Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Reflections on Fundamentalism

This is a clip from the documentary "Jesus Camp," which came out in 2006. I'm not sure what the intent of the documentary originally was, for there was no narration to it. However, it seems that even if it wasn't intended to do this, it did create a lot of conversations about "brain washing" our children. Although parts of it are a little questionable, there were some parts that we challenging and convicting too. I couldn't help but think of the "faith like a child" that Jesus mentions in the Gospels as I watched and heard some of what the children were doing/saying.

Regardless of the intent of the original documentary, this blog isn't really about the documentary itself. I'm more interested in the overall impact of Fundamentalism in American Culture - in both Christian and Non-Christian contexts. defines Fundamentalism as "a movement in American Protestantism that arose in the early part of the 20th century in reaction to modernism and that stresses the infallibility of the Bible not only in matters of faith and morals but also as a literal historical record, holding as essential to Christian faith belief in such doctrines as the creation of the world, the virgin birth, physical resurrection, atonement by the sacrificial death of Christ, and the Second Coming."

When first reading this description, most would believe that this is what all Christians belief. However, this is not completely accurate. There are a few distinctions between Fundamentalism and the doctrines of the Church of the Nazarene (CotN):

1. Fundamentalists belief that the Bible is inerrant theologically, historically, and scientifically. However, the CotN believes that Scripture is inerrant in everything having to do with our relationship to Christ. In other words, the Bible is the theological/faith authority, but it is not a history or science text book.
2. Fundamentalists believe that Scripture was dictated word for word from God, particularly in the autographs (original copies of the texts). The CotN believes that the Holy Spirit inspired all of Scripture and it is the living word of God; we don't have the autographs, so we shouldn't understand that these texts were word for word spoken by God. Instead, the Holy Spirit inspired and guided writers who lived and ministered within specific cultural and social contexts.
3. Because of the two above beliefs, and the initial reaction of Fundamentalism against Modernism (primarily the belief that human reason is the prime means for all knowledge, thus making scientific reason trump Christian faith & creating a Deistic understanding of God), Fundamentalism rejects Science as a means for investigating creation (the rejection of science occurs in varying degrees, with the most extreme rejecting all scientific discoveries).

Before we move on, I must confess that I am already late getting home so I am abbreviating this post.

Here are some things that the Church of the Nazarene could learn from Fundamentalism. In other words, here are some things that Fundamentalism does well:

1. The belief in the Sovereignty of God. (Although Fundamentalism tends to be Calvinistic in nature, Wesleyans could benefit from holding God in higher esteem than "your best friend.")

2. The authority and knowledge of Scripture. A well-respected theologian once asked the question, "Who would win a debate on the biblical doctrine of holiness [living above sin], between a Wesleyan and Calvinist." The answer was quite telling: "The Wesleyan should win, but the Calvinist probably would because he knows more Scripture than the Wesleyan."

Here are some weaknesses of Fundamentalism, which are also probably the reasons that the Church of the Nazarene intentionally separated itself from the Fundamentalist movements in the early 20th Century:

1. Theology and Science aren't Necessarily Contradictory. Because many Fundamentalists have rejected science all together, the secular world has labeled many Christians as ignorant or fools. (I'm not talking about the virtue of being a "fool for Christ.") I don't have time to go into detail on this subject, but the rejection of science has created a chasm of understanding between Christians and non-Christians. This has done great harm to any type of evangelistic effort in the scientific community (among many other hazards). The rejection of science, as noted early, comes primarily from the Fundamentalist's understanding of the literal interpretation of Scripture (especially the Creation narratives in the opening pages of Genesis).

2. Christianity, Patriotism, and the Political Right aren't Necessarily Synonymous. To summarize: Yes, Christians should be pro-life and should be in favor of heterosexual marriages. However, there are a lot of other aspects of politics that are a matter of opinion and have very little Biblical and Theological significance (such as small federal government vs. big federal government). Also, the liberties and freedoms promised in the U.S. Constitution and the fact that many of our founding fathers were Christians (although, actually many of them were deists) does not make the US have greater value in God's eyes than any other country. There is no scriptural evidence to support this. It's true that living in a democratic country that believes in the rights of the individual is must easier than living under a malevolent dictatorship, but I'm not sure that there is a good theological foundation for believing that the rights and borders of people in the US should be protected or preserved at the cost of any other person from another country.

3. Generally speaking, a literal translation of Scripture leaves much to be desired. Simply, we miss a lot of God's intentions by reading everything literally. Usually such readings are totally ignoring the context in which the text was written, which provides great insight into the theological significance of Scripture and the story of God and His people.


  1. So many qualitative moments on which I could comment but I'm going to comment on the low blow: "Although Fundamentalism tends to be Calvinistic in nature, Wesleyans could benefit from holding God in higher esteem than "your best friend." That one had me laughing.

    Good post, Keith.

  2. Liked your post Babe. However, can you spend more time unpacking point 2 (Patriotism), especially the point that "aspects of politics...have very little Biblical and Theological significance." You're setting yourself up to be contested. Defend it better! Also, many believe socialism as practiced by human nations is in itself evil, and communism practiced by human governments is in itself evil, especially considering Europe and Asia's recent examples of tyranny. What do you say to this?

  3. I see what you mean. What I mean is that a lot of Christians associate themselves with the political right because of the generally more Christian perspective on abortion, stem cell research, and homosexual marriage. However, I've noticed then that these Christians also adopt the other perspectives of the political right.

    I would suggest that some Christians champion the republican cause as whole because of the party's views on these moral issues. However, I would argue that some political issues are not a matter of theological significance and shouldn't be argued as such. The example I gave is the size of the federal government. I don't know that there is any theological significance to having a large or small federal government (although the actions of such a government may have impact on religious life in the country, the issue itself is not theologically charged). I would merely like to point out that it's important for Christians to speak out on issues that can be supported by Scripture, but we shouldn't argue the less faith connected issues with the same vigor.

    Also, I would argue that one would have a difficult time arguing for one government system over another from Scripture. For example, I'm not aware of any place in Scripture that says that democracy is good or communism is bad. One might argue that throughout history, it seems that communism is a very oppressive form of government and democracy is more liberating. I would agree with that statement. So we could make a decision about which government to institute based on its effectiveness in carrying out its values. We cannot, however, claim that one government system is more godly.

    For example, the type of community described in Acts of the early church seems to have communist similarities (people would sell land, give money to the poor, and share with anyone who had need...they shared all their possessions). However, it is because ungodly people have led in nations that have use communism that it has failed thrive as a moral or biblical institution.

    Now, I realize that I've just opened the door to a lot more conversations and critism. This reply is already really long, so I'm afraid to go on much more. But here's my point:

    The Bible doesn't really lend itself to be a handbook on what government is best. It does, however, provide principles upon which a government should be run. It's these principles (such as caring for the poor, protecting life, maintaining the integrity of the family, etc) that make a government or country strong. If communism or socialism began to institute these values, they too would be good forms of government.

    We should be careful, as Christians, to argue vigorously for these principles. Our opinions on other issues that are more a matter of practicallity should be voiced in different ways, and should be secondary to these principles.

  4. more clarification. Governments themselves, as institutions do not have moral value - good or evil. It is the humans that lead the government that create moral value.

    Thus, communism as an instutition isn't immoral or sinful. It's the people who have directed this government which as given it its moral value.

    This is why I say we can't argue a government system from Scripture. An institution itself is not corrupt or evil, its only when people interact with this institution that it has moral value.

  5. What?!!? You mean even though I have a relationship with Jesus, I don't have to buy into every single thing the Republican Party says!? But those are inseparable!

    Good post Keith


What do you think?