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Fundamentalism: The Serial Killer of Biblical Interpretation

Many fundamentalists thrive on violently murdering honest biblical interpretation. I have seen it happen to others and myself: a sound scholastic reading of the Bible is presented and is denied because it doesn’t fit within religious parameters. Let’s talk about the fundamentalists, the serial killers of sound biblical interpretation, and see whose the real literalist: me or them?

First, let’s define fundamentalism:
1. A movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching
2. A movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles

Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary

Now, from Merriam-Webster’s definition, I could almost (not quite) classify myself as a Christian fundamentalist. However, I don’t think the fundamentalists I know really understand what it means to be a literalist. If we are literalists, then we need to realize a few things, like the fact that God has spoken in other ways besides for His written Word (the Bible is not our only source for knowing about our God). Most fundies I know would say, “No way! God's ultimate plan of redemption is in the Bible and therefore there is no need for Him to speak anywhere else.” Well, there is a few problems with this kind of strict Bible-only view of God’s revelation. Let’s use the Bible as our starting point to show why this view murders honest biblical interpretation.

In Rom 1:19–20, when Paul is convincing the Romans why idolatry and worshiping  Graeco-Roman gods is wrong, he does not appeal to Scripture, but to creation: “For what can be known about God is plain … because God has shown it to [everyone]. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So [idolaters] are without excuse” (ESV). When anyone makes a choice to not follow the true God, Yahweh, as He is revealed through His Son, they are without excuse, not because He revealed Himself in the Bible, but because He revealed Himself in creation.

Oh, but the serial killing of this belief about how God speaks continues on—just look at how many times Acts 17 has been brushed over, or excused. Paul during his sermon at the Areopagus (commonly known as Mars Hill) quotes the Greek poet-philosophers Epimenides of Crete and Aratus (Acts 17:28) to explain the true God, Yahweh, and His plan of redemption through His Son. He also claims that the inscription to an unknown god on one of their altars is a reference to Yahweh (Acts 17:23). Paul synchronizes (on a very simple level) the religious beliefs of the Areopagus philosophers (and the Greeks in general) with Christianity. For Paul, God has revealed Himself in many different ways.

The above examples show that most fundies are actually not literalists. Because if they were, they would have a lot broader understanding of how God reveals Himself.

So, am I a biblical literalist? In the sense that I interpret the Bible based on what it actually says, Yes! But, am I a fundamentalist? Not in the sense of affirming a set of principles outside the Bible that deny things like God’s revelation happening in creation and other literature as well. But I am a fundamentalist in the sense that I affirm the basic set of principles God has commanded me in the Bible. The Bible is fundamental to Christian life and teaching, but as the above examples show, most fundies interpret the Bible within their set tradition and in doing so often don’t allow for it to be read literally. Please make the serial killing of honest biblical interpretation stop.

What type of fundamentalist are you? Will you let the Bible speak for itself? Any thoughts?

Comments

I empathisize with your situation in coming to what you believe is a sound intpretation of scripture and then being attacked by those who don't think you are "conservative" enough. I think you need to decide whether you are going to engage in battle (at last verbally) or try to be constructive in your dialog. I don't think calling people serial killers and saying they thrive on serial killing is going to be very constructive. It will only harden their opinions and make them more determined to try to discredit you. That is what I hope is a constructive criticism of your blog as far as style goes. I agree with the substance. Some fundamentalists (not all) seem to insist on regarding dogma that is not directly from the Bible as if it were. They sometimes regard someone who does not agree with their interpretation of the Bible as if that person did not believe the Bible. I think that position is very destructive to the body of Christ. I also agree with you that God speaks to us in various ways. The Bible is the most explicit of those ways, the Bible itself says that natures speaks to us of God (as you pointed out). The Holy Spirit still speaks to people today. He calls people to certain vocations. He affirms that through the people of the church. He does not contradict Himself and will not speak through the Spirit something that contradicts principles set forth in the Bible. But He does call individuals to be missionaries and pastors and other specific callings. So I agree with you that God does speak to us in a variety of ways (nature, the church, direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit), but the most objective and explicit communication is through the Bible. Even though many passages are open to interpretation, most is fairly clear. If someone wants to know how to live, they can turn to the New Testament and find out what God tells us. If they want to know how to be reconciled to Him, they can read that clearly in the New Testament. People following what they believe to be other ways God has spoken to them have gone off into all sorts of heresy throgh the centuries. Scripture is a haven of safety. All other ways God speaks to us should be checked against what we know from Scripture.
Please keep blogging. Consider being less inflammatory.

