According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Roger Olson: "Why I Am Not a Fundamentalist (or Conservative Evangelical)"

 
Why I Am Not a Fundamentalist (or Conservative Evangelical)
 
What I think is that many, perhaps most, conservative evangelicals have erected Old School Princeton theology, Hodge and Warfield especially, as authoritative such that any interpretation of Scripture fundamentally in conflict with what they believed must be viewed with suspicion if not rejected out of hand.
 
There’s a sign on the interstate some miles south of where I live. It promotes tourism to a little town a way off the interstate. The sign says “Gently resisting change since 1872.” Whenever I see it I think of conservative evangelicals I know and Hodge’s Systematic Theology which was published in that year. Sometimes I would like to take that sign (that is, make a copy of it) and erect it outside the entrance to meetings of conservative evangelical theologians. Recently, however, I think I would have to add “Not so” before “gently.”
 
 
 
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
 
 
What Is “Fundamentalism” and Who Is a “Fundamentalist?”
Here “militant” does not mean “violent.” It means aggressive, pro-active (some would say “reactionary,” organized and vocal.
 
Early fundamentalists disagreed about many things: the sacraments/ordinances, church polity, eschatology, modern (as opposed to biblical) miracles, predestination and free will, etc. But they agreed that liberal (“Ritschlian”) theology and higher criticism of the Bible were very serious assaults on “real Christianity” that needed to be confronted and stopped. Their collective attitude was that “theological modernism” (as I described it in my earlier post about liberal theology) was false Christianity in the same way that, say, Mormonism and Christian Science and Jehovah’s Witness teaching was false Christianity. But unlike those, it was inside the churches and their colleges and seminaries. It needed to be rooted out and if it couldn’t be true Christians would have to leave those denominations, colleges, universities, seminaries, etc., and found ones committed to true Christianity.
 
They were, in other words, early twentieth century Puritans. Exactly like the Puritans of the seventeenth century, the early fundamentalists believed the churches needed to be purged of heresy and everything linked with it symbolically. And that’s where the trouble started—what that meant. What did it mean to purge the churches and Christian organizations of everything symbolically linked with heresy? And how to root out hidden heresies and heretics?
 
Scholars disagree about the birth of the term “fundamentalism.” Many, perhaps the majority, insist it was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920. That may be true of the “-ism.” But the root “fundamentals” was being used before then as various groups listed the essentials of true Christianity as “fundamentals of the faith.” The booklets titled The Fundamentals were published in 1910 and 1911. These were articles written by leading fundamentalist scholars and ministers—defending what they saw as the essentials of Christianity with a strong anti-liberal flavor. (However, ironically, many of the authors would later not fit the emerging fundamentalist profile.) 1919 was the year William Bell Riley founded the World Christian Fundamentals Association and added premillennialism to the list of essential Christian beliefs—a move that excluded many people widely recognized as fundamentalists (especially those in the Reformed tradition such as J. Gresham Machen).
 
So that was early, original fundamentalism. Most contemporary conservative evangelicals would probably have been fundamentalists then. Except in Riley’s mind. He and his Texas friend J. Frank Norris joined hands across the Mason-Dixon Line (imaginary as it is in the Midwest) to forge a new, more militant, and exclusive form of fundamentalism. Many fundamentalists were swayed by Riley’s and Norris’ strict and exclusive approach. A divide began to open within the fundamentalist movement—between the narrow, exclusivist camp that absolutely eschewed evolution in any form, including “progressive creationism,” insisted on strict biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation (e.g., of Daniel and Revelation including premillennialism and eventually pretribulational dispensationalism) and the somewhat more moderate Reformed camp that followed Machen when he founded Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. There were those in that camp, however, who were more militant and exclusive than Machen and eventually broke off to found hyper-conservative groups and institutions. Carl McIntire was one of them.
 
Because of this evolution within fundamentalism (no pun intended!), scholars tend to talk about “pre-1925 fundamentalism” and “post-1925 fundamentalism.” The main movers and shakers of the fundamentalist movement after 1925 (the year of the infamous Scopes Trial in Dayton, Tennessee widely regarded as a huge humiliation for fundamentalism) informally added “biblical separation” to the list of essentials of authentic Christian faith. That is, true Christians will refuse Christian fellowship with outright heretics and apostates and theological modernists and liberals (such as Harry Emerson Fosdick and his ilk) belong in those categories. Fundamentalists began founding their own separate Protestant institutions and denominations, publishing houses and missionary agencies. Many organized “Bible institutes” (where the Bible was supposed to be the basis of the entire curriculum) and urged, even required, Christian young people to attend only those after high school. Throughout the 1930s American fundamentalism especially flourished, but somewhat underground and almost invisible to the mainstream media and religious organizations (such as the Federal Council of Churches).
 
