Friday, June 03, 2005

Defining "Fundamentalism"

John Armstrong raises the ante in his series on "fundamentalism"...

This kind of fundamentalism creates the same old schisms through what I call "hyper-orthodoxy." What is stressed by this emphasis goes well beyond the core of Christian faith. The way disagreement is processed invariably leads to schism. The truth of the matter is this–few who think and lead ministries as fundamentalists will ever admit that they are actually fundamentalists. Most who hear the label used will deny that they ever get that close to the reality of the thing itself. I find that my own admission to having fallen into this trap, via very conservative Reformed Christianity, has been good for my mind and soul.


Taking this quote as is, I thought to myself, "If those who are targeted by the term wouldn't accept the label, what good is it?" Setting the term "fundamentalist" aside, what is J.A. describing here?

Those who do not make distinctions between core, secondary, and peripheral doctrines.

Those who make total or near-total doctrinal agreement (or submission) a test for friendship and orthodoxy.

Those who have a surety that everything they believe is TRUTH.

Those who act, even if they don't say they believe, as if those who do not agree with them are willfully rebellious against God, and are deserving only of contempt and scorn.

Put this way, there are plenty of these folks to go around, and not just in Reformed circles. However, IMHO, the emphasis in Reformed circles on rigorous theological systems, having an intellectual faith (or at least the appearance thereof), and a milieu of sharp criticism of the wider culture (Christian and pagan), makes the Reformed tradition very susceptible to attracting this sort of animal. And like John, I can speak from personal experience with this. I was one.

Not that thinking systematically, intellectually, or having a critical eye to the spirit of the age are bad. Far from it. But it is all too easy to make these things the defining forces of our faith, rather than Christ. As Calvin said, the human heart is an idol factory. And as C. S. Lewis said, the closer the idol is to the altar, the more subtle and dangerous it is.

7 Comments:

Blogger ct said...

Make a distinction between the Emo Phillips joke and confronting people who are manifesting the spirit of the devil in defiling Biblical doctrine. The latter only attack Reformed Theology (Calvinism) and when it gets down to it the doctrine defined by the five solas. When people are just ignorant of Biblical doctrine but not attacking Biblical doctrine, but just off-the-mark and fuzzy regarding Biblical doctrine they don't get confronted in the way you are complaining about. You're not going to see someone like me going over to a Unitarian church and berating them about their doctrine. You will see me vigorously confronting people who claim to be Reformed or Calvinist and show mocking disdain, outright, for Reformed doctrine (or believers) or who engage in subtle theological sophistry (or nowadays postmodern nonsense) to defile Reformed doctrine.

Contending for the faith is not the Emo Phillips example, it is defending Biblical doctrine which is, classically defined, five solas doctrine. The five solas emerged organically out of the entire Reformation period and are universal (i.e. are not mere shallow definitions such as church polity or issues regarding 'sacraments'). It is fashionable now, I see, to dismiss the five solas as if they are merely 'quaint' things from the past, but this is done by people such as the Reformed Catholics because the five solas cuts them to the bone. They can't defend themselves when the five solas are put forth as the classical definition of Protestant, i.e. Biblical, faith. They hate the five solas (and their reactions to the very phrase that they gave on their now defunct site exposed them for all to see). The rCs are classic modern examples of people who need to be confronted. They are not innocently ignorant or 'merely developing' in their faith. They are consciously carrying on a war against Truth with an explicit motivation to defile Truth and mislead people. And those whose 'work' they draw on (NPP, AA, FV, N. T. Wright, postmodernism, etc.) are in the same category.

When these types are confronted by what are disdainfully called 'Truly Reformed' it is not shallow contention or empty fighting for fighting's sake. It is contending for the Truth.

The Emo Phillips' joke is another thing, and definitely convicts and reminds that not all points of doctrine are a hill worth dying to take or defend. Five solas are, church polity, issues of 'sacraments', other similar lesser issues are not.

I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said, "Stop! don't do it!"
"Why shouldn't I?" he said.
I said, "Well, there's so much to live for!"
He said, "Like what?"
I said, "Well... are you religious or atheist?"
He said, "Religious."
I said, "Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?"
He said, "Christian."
I said, "Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?"
He said, "Protestant."
I said, "Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?"
He said, "Baptist!"
I said, "Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?"
He said, "Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you original Baptist Church of God, or are you reformed Baptist Church of God?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God!"
I said, "Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915?"
He said, "Reformed Baptist Church of God, reformation of 1915!"
I said, "Die, heretic scum," and pushed him off.
[Emo Phillips]

7:27 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

Is the "L" in TULIP really worth breaking fellowship with other believers over?