Doc,

Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

For the record: I am not calling fundamentalists serial killers, I am merely using it as an analogy (a brutal one, I will admit) to describe how many true interpretations of the Bible are discredited, not on the basis of facts, but on the basis of dogma. This results in many interpretations (that are often correct) not even being considered.

I agree that some fundamentalists, not all, fit within this characterization. Hence, my question: “what type of fundamentalist are you?” And my admittance that I am almost a fundamentalist by Merriam-Webster’s definition.

I think your point that God will not contradict what he has said in the Bible, is right on. The Bible is our greatest and most reliable measure of truth. You are also right on about the fact that people following their own way, over Scripture, has led to all sorts of heresy. Once again, Scripture is our measuring rod. (That is even where the word canon has its origins -- "a rule or measure"). We must measure all that we hear and know by Scripture.

I will (and have) considered being less inflammatory. I am sure you understand that the titles and ledes of many of my posts are for the sake of attracting readers, hence why I try to qualify what I mean during the post, and hope for discussion like this where I can further qualify what I mean.

Let me come out and say it: I use to be a fundamentalist. And one of the worst kinds. I use to use my faith to bash on the beliefs of others, instead of engaging in actual intelligent conversation. Furthermore, if someone’s interpretation of the Bible didn’t fit with mine, I just considered them to be a heretic and made it my mission to disprove their belief. Now I realize how wrong that is, and am willing to be a lot more open to correction and new understandings. I have matured from being a fundamentalist, as I think many do. Now I find it important to say why many fundamentalism ideals are wrong for one simple reason: those who mature out of fundamentalism have a greater chance of ministering to others. And at the end of the day, teaching others that believing in Jesus is life-saving is the most important thing we can do. Fundamentalism gets in the way of Jesus. So, for a while, I plan to get in the way of fundamentalism.

--John

Another aspect of this same phenomenon is the false dichotomy between faith and science. Often, in fundamentalist circles, scientific ideas are opposed or ridiculed because these ideas do not fit the interpretation of Scripture held by the fundamentalist. They then go another step and consider someone who disagrees with their interpretation of Scripture and thinks it is compatible with whatever scientific idea is being discussed to not believe Scripture. I may need to use an example to be clear, although as soon as an example is used people "choose up sides" based on what they already think about the concept. Some people believe Scripture to indicate that creation took place in six 24 hour days approximately 6000 years ago. This is incompatible with the majority of scientific opinion. Other Christian believers think that a 24 hour day cannot be defined before the creation of the sun on the fourth "day." Many believe that yom in this passage refers to an epoch or era rather than a 24 hour period. The response of many fundamentalists is to say that this latter group "does not believe the Bible," when really they just don't agree with the fundamentalist on the interpretation of Scripture. You could have had this exact discussion in Galileo's day regarding the theories of planetary motion.

Thanks for the comment Doc. This is a point well worth discussing.

Does anyone else have some thoughts on Doc's comment?

--John

I totally agree, and I think that the creation account in Genesis 1 provides an example of one of the problems with the fundamentalism John Barry is talking about. Fundamentalists often accuse scholarly interpretations as not taking the bible seriously enough, but really it is the fundamentalists who are not taking the bible seriously enough. They are often too constrained by a prior commitment to literalism and complete innerrancy (which I think is untenable and irresponsible) to look at scripture as it has been preserved (by God) for us.

I don't know if you are familiar with the documentary hypothesis, but it basically says that the Pentateuch was assembled from several different sources that show up throughout the books. The creation account in Genesis 1 is from P (the priestly source, noted in part by its use of 'elohim and concern with boundaries) which was put together during the Babylonian exile. This context is very important for understanding the meaning of the six-day creation story.

In the exile, the Israelites/Jews (I'm not sure which to classify them as at this point) were faced with a very difficult situation. They found themselves in a rival culture bent on assimilating everyone to its worldview (sound familiar?) and faced intense pressure to conform. The majority of those who went into exile conformed and stayed there. In this environment, it become extremely important to teach their children where they had come from or else their faith in YHWH would end with them.

(This next part is from memory, so I may be wrong on some of the details, take it with a grain of salt.) There was a very important 6 or 7 (I don't remember which) day festival in Babylon that celebrated creation according to the Enuma Elish, their creation story. In this story, the world is created as a result of strife among the gods, culminating in Marduk (their chief god, kind of like Baal in a lot of ways) killing Tiamat (the force of chaos, and I believe Marduk's mother) and fashioning the world out of her carcass. Marduk was crowned king for this and put the other gods to work on the newly created earth. The gods got tired of this, so they created humanity as slaves to do their work for them. In this creation story, humans are essentially just slave workers. Notice how sharply this contrasts with the Genesis 1 creation account, which culminates with humanity as the pinnacle of creation being charged with subduing the earth. What better way to teach your children your beliefs than by teaching them how your God created the earth during this festival in a story that mirrors the structure of the festival? Now, obviously we can't be sure that this is the origin of this creation account, but I find it to be useful and to make sense. (You can remove your grain of salt now.)

