|Fundamentalism: our ideas or trust God?|
Two dynamics in fundamentalism
The history of the church is a series of controversies over what Christians should believe. These arguments were about words and ideas used to express belief, love, trust. Church people argued over beliefs as early as in Acts 15 — in 48 C.E. or 15 years after Jesus' death!
Our creeds or affirmations of faith came out of conferences. The "apostles creed" in its present form first appeared in the writings of Caesarius of Arles who died in 542. The Council of Nicea in 325 created the "Nicene Creed," which Emperor Constantine influenced for his political purposes. Here is a link if you want to learn more. Or read Elaine Pagels' book Beyond Belief.
Flying is an analogy. The Wrights and other pioneers experimented with the elements of flying — wing shapes, drag, weight, control, power — often using simple tools such as fish weighing scales to determine which wing shape had the most lift. After they succeeded people began to theorize how flight happens. A hundred years later there are multiple theories. In the same way people had experiences of God, and afterwards they or others tried to explain how it happened and why. But these theories or theologies came afterwards and are never as certain as actually experiencing God — or flying.
The doctrines that we believe are our agreeing to certain words to express human ideas. To talk about the One whom we trust means relating to this one, which usually strengthens and deepens our faith and understanding. But we dare not confuse trusting the One with the words of doctrine or beliefs. What doctrines you believe or do not accept is not as important as who or what is the foundation of your living.
Walter Russell Mead in Foreign Affairs for Sep-Oct '06 wrote: "the term 'fundamentalist' involves three characteristics: a high view of biblical authority and inspiration; a strong determination to defend the historical Protestant faith against Roman Catholic and modernist, secular, and non-Christian influence; and the conviction that believers should separate themselves from the non-Christian world."
Increasingly people felt that “the Christian belief in a God who acted through revelation and grace appeared wildly incompatible with everything common sense and science suggested about the way the world actually worked. With Luther, the monolithic structure of the medieval Christian Church had cracked. With Copernicus and Galileo, the medieval Christian cosmology itself has cracked. With Darwin, the Christian world view showed signs of collapsing altogether. In an era so unprecedentedly illuminated by science and reason, the “good news” of Christianity became less…secure a foundation upon which to build one’s life, and less psychologically necessary.” (Richard Tarnas in The Passion of the Western Mind, 305)
Theologians who rebelled against science and the social gospel held "Bible conferences" and after the Niagara Conference of 1895 published what they claimed were the "fundamentals" of Christian faith: if a person was Christian, then they must agree with these ideas:
Notice that all of these are ideas or theories. To agree with them is more important than trusting in the God of Christ and building a relationship with this God and among his people. Fundamentalists make human ideas their God the foundation of their faith and life.
Some of these ideas are really strange.
In the last fifty years fundamentalism has made war against sex. They focus on three experiences that often traumatize people. These are complex issues with many facets. We deserve open and honest discussion of these traumas rather than condemnation:
Summary of fundamentalism
Second, fundamentalism makes human ideas or abstractions into their God. Human ideas replace the One "whom no eye has seen nor ear heard nor has entered into the mind of anyone." One that we can describe cannot be the Eternal God! This One who became one of us in Jesus is replaced with human ideas and beliefs such as the virgin birth.
Third, Beverly Harrison, recent professor of Christian ethics at Union Seminary, sees fundamentalism insisting "on a religious monopoly of knowledge grounded in fear of alternative knowledges, particularly 'scientific' … which the 'God-knowledge' people cannot control." Fear, she says, is the pulse of fundamentalism. Part of this fear is of women being respected in their humanity, women free to enjoy, to make choices, so fundamentalism insists on paternalistic male supremacy.
Fourth, there is evidence that fundamentalism appeals most to people who like to have answers, and do not like to discuss shades of interpretation and meaning.
Is reality black and white? For example, Dietrich Bonhoeffer believed he was morally right to be the courier for the Resistance plotting the assassination of Hitler to end World War II. Reality is usually gray, and decisions and ethics are complex. They often depend on the context, such as Hitler and World War II.
Now fundamentalism may be Christian, Islamic, or patriotic. There is no place for the individual initiative and the give-and-take debate and compromise that are at the root of mainline Christianity and America.
Copyright © 2002, 2007 John F. Yeaman
The earliest witness to Christ Jesus in the New Testament is the Apostle Paul in his letters that were written decades before the earliest gospel. Paul often refers to God being present in Christ, but never any hint of the virgin birth. For example, in Galatians 4:4-7 "…born of a woman…" he certainly would have added "virgin" if it mattered, see 2 Corinthians 5:16-21, Philippians 2:5-13, Colossians 1:15-20.
Strangely, fundamentalists want the latest evolution of computers and to fly in the latest evolution of aircraft with the latest evolution of air traffic control. Their major anti-science is the science of cosmology — the origin and development of life and of this earth. Their faith is threatened by evolution and Darwin, while I find my faith strengthened and my image of God glorified by the study of geology and of evolution. When I look at the face of a cliff with its strata, time becomes deeper and broader and the Creator more profound and mind-bending.
Copyright © 2003, 2006 John F. Yeaman