

4. I did not say inspiration or inerrancy are "minor" issues. I do not know where the reader got this from my articles. I said we make a mistake when we equate a sectarian interpretive framework with a high view of the Bible. Here is one such parapragh from my second article:

I read it [i.e., the Bible] to meet Christ, to hear God’s voice, to enter into divine revelation personally.

For the life of me, and given the qualifications I wrote in the paragraph surrounding the above quote, I can’t see how anyone who read my words fairly, and who has a modicum of theological background, could read these ideas into my words. 

Here, further, is what I also wrote:

After all, the final guarantee of truth, assurance and hope is not an a priori proof for the Bible or the miracles recorded in the Bible. The guarantee is finally the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ, made known to me by the Holy Spirit, through the historical divine-human witness of the Bible. The Holy Spirit, who inspires and illuminates this book as no other human book, brings me to Jesus by using this book. When we miss this point I believe we fall back into the spirit of fundamentalism, even if the fall is unintentional.

I am in no way denying inspiration, or for that matter inerrancy so long as the term is properly used and defined. What I am challenging is the idea of an a priori proof for the Bible, one by which we can "prove" truths from the Bible and thereby cause, or create, faith in the Christ of Holy Scripture. I am also challenging the "way" we use Scripture in fundamentalist contexts. Is this a straw man? I submit that it is a major error of hyper-orthodoxy and a method whereby the fundamentalist spirit lives and reigns in many churches and hearts.

As much as liberalism believes too little of what is taught in the Bible, fundamentalism believes, and seeks to prove, too much. Fundamentalism makes essential certain things not clearly revealed in Scripture. And it makes these non-essential "truths" into right belief by the use of fallible logic and abusive human ultimatums. This is why I still submit that there is a deep and serious ditch to be avoided on both sides of the Christian road.

The writer who forwarded these comments to me argued that I should spend an equal amount of time attacking liberal Christianity. This is an old canard often used when folks are not comfortable with an emphasis being presently made. I routinely show how liberal Christianity fails the cause of grace and truth in my writing. My concern in these articles was to show conservative Christians how to avoid the dangers of the right since these are the dangers I believe directly threaten to destroy our evangelical misison in the present day.

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