I would like to apologize to all who felt attacked by my most recent post. It was not my intent to accuse anyone of being an imposter Christian.
My intent was to call out elements of fundamentalism for what I believe began as a misguided attempt to protect faith from “modern” ideas but grew into a movement that promotes an alternate reality that has damaged the reputation of Christianity and of Jesus.
That’s a lot to unpack, so we’ll begin with the definition of fundamentalism from Wikipedia:
“…fundamentalism has come to be applied to a tendency among certain groups – mainly, although not exclusively, in religion – that is characterized by a markedly strict literalism as it is applied to certain specific scriptures, dogmas, or ideologies, and a strong sense of the importance of maintaining ingroup and outgroup distinctions, leading to an emphasis on purity and the desire to return to a previous ideal from which advocates believe members have strayed. Rejection of diversity of opinion as applied to these established “fundamentals” and their accepted interpretation within the group often results from this tendency.”
Much of evangelicalism today has been overcome by fundamentalism over the past forty years, since the fundamentalist wing gained control of the Southern Baptist Convention. From there, fundamentalism spread through curriculum that was produced, media such as popular radio shows on parenting, movies, books and television programming.
There are several key points that need to be fleshed out. In the interest of brevity, we will take them one at a time over several weeks.
“Strict literalism” is a good place to start, since it was the first driver of the rise in fundamentalism in protecting against the teachings of evolution.
The Bible and Christianity have a complicated historical relationship. The Bible, as we know it today, did not exist for the first couple hundred years of the movement and by the time the canon was settled in the fourth century, most people were not able to read it for themselves.
By the time of the Reformation, only biblical scholars had access to the Scriptures, and only in Latin, which by then was a dead language. Christianity was not rooted in Scripture, but in tradition. As the Bible was slowly translated (illegally) into common languages, men like Martin Luther noticed there was a real disconnect between the teachings of the church and what the Bible had to say. The Reformation was brought on by people who read the Bible for themselves and questioned the authority and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, which led to the elevating of scripture over tradition in Protestant churches. The tension between tradition and scripture exists in every expression of Christianity and their relationship to one another varies. Methodism is guided by the principles of the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which places a high view on Scripture, but also places value on tradition, reason and Christian experience.
Do you remember learning about how Galileo was branded a heretic for championing Copernicus’s view that the earth revolved around the sun back in the 17th century? The Catholic Church feared that such an idea would destroy Christianity, and yet Christianity was able to adapt to new information that was not available to the early Church and survive.
This is similar to what has been going on over the last century. In the late 19th century, the theory of evolution began to be taken seriously and was starting to be taught in schools. Many denominations and churches took this new information and adapted their theology based on new data. They did not view it as a threat to the Gospel.
Some, however, did view it as a threat. Like the Catholic Church of the 17th century, they feared that all of Christianity would crumble because of these new ideas, and American Christian fundamentalism was born.
A group of evangelical leaders met in 1978 to craft and adopt the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy,” which I recommend reading for oneself because a single sentence summary would not do it justice. An important note is that the United Methodist Church at no time signed on to this statement, nor does it have any statement on Biblical inerrancy.
Not all fundamentalists today hold to a six-day Creation (fundamentalism has evolved, as things do), but many do, and it is taught in churches and in Christian schools as science because in fundamentalism, the Bible is wholly accurate in all things and anyone who disagrees is wrong. I suppose I’m wrong then.
When was the last time you read Genesis? It’s quite beautiful and absolutely true in the way it reveals the mysteries of God to us. We must always remember that God is bigger than the words on a page written thousands of years ago by people who were inspired by God to reveal the nature of God to humanity in language that made sense to them.
God is not confined to our traditions, nor is God confined by our sacred Scriptures which I encourage you to read for yourself.