Or if someone says they like N. T. Wright? (Question - if you were asked to define Wright's theology, from his own writings, could you? Or "postmodernism"? IOW, are you willing to condemn people over categories that you or they may not totally understand?)

I just happen to believe that every point of the TULIP is correct. What I no longer believe is that that belief should control every interaction I have with the rest of the Body of Christ.

7:37 PM  
Blogger ct said...

Notice I specifically said five solas and you, apparently in autopilot mode, needed to think I referenced TULIP.

There is a difference.

7:41 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

Of course I'm in autopilot mode - I'm in grad school. :-}

Point taken. But I still think my questions stand. The way that Lutherans understand "sola gratia" is different from the way Reformed Calvinists understand it (aka, the "L" in TULIP, amongst other points). So where does the line end up being drawn? Is being "right" on that point more important than being in fellowship with those who may disagree?

7:49 PM  
Blogger ct said...

Or if someone says they like N. T. Wright? (Question - if you were asked to define Wright's theology, from his own writings, could you? Or "postmodernism"? IOW, are you willing to condemn people over categories that you or they may not totally understand?)

These accusations that I or, by implication, anyone who confronts people on points of doctrine are ignorant of 'where they're coming from' are just empty. Obviously you can build a strawman for that argument. I happen to know what Wright is up to and where he works to defile doctrine (at the fount), and I happen to know what postmodernism is (to the extent that it can be defined because it's adherents don't want it to be defined because it is merely a palette of tactical weapons to attack whatever they want to attack, but having said that I can define it and I know what it is (probably better than any self-identified postmodernist knows what it is).

I just happen to believe that every point of the TULIP is correct. What I no longer believe is that that belief should control every interaction I have with the rest of the Body of Christ.

If you are talking about evanelizing then fine points of doctrine are not relevant. The Word of God is what is relevant in evangelizing. Being able to use it as the Sword of the Spirit is relevant in evangelism. It is the Word of God that is lively and cuts deeply and effects regeneration (along with the Spirit) when regeneration is effected. Doctrine is vital, but comes later in the process.

If you are talking about just hanging with other Christians then TULIP or five solas or your favorite church polity or whatever is neither here nor there.

Discerning when the faith must be contended for is something a Christian with the Spirit in them is capable of doing. The problem with your typical attitude is you seem to deem all contending for the faith empty contention.

Not all Christians have this lack of being able to discern the difference or lack of valuation for making the effort to contend for the faith when that is called for and needed.

8:01 PM  
Blogger burttd said...

At this point, all I can say is, whatever floats your boat. Several years ago, I was where you are at now. I doubt if anyone who's where I'm at now could have made a dent in me then by simple argumentation. It took God allowing me several hard years of paying for my theological arrogance to bring me around. If what I say doesn't jibe with you now, fine. There are other blogs out there that will.

Now, I have to do some homework.

8:13 PM  
Blogger ct said...

The way that Lutherans understand "sola gratia" is different from the way Reformed Calvinists understand it (aka, the "L" in TULIP, amongst other points). So where does the line end up being drawn? Is being "right" on that point more important than being in fellowship with those who may disagree?

That would be an Emo Phillips difference. Basically, the Spirit gives God's elect the ability to discern when the devil himself is making an attack on Biblical truth. There's a reason that some new movements get swarmed with confrontation (like recently the Reformed Catholic movement) and other movements get less attention from the same people. When you know the truth you can see when it is being attacked in a serious way and you can see when people are just commonly confused or ignorant or still developing in their understanding or what not. Auburn Avenue was swarmed for a reason; New Perspective On Paul was swarmed for a reason (to list two more recent examples). In the early centuries certain heresies were vigorously confronted and fought in debate. It is not a mystery why some things get this treatment from God's elect and others don't.

When God's elect are contending for the faith we are doing it against the devil and the spirit of the devil working through his followers (duped or not); we are not doing it against natural ignorance or people with developing understanding or just fuzz brained, non-serious types who are as likely to believe heresy as they are to believe a crystal has power to make their wishes come true.

8:13 PM  

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