Posts tagged: fundamentalism

On fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism

By , 23 October 2009 7:34 pm

There were a number of possible topics to write on this week but I am disinclined to touch them. In part it is that I am a bit drained because I have just had flu and also because I have just upgraded my computer to Windows 7. (Very nice, thank you, but it’s really just Vista working as it ought to have done.) Instead I think I will look at one or two of the issues raised in the blog two weeks ago on ‘K’s Argument’. K, very kindly, has come out fighting in defence of fundamentalism as being at least logically consistent. This of course raises the interesting question ‘What is fundamentalism?’ I remember a member of our church coming to me at the end of one service with a worried look and asking me in that quiet ‘I-do-not-wish-to-be-overheard’ tone of voice, ‘Chris, am I a fundamentalist?’

You could of course try and define fundamentalism in terms of specific creedal beliefs; such as believing in a creation in a literal six days, holding to the authorship of Isaiah by a single person, not doubting a single miracle in Scripture, belief in an imminent Rapture, etc. I think however this is very difficult on all sorts of grounds. Let’s say you came up with ten criteria, what you do? Give a ‘Fundamentalism Index? ‘He’s a 10 out of 10 fundamentalist.’ It all seems rather mechanical. Besides how do we know which fundamentals are truly fundamental?

It also seems to overlook the fact that we vaguely know that there is more to fundamentalism than simply holding to a tight creedal confession.  Now please don’t get me wrong, creeds are vitally important but I would hazard a guess that there is something else going on here. In fact I think that Catherine (who I don’t always agree with!) is close to the mark when she describes fundamentalism as easy. There is indeed a simplicity to fundamentalism; it is a religion that shuns questioning. And when you get rid of questions life becomes really quite simple. You are all singing from the same hymn sheet because there is no other hymn sheet (and if there is, those who sing from it are going to hell). Yet I think behind that is something else and I think it is fear.

A nice image I came across a number of years ago and I wish I could remember who coined it said that the difference between fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism is something like the difference in mediaeval times between a walled city and a market town. Fundamentalism is a religion of barriers, battlements and, just occasionally, burning oil. It is haunted by the fear of the enemy (and isn’t there always an enemy?). The enemy may be Catholics, New-Agers or – most dangerous of all because they are wolves in sheep’s clothing – Liberals. There is no engagement with the enemy, no dialogue. All there is survival and conflict. As the Rev Ian Paisley used to shout with his all too imitable Ulster accent: ‘No Surrender!’

Here Conservative Evangelicalism is very different. (I’m sorry about the clunky term but I think it’s best used here because it’s the faith that on the surface can appear to be most similar to fundamentalism.) At the heart of Conservative Evangelicalism is the relationship with God through Christ and the Holy Spirit. That affects everything, not least how we view others. With them there is (or ought to be) a courteous engagement, an open debating, a confident discussion. But to go back to the imagery; the gates are flung open. Yes it’s risky, but that’s the way it ought to be. You can’t do evangelism from behind the ramparts.

Anyway that’s my take on it. But I’m open for further discussions. Now if you excuse me I’ll go and  take my cough medicine…

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