A fundamentalist view of scripture doesn't allow for this kind of interpretation of Genesis 1 and finds itself caught up in debates such as whether yom refers to a literal 24 hour period or not and how the land could produce vegetation prior to the existence of the sun, etc.-- these have no impact on our lives. It completely misses the point(s) of that particular creation story (which, if read scientifically, contradicts the creation story given in Genesis 2, sparking even more fundamentalist debate). One point is that humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, a point strongly emphasized in the Hebrew. Another and perhaps more foundational point to the story is that Elohim is placed above all the things which were considered gods by the Babylonians (waters, sun, moon, stars). And not only is he above them, he created them to serve his purposes.

Fundamentalism, in its quest to take scripture seriously, tends to do just the opposite and gloss over the richness of scripture as it has been preserved (errors and all) for us by God.

Also, just a word on my view of "God-breathed" (theopneustas) as Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16. In my mind, this conjures up the image of the creation of man as told in Genesis 2:7, where "YHWH Elohim formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." As applied to scripture, this means to me that God has assembled human documents written from within a human culture and given it his Spirit and Word, bringing it to life. I think this understanding of the inspiration of scripture is much truer to scripture and keeps our focus on he who gives it life, rather than getting muddled up in the created thing.

Sorry for my long windedness, but this is a subject that I feel strongly about, for very similar reasons as John Barry.

-John

John,

Good stuff -- thank you for sharing. I am aware of all the issues you brought up and have spent a great deal of time studying each of them. Truth be told I was planning on blogging about them later, but you just did all the work for me -- so thanks.

What John (Not Barry) has brought up is hugely important. Anyone wish to comment on what he has said?

--John

First let me start by thanking you both for this discussion. John, thank you for bringing this topic to the forefront, it is something very near and dear to my heart because I am about to graduate from a "Fundamentalist" college. And, I have battled blind dogma my entire time there because I come to the text dinstinctly different than how most of my professors do. However, I have also been able to respectfully discuss and disagree with the majority of them. This has brought about great learning experiences and fellowship on both ends, so there is hope for dialogue! Here I would like to thank Doc for bringing out that we need to be respectful and constructive in our language.

In regards to what was said, I think that you are both right on! I think a great deal of the problems are caused by the fact that we don't know how to distinguish between traditional theology and scriptural theology (often they do intersect so I don't see them as mutually exclusive). We tend to think of what we've traditionally been taught as the "right" reading instead of realizing that we all come to the text with our own set of theological baggage and often we impress our theology on the text, not the other way around.

First, I want to make it clear that i am not against tradition. I think that tradition is has a vital role in our lives, especially as Christians. However, I think that too often in the evangelical/protestant world we tend to trace our theology back to Calvin (or Wesley depending on the denomination) and Luther and if we line up then we're doing alright, without considering that they were fighting against their own misunderstandings and railing against their own set of heresies in that time. We forget that their tradition came from somewhere too. Then if we're really academic we maybe trace it back to Augustine, but the same is true about him. Now all these men were godly, God-fearing individuals, and I don't want to diminish what they did for Christianity. But, their writings are not the inspired Word of God, and we too often treat them as if they are.

We need to remember that the role of the Holy Spirit is not only to help us understand the text as we read it, but His role is also to keep us humble in our attitude reminding us that we may not get it right because we're not objectively accessing the truth. We all read it through our own lens, that is tainted and skewed by the lenses of so many others that came before us. I am not saying that there is not a "right" and "wrong" reading of the text, rather I am saying that it's not always clear which is the "right" one. We need to have the humility to be able to dialouge with each other where the text is less than clear.

Again there is a place for tradition in these discussions, for example the Nicene (Apostles') creed is a great place to start as a grid for scriptural interpretation. But we need to be careful not to equate our interpretation of the word of God with the word of God, and we need to be careful not to equate the word of God (the Bible) with the Word of God (Jesus--who is God Himself). I think in the evangelical world we have made the Canon the fourth person of the Trinity, we've got to stop this line of thinking because it's more heretical than some of the misinterpretations of Scripture have been. Thanks again for bringing this important topic up, and I pray that we can all start to discuss Scripture in humility and transparency. I enclosed a link to a controversial article by JP Moreland where I think he does a fabulous job of challenging the fundamentalist line of thought on this topic:
http://www.kingdomtriangle.com/discussion/moreland_EvangOverCommBible.pd...