But something new began to happen within the fundamentalist movement that further fractured it and, in my estimation, anyway, killed it as a movement. That was the introduction by fundamentalist leaders of the doctrine and practice of “secondary separation.” This meant that pure Christians ought to shun Christian fellowship with other Christians who did not practice “biblical separation.” Thus, when Billy Graham, a fundamentalist when he began his ministry, began to allow Catholics and liberal-leaning, “mainstream” Protestant ministers to cooperate with and support his evangelistic crusades, leading fundamentalists criticized him and withdrew their support from him.
 
I believe the fundamentalist movement broke apart into several, often competing, movements practicing different degrees of separationism in the 1940s and 1950s. Many conservative and revivalistic Protestants left fundamentalism and joined the “neo-evangelical movement” launched by Harold John Ockenga and others in 1942 (the year the National Association of Evangelicals was founded). However, the fundamentalist movement left behind an ethos. And that is how I identify a fundamentalist—by his or her embodiment of the fundamentalist ethos. The criteria cited at this post’s opening describe that ethos.
 
A true fundamentalist minister, for example, will usually not join a local “evangelical ministerial alliance” (or whatever it may be called). Now, to be sure, some ministers within such an alliance may display fundamentalist traits, but a true fundamentalist, though he may be sympathetic with some of the alliance’s goals (e.g., to provide high school graduates with a Bible-based, united, city-wide, baccalaureate service) will avoid full participation in it. He will probably seek out other fundamentalist ministers for fellowship and cooperation. These fundamentalist alliances tend to be small and fracture easily because of disagreements about fine points of doctrine, practice and Bible interpretation.
 
The fundamentalist ethos is rarely “pure.” That is, it can be discerned in partial manifestations. Whenever any of the seven criteria mentioned at this post’s beginning are apparent I suspect a fundamentalist ethos is present (in a person or a movement or an organization).
 
I have met people who call themselves fundamentalists who do not exhibit most or any of those traits (criteria). Usually they are using the label in its original (“paleo-fundamentalist”) sense—pre-1925. I have no quarrel with them and if they want to be called fundamentalists when I would categorize them as simply conservative evangelicals, that’s fine. But in certain contexts I would not call them fundamentalists because that will automatically be misunderstood. Among the literati of American religious history and historical theology, anyway, “fundamentalism” is usually understood in terms of the 1930s and afterwards movement with defining prototypes such as the previously mentioned Riley, Norris, McIntire, Rice and (not previously mentioned) Bob Jones, Richard Clearwaters, and Jerry Falwell.
 
I have before mentioned a phenomenon I call “neo-fundamentalism.” That is my term (others may use it differently) for people who embody a fundamentalist ethos but have wedged their way into neo-evangelical circles calling themselves “conservative evangelicals” and finding acceptance as such. Here is an anecdote to illustrate that. About fifteen years ago I noticed that a seminary historically noted for being fundamentalist (in the historical-theological sense) had set up a table in the evangelical college where I then taught to recruit undergraduates. I approached the recruiter, a relatively young (early middle aged) employee of the seminary. I told him I would have difficulty recommending that any of my students attend his seminary. He asked why. I told him that the seminary had a reputation for being fundamentalist. He said “No, we’re changing. We’re evangelical now.” So I asked him this question: “If Billy Graham volunteered to preach in your seminary’s chapel free of charge, no honorarium expected, would your president allow it?” His slightly red-faced response was “We’re moving in that direction.” Enough said. Now, that is not to say no fundamentalist seminary would allow Billy Graham to preach there. Some might. But a seminary that calls itself “evangelical” and would refuse to allow him to preach there is almost certainly fundamentalist whether it uses that label or not.
 
I could cite numerous similar stories of encounters I have had with people who call themselves evangelicals but who operate out of a fundamentalist ethos. Also when I taught at that evangelical college I was accosted by a local pastor who is widely known as an evangelical leader who was furious, livid, that the college’s president had invited Robert Schuller to speak there. Now, I wasn’t particularly thrilled by the president’s decision, either, but I wouldn’t be furious or livid about it. When I pointed out to the pastor that the college’s (and denomination’s) roots are in Pietism and therefore irenic he said “’Irenic’ is just a term for doctrinal indifference.” His fundamentalist ethos appeared there and then.
 
 
 

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