Now what? – World Baptist News


In The future of faith (2009), the inimitable Harvey Cox writes: “The conservative-evangelical-fundamentalist community is neither monolithic nor still. It is divided and subdivided along theological, racial, gender, geographic, denominational and political lines. These divisions collide and collide, and the internal rhetoric generated is often more intense than the rhetoric they direct towards their external adversaries.

Cox underlined “a new theological opening among American evangelicals.” A decade later, however, divisions remain, arguably deepened as fundamentalism, a segment of Cox’s ideological trilogy, gains new dominance in the public square / national politics. At this time in American religious and political life, fundamentalist doctrinal and social attitudes prevail, not as majority opinion, but as an increasingly powerful element of public policy, defining perceptions of the Christianity – especially evangelism – inside and outside the church. From government-focused “prayer breakfasts” to the meaning of religious freedom, to certain international relations, fundamentalist ideology increasingly defines Protestant approaches to the nature of faith and national governance.

How could non-fundamentalists react?

In The roots of fundamentalism (1973), Ernest Sandeen showed that although influenced by earlier revivalist groups, fundamentalism began as a new opposition to 19th century liberalism based initially on premillennial eschatology (Jesus returns, true Christians are “taken away” , tribulation follows, the kingdom of Christ prevails) and Princeton theology (Calvinist doctrine, common sense Scottish realism, and biblical infallibility / inerrancy).

“The fundamentalist dogma affirming the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, when combined with a transactional and increasingly rationalist approach to Christian conversion, has often turned the ‘new birth’ of religious experience into a simple one. vaccination of Jesus. “

George Marsden of Notre Dame explored Fundamentalism and American Culture (1980), defining it as a movement of evangelical Protestants “militant against modern liberal theologies and certain aspects of secularism in modern culture”. Marsden noted the high vision of biblical authority fundamentalism (inerrancy), of salvation only through “the atoning work of Jesus Christ for our sins,” a mandate to share this saving message to others, and a “militant” commitment. To combat “modernist theologies”. While by no means exhaustive, the classic “five points” of fundamentalist dogma include: an infallible Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, his sacrificial death on the cross, his bodily resurrection, and his literal second coming (Princeton theologians have generally avoided the latter.)

Fundamentalism exploded in American culture through numerous populist preachers, aggressive evangelism, the country’s first mega-churches, and the infamous Scopes Trial (1925) concerning the teaching of evolution in Dayton, Tennessee. After World War II, Billy Graham and other conservatives advanced “neo-evangelism,” trying to rename evangelicals beyond fundamentalist rants and theological stereotypes. The results have been mixed. In the 1980s, movements like the Moral Majority, Religious Roundtable, and Focus on Family combined with an assortment of tech chairs to reaffirm fundamentalist populism, dogma, and right-wing politics.

Republicans courted fundamentalists as a new political base, appealing to their socio-political concerns related to homosexuality, abortion, divorce, family values ​​and other conservative agendas. More recently, however, fundamentalists have gained significant influence in state and national policy frameworks. These developments prompted conservative columnist Michael Gerson to write in the April issue of The Atlantic that “fundamentalism today embraced traditional religious views, but it did not propose a return to older evangelism. Instead, he responded to modernity in a way that cut him off from his own past. By reacting against [biblical] more critical, he has become simplistic and overly literal in his reading of the scriptures. By reacting against evolution, it has become anti-scientific in its general orientation. In reacting against the social gospel, he came to regard the whole concept of social justice as a dangerous liberal idea.

Gerson’s comments suggest that while responding to fundamentalism is exhausting, it is essential to question its immediate impact on the American church / state. This is all the more important as fundamentalist ideology seems to have become the default interpretation that many American Christians implicitly or explicitly use on matters of scripture, doctrine, church, and society.

Take biblical inerrancy, please, a theory of Biblical authority and interpretation (hermeneutics) with a turbulent historical past, requiring elaborate defenses that demand constant negotiation, often bordering on crude literalism. Such literalism has enabled segments of the church to support the execution of “heretics”, movable slavery, Jim-Crow imposed racism, female “submission” and, yes, white supremacy. (See Leonard, “A Theology for Racism: Southern Fundamentalists and the Civil Rights Movement”, Journal of Baptist history and heritage, Winter 1999.) The late repentance for these allegedly Bible-based sins seems to suggest that “the Bible is infallible except where it is not,” a theory of the biblical text that may undermine engagement with the text. -same.

“While the theories and the aspiration for the Second Coming of Christ have been present since the origins of the church, when they impact American politics, especially in the Middle East, fundamentalism has gained a lot. too much political influence. “

Likewise, the fundamentalist dogma affirming the sacrificial atonement of Jesus Christ, when combined with a transactional and increasingly rationalist approach to Christian conversion, has often transformed the “new birth” of religious experience into a simple vaccination of Jesus, a “sinner’s prayer” which fulfills a saving contract; no fuss, no fuss. Likewise, the emphasis on Jesus as substitution and sacrifice – only one of the many “theories of atonement” in Christian history and orthodoxy – may have inadvertently but inevitably led some fundamentalists to downplay the message. larger part of Jesus as a teacher and guide, a saving supporter of holiness. exceptions for the disabled, the poor, foreigners and other “less of them”.

While the theories and yearning for the Second Coming of Christ have been present since the origins of the church, when they impact American politics, especially in the Middle East, fundamentalism has gained influence. policy far too important. Amidst multiple conjectures regarding the return of Christ, premillennialism, in my opinion, resides in the apocalyptic “imaginary quarter” (apologies to Mr. Rogers), with historical claims and resulting disappointments often quietly forgotten. . Premillennialism itself is an amalgam of theories: pre-tribulation, mid-trib, post-trib, dispensational, futuristic, etc. (see Timothy Weber, Living in the shadow of the second coming).

Thinking about all this, I recalled an essay by EY Mullins, president of the Baptist seminary in Louisville, Ky., Published in the fourth volume of The fundamentals (1909), that series of papers defending / defining early fundamentalism. Entitled “The Testimony of Religious Experience,” it reflects Mullins’ belief that direct encounter with Christ is the key to Christian faith and doctrine. He concludes: “Christianity does not say renouncing reason but only renouncing your speculative difficulties in the interest of your moral well-being. . . The man born blind did not have to accept any theory of Christ, God or the universe, nor monism or idealism, nor any particular form of theism. Only one thing was needed. Christ said: ‘Let me anoint your eyes with clay and you will wash yourselves in the pool of Siloam.’ That’s what he did. His faith worked. . . And finally, ‘He worshiped her.’ He moved from faith to faith under the guidance and inspiration of Christ and this is the experience of all who put their trust in him.

Fundamental, isn’t it?

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