July 21, 2010

From Evangelicalism to Fundamentalism

I think I have been rather dense on the difference, and am really glad that Greg is talking about this transformation. He suggests that the
"evangelical church is no longer evangelical; it's largely fundamentalist, and it's happened because certain ministries were able to build a pseudo-theological consensus by emphasizing minutiae but making them appear cardinal doctrines."

I think there is something there. I also wonder if there isn't a group of churches who have followed the simplistic theology model, but are not technically fundamentalist either. If that makes any sense.


LB said...

I haven't read the book by Noll that Greg refers to, though I've read other stuff by Noll and found it quite good.

I think Greg's conclusions are generally correct, but how he gets there is not entirely right to me. (I realize he knows he's oversimplifying.)

The major point I think I would disagree with Greg on is that he claims fundamentalists have reduced doctrine down to a few points of minutiae. This is only partially true.

For fundamentalists, the primary issues is biblical inerrancy, which is a big issue. The argument for inerrancy generally gets transmitted to us via small bits of Scripture. As a result, it comes across as minutiae to non-fundamentalists, but to them, to deny the correctness of the minutiae is to deny the veracity of the Bible. (I'm speaking of the leadership, not the unwashed masses). As a result, we're often talking past each other, because neither fundamentalists nor us quite sees the position the other is taking.

I'm yet to figure out really how to talk to fundamentalists about Scriptural disagreements. That said, I really think my fellow theologians have failed in a big way here. They seem to assume fundamentalists are somehow stupid. There truth is they aren't, many are very bright, but there's a philosophical starting point that locks them into biblical innerrancy. However, they're smart enough to make strong enough arguments to maintain at least the semblance of a logical structure to maintain a broad base of support,(though I strongly disagree with that "logical" structure).

Sorry this comment wasn't exactly in reference to what your post was about, but you get me talking about theology and I find it hard to stop myself.

Monk-in-Training said...

LB, your comment on this post reminds me of this great quote from the Bard:

And thus I clothe my naked villainy with old odd ends, stol'n forth of holy writ; and seem a saint, when most I play the devil. -- William Shakespeare

leighton said...

LB, having commented at Greg's blog for around six years now, part of the backstory to this post is that he spent several years on and off wrestling with the problem of how to communicate with fundamentalists, and eventually decided that it is nearly always a waste of time. Thus when he says "minutiae," it's less that he isn't seeing things from their point of view, so much as making a value judgment.

The issue isn't that fundamentalists aren't intelligent--the laypeople are as bright as anyone else (which is to say some are and some aren't), and as you point out, the intellectuals are perversely cunning at locking themselves and their flocks into what (IMO) is an unfulfilling and unrewarding framework that takes attention away from human well-being and puts it on objects instead. It's a communication issue, I think; I don't think there's one single measure of intelligence. Whatever their other virtues, it seems fair to say that nearly all fundamentalists seem to have trouble articulating points of view other than their own. Since it is vanishingly rare for me to see the point in communicating within a fundamentalist framework, I tend to agree with Greg and avoid conversations with fundamentalists when I can.

leighton said...

Monk, that's a great quote, and I don't think it was any accident that Richard III was a king. It seems like this kind of sophistry only comes up when people are preoccupied with establishing a power base.

Bob said...

For fundamentalists I think the primary problem is racism.

(I kid. Now I am just messing with LB.)

Streak said...

Interesting. LB, I don't disagree about the intelligence issue. But I have seen a definite lack of intellectual curiosity among the fundamentalist. Perhaps that is the divide and the problem all at the same time. What does it matter what theologians say or think about fundamentalists? If you are a fundamentalist, you think you already know the truth and the extent of the theology you need to know. Right? Or is that an over-generalization?

LB said...

Not quite sure I get what you're asking Streak, but I'll do my best to respond.

What does it matter what theologians say or think about fundamentalists? If you are a fundamentalist, you think you already know the truth and the extent of the theology you need to know.

From the point of view of theologians, my frustration with them is the tendency to think of fundamentalists as simpletons who don't want to think about their faith. I don't think that's true. I think you are correct that fundamentalists have a lack of intellectual curiosity, at least how we understand intellectual curiosity. But fundamentalists from my standpoint are quite inquisitive about some issues, such as trying to "decode" the Bible for hints about the end-times, or more information about how to fight Satan.

From the fundamentalist view point, I don't think they care what theologians think because to them theologians have gone beyond the Bible and don't have a proper biblically based methodology. Where fundamentalists err is that they don't really understand how often they themselves go beyond the Bible and violate their own methodology. This is where I think fundamentalists are truly stupid.

Hope that answered your question.

Bob said...

Can't we just accept that many of these fundies and the Tea Party folks really don't want to live in America as it is constructed and we just need to give them a state or two and just let them leave.

I say give them Texas. Maybe Utah, but that's too small.

Streak said...

I think we are mostly in agreement here. let me clarify about the intellectual curiosity. I agree there is some curiosity about reading the bible for signs and that kind of thing, but I can remember a conversation I was kind of a part of at a relatives house. The discussion was about the time the atonement occurred. I had absolutely nothing to offer to the discussion, and didn't even know what they were talking about. the explanation, though, didn't help. It reminded me of the joke discussion about how many angels fit on the head of a pin. It was a discussion or argument with no consequence, no cost, no relevance. It was, in my mind, the pretense of an intellectual discussion, but not the substance of one.

What annoys me is that they can set aside the theologians if they want. I really don't care. I would like to see them read some thinkers. Most say they like CS Lewis, but few, I suspect, actually read him. But my big frustration is that there are legitimate discussions that can remain within the Bible--say about the nature of war, or even the torture debate. I would suggest you don't need to read German theologians to grapple with those issues, nor to recognize that the Bible is not exactly clear on this issue. Instead of doing that, I find that most fundamentalists simply ignore the teachings of Christ at that point and pull out the smiting god of the OT.

Monk-in-Training said...

I find that most fundamentalists simply ignore the teachings of Christ at that point and pull out the smiting god of the OT

This is EXACTLY what I run into all the time! In the historic Churches the Gospels are elevated above the other Christian Scriptures, read with special songs, rituals and most definitely attention.

Over the years, the reverse seems to have occurred with fundamentalists. Jesus and His life is nearly ignored while Paul and the Hebrew Scriptures are gleaned for 'smiting' verses.