Wednesday, December 05, 2007

More on Fundamentalism

In the course of the ongoing discussion about Fundamentalism that rages on the interwebs, a recent part of which cropped up over at Lincoln's place (and at Camille's), Joanna sent me a link to a 2005 address by Dr. Bauder to the American Association of Christian Colleges and Seminaries. In it he acknowledges that Fundamentalism is in crises, and makes a case for salvaging it rather than rejecting and replacing it.

I wish I had time right now to form a fuller response to it, because it's really interesting. For now, I'll cite the first three paragraphs, which I think are really crucial to the argument:
At this meeting we are asking how we can retain the next generation of leaders for fundamentalism. The question assumes that the younger generation may decide to leave fundamentalism. If we were to lose the next generation of leaders, we would lose fundamentalism as we know it. In effect, the question that we are considering is, “How shall we save fundamentalism?”

This question puts the cart before the horse. If our efforts to attract future leaders are to be anything more than salesmanship, then we must offer the kind of fundamentalism that is worth living in and living for. Rather than asking how to save fundamentalism, we would do well to ask why fundamentalism should be saved, or, more specifically, what kind of fundamentalism is worth saving.

In answering this question, I first distinguish fundamentalism as an idea from fundamentalism as a movement. As I have said on other occasions, fundamentalism is a great idea. As an idea, fundamentalism is essentially a doctrinal and ecclesiastical reaction against unbelief masquerading as Christianity. Ideal fundamentalists affirm that all doctrine is important, but they recognize that some doctrines are more important than others. They assert that some doctrines are so important as to be essential to the gospel itself. These essential or fundamental doctrines are held to be indispensably bound to the very definition of Christianity. While ideal fundamentalists certainly do not believe that Christianity can be reduced to a doctrinal statement, they affirm that Christianity rests upon an inviolable doctrinal foundation. To add to or subtract from that foundation is to deny Christianity itself. Moreover—and this is the crux of the matter—fundamentalists insist that no Christian fellowship can exist or should be pretended with people who deny the gospel.

What strikes me immediately about the description of "ideal Fundamentalism" is the impression that Fundamentalism at its inception is trying to reinvent the wheel. What's wrong with the Nicene Creed? The Apostle's Creed? For centuries before anyone called himself a Fundamentalist these were tests of orthodoxy. Didn't Fundamentalism essentially do what Dr. Bauder argues against: reject an ill-used system and start over?

Update: It's spread. Also at Andrew's place.


The Bard said...

I would counter that the lines truly essential to the argument follow:

[Separatism is the major and perhaps the only demarcator between fundamentalism and other forms of evangelicalism. It is what sets fundamentalism apart. It provides the differentia in the very definition of fundamentalism. If we do not get separatism right, then we do not have fundamentalism.]

He could not be more right. Absent the Categorial Imperative of Separation, there is nothing that sets the Fundys apart. They would merely be the most conservative members of a broader Christian community.

Most of his other comments are welcome but unremarkable. He attempts to define fundamentalism as defending basic doctrines and rejecting unbelief disguising itself as belief. Good, but my most evangelicals say the same. He wants to curb the excesses in fundamentalism and chastise those in the movement who build their empires on pettiness and spite. Likewise, he talks about a need for learning. Once again, this welcome, but nothing remarkable.
I'm glad he admits that the broader christian community doesn't think of the fundys at all, except for BJU's lingering racism and dabbling with politics. Progress again.

I could pick with some other points of logic or scriptural interpretation (on music, or sanctification) but even there, most disagreements will go back to separation. He seems to admit this at the end, but never gives a defense of separation.

ryan said...

Is it worth suggesting that maybe Fundamentalism is in crisis because it was never a good idea to begin with? Small "f" fundamentalism was alright as it was merely a restatement of basic Christian doctrine, rejecting "higher criticism" as a legitimate Biblical hermeneutic, creeping Darwinism in liberal pulpits, and the idea that the Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons are part of the church.

You don't have to be a large "f" Fundamentalist to believe any of those things, because large "f" Fundamentalism doesn't actually have all that much to do with them. It isn't really a theological movement. It's a cultural movement motivated by the worst sort of pull-the-ladder-up conservatism. The sooner Fundamentalists realize that hey, there really are people who take the Bible seriously and don't reach conclusions that are nearly so crazy, the better.

Becca said...

Yeah, I guess that's what I was trying to get at: I don't see what Fundamentalism adds that is positive. Fundamentals? Check. Christianity already had that. Maybe it had forgotten in places. Remind them. Refusing to call heterodoxy truth? Check. The Church has been good at that in the past and maybe needed to brush up on it again. So say that. But inventing a new -ism? Why? All it seems to do is create pockets of people defining their own fundamentals in increasing detail and separating from each other with increasing alacrity. The Catholics have a valid criticism--at least they have only one Pope; we have as many popes as we have pastors.

The ability to define fundamentals oneself raises another troubling feature of Fundamentalism--the radical individualism that goes with it. More than anything it seems to be a treatise against authority. Matt. 16:18-19 may not mean with the Catholics think it means (that's another discussion), but it certainly has to mean something. The Church is not just a loose collection of believers. It is a body, an organism. To interpret the Bible in such a way as to declare independence from it makes one wonder if one is looking too hard for independence. This is why I'm also really uncomfortable with replacements like the "emerging church."

I'm not suggesting that we toss Fundamentalism and replace it with something new; I'm suggesting we toss it and go back to something older.

The Bard said...

I'm pretty much with Ryan on this one. Small "f" fundamentalism did the Church a service in the early part of this century by standing up against many of the evils aready mentioned. Big "F" Fundamentalism, at least among those who claim the label today, has always been myopic at best. However, many of its current evils were not as pronouced until the 1920s and beyond.

"F"undamentalsim adds one thing: Separation. Bauder talks about some doctrines being essential to the Gospel. The difference is that "F"undamentalism has departed from the historical church my making separation one such doctrine, and separating from anyone who is not separated enough.

Becca said...

Could it be too that separating is something the the CHURCH is supposed to do, and not individuals, and they forgot that? The passages I can find supporting separation seem to be directed at the communal Body. Individuals aren't supposed to do this without getting a consensus on it first.