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
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Monday, July 24, 2017

Can a Fundamentalist Exist in the Trump Era?

You Might Still Be a Fundamentalist Even If…

by Roger Olson
July 18, 2017

In January of this year (2017) I served on a panel at a session of the American Society of Church History’s annual, national meeting. The subject of the discussion was “The Future of Evangelicalism in America” which is also the title of a book edited and written by the panel’s participants. I was the only theologian on the panel as I was also the only theologian who authored a chapter in the book which was published in 2016 by the University of Columbia Press. The other authors and panelists were historians and sociologists of religion. One difference that emerged among us, especially during the Q&A time after the panelists’ presentations, has to do with how best to define “evangelicalism.” I define it as a deep and wide historical-theological tradition within Protestant Christianity and as a distinct spiritual ethos found primarily among Protestant Christians.

Understandably, given the influence of the media and the participation of many voters calling themselves evangelicals during the 2016 American presidential election, many others, especially in the audience, tended to think of “evangelical” as a political identity nearly identical with “Trumpism.”

During the Q&A I was specifically asked by a member of the scholarly audience, composed mostly of church historians, how it is possible that certain notable evangelical thinkers and leaders have spoken out publicly against Trump. The person named names and they were all people I would identify as inhabiting the “far right” of the evangelical spectrum. (I will refrain from naming names here, but many readers will know who they are.)

Reading the faces and body language of the audience I felt that this question was of special interest. During the presidential campaign and in the period between the election and the inauguration several “evangelical notables”—all of whom I would call fundamentalists—broke from their own ranks, their own cohort, their own tribe to denounce Trump as unfit to be president of the United States. The question aimed at me was how to explain these men’s seemingly odd, unfitting, peculiar political posture when nearly all of their own friends and colleagues loudly supported Trump.

My off-the-cuff response to the question was that I considered the persons named primarily motivated by theology and as intelligent, thoughtful men. Obviously my understood intention was to distinguish them from the majority of their own “pack” or “tribe” many of whose influential self-appointed spokesmen, mostly pastors of fundamentalist churches, supported Trump.

However, and this is my point here, the mere fact of not supporting Trump and of expressing dissenting opinions about Americanism mixed with Christianity does not make one any less “fundamentalist” theologically, spiritually or dispositionally.

Fundamentalism is a particular theological and spiritual posture within evangelical Christianity. Some people will insist on a clear line of distinction, even difference, between “fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism.” There is some support for that clear differentiation historically and theologically. However, in the wider view fundamentalism has always been evangelical Christianity’s “far right wing”—theologically.

However, neither evangelicalism nor fundamentalism are political identities; this confusion is the creation of certain sociologists of religion and the media.

There is and has been since at least 1942 a line, however blurred it may be, between moderate-to-centrist evangelicalism and fundamentalism. This is especially the case in Great Britain and America. I won’t attempt to speak for the situation in other countries. Fundamentalists are evangelicals who display the following characteristics:

  1. belief that “biblical inerrancy” is a “super badge” (Carl Henry’s own term) of evangelical identity, 
  2. belief that true evangelical Christians will always interpret the Bible as literally as possible,
  3. belief that true evangelical Christians will never have Christian fellowship with non-evangelicals (“biblical separationism”), and,
  4. a habit of searching for, “finding,” and exposing heresies especially among evangelicals.

To make my point here as clear as possible without naming any names…. Imagine influential American fundamentalist evangelical theologian “John Doe.” Dr. Doe is well-known for bearing all the characteristics of fundamentalism I mentioned above. However, like many American fundamentalists, he wants to be considered a mainstream evangelical leader and spokesman. In the past, anyway, he has been aggressive toward those among American evangelicals he considers heretics, “sheep in wolves’ clothing,” people he considers not authentically evangelical, and has worked to undermine their acceptance and influence among evangelicals.

Then, surprisingly to many people who think of both “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” as political identities, Dr. Doe breaks ranks with his fundamentalist evangelical cohort and denounces their favorite politician as unfit to be president of the United States. Then he goes even further and denounces the prominence of “Americanism” mixed together with Christianity—something his own cohort is especially known for.

I understand the confusion Dr. Doe creates among those ignorant about evangelical and fundamentalist history and theology—especially those who have wrongly come to identify these categories as political identities. What I don’t understand is the tendency on the part of some moderate-to-centrist evangelicals to think that, only for this reason, Dr. Doe must no longer be “one of those fundamentalists.” He might have broken ranks with some outspoken fundamentalists—about these matters—but this alone does not make him now no less a fundamentalist or now a moderate-to-centrist evangelical (non-fundamentalist evangelical).

My plea here is for everyone to take a deep breath and remember that neither“evangelical” nor “fundamentalist” is really, historically-theologically speaking, a political identity. A person can be a true blue fundamentalist and nevertheless be opposed to both “Trumpism” and “American exceptionalism” cloaked with the cross and the Bible.

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