Kristen,

Thanks for your very thoughtful and well-written comment—as an editor, I appreciate good writing. I also appreciate you joining the conversation—it is nice to hear a new voice join in on the dialogue. (That goes for all of you; I want to hear your thoughts.)

Real Quick: I just want to be clear, once more, that my serial killer line was an analogy, and meant to be funny. I just don't want anyone to think I am out to thrash a particular set of beliefs. Obviously, I have opinions, but I want us to dialogue, not get angry. Though, at times, anger does lead to good dialogue.

I would love to hear what others think about Kristen's thoughts. She has some really good points, and I think they are well worth discussing. Especially, her point about the Bible becoming the fourth person of the Trinity and in some ways taking the place of the Son of God, who came in flesh as the very Word of God. Her point that He is meant to outrank the Bible has been discussed a few times on this blog, but I think we could dialogue even more about this. Let’s see how deep the rabbit hole goes.

For previous blog posts on this topic, check out:

http://www.conversantlife.com/the-church/is-inspiration-the-only-factor

http://www.conversantlife.com/life-with-god/letting-the-inspired-text-re...

So, what do you think? Let’s get a few more voices involved in this discussion.

--John

First, some background info on me--I teach English to high school juniors and seniors who are not planning to go to four-year colleges. I am well aware of the problems that some people have with reading and with figuring out main ideas by making inferences and drawing conclusions.

Next, over the many years that I have spent in diligent, independent Bible study, I have developed a different take than many of my brothers and sisters in Christ have on just what the Bible is. Since it has been written by at least forty writers over forty years, the Bible can be classified as an anthology. Its authors wrote out of their individual relationships with God with no idea that their works would be collected and put into a book that would be published and distributed throughout a world they knew nothing about. Also important to understand is that each author was limited by his/her context and had no concept of what our world would look like today.

Rather than spending our time trying to insist that everything in the Bible lines up in an exact order of correctedness, I believe we need to focus on the promises and warnings that God gave to different people throughout the Bible. While the world context has changed, our basic humaness hasn't. We need to ask God to transpose what is written in the Bible into the knowledge, understanding, and wisdom we need to meet the evil in this world, to overcome it in our individual lives, and to fight the battle for our neighbors in our prayer closets.

I have found that the overriding main idea of the Bible is that God loves us and His love is absolute (perfect, complete, and real). As I have read the Bible in this context and have asked God to help me understand, I have found new understandings and answers to old questions.

One last thought. Have you ever wondered why we even have a book called the Bible? Well, when Job was wrangling with his three sadistic friends, he asked that his story would be written down and that his adversary (God) would write a book. Since the book of Job is recognized as the earliest book of the Bible, we can infer that God answered his prayers.

Patricia,

Thanks for your comment and for joining the conversation. Here is my feedback:

The Bible was written over a longer period than forty years and was almost definitely written by more than forty writers, plus quite a few editors, who no doubt added text. The first books of the Bible began to be written sometime between 1800 and 1500 BC -- there were at least oral traditions at this point about Abraham, Job and many other stories -- and the last books were finished around 90 AD.

I agree that the biblical authors did not know that their writings would be put into one book we call the Bible, but were originally intended to be read as single books. There are exceptions to this, of course (e.g., Deuteronomy to be coupled with Exodus, Chronicles to be coupled with Kings, Philemon to be coupled with Colossians). I also agree that the biblical authors were limited by their conceptual framework and worldview. Although I would add that the authors were at times imparted divine knowledge (e.g., Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 34).

The purpose of the Bible is indeed to teach us about God so that we can join him in the battle against the powers of this world.

You present an interesting perspective on Job 19:20–29, but I think the ties back to God writing a book upon Job's request are not present. Of course, Job's words are written down -- we have them in the book of Job. But, Job never asks God to write a book. Likewise, God never responds to Job saying he will write something down – instead he presents creation as proof that he is just and brings order to the world. So, I think we have the biblical books for another reason entirely -- which I will refrain from going into at this time.

For now, let's take this discussion back to the fundamentalism issue and how we should interpret the Bible. Anyone have any thoughts?

--John

Talk about a typo--forty years should have been over one thousand years--I'm sorry. Job 31:35 is the reference for Job asking God to write a book: ""...behold, my desire is, that the Almighty would answer me, and that mine Adversary [who Job believed was God] had written a book" (KJV). I'm on my lunch break, so I'll check in later for more conversation.

Patricia,

Thanks for the follow-up

I didn't pick up on that line from Job -- thanks for pointing it out to me. I am still not sure though if that is what prompted God to inspire people to write the Bible. I think it is a bit of a stretch. Especially considering that God's response is to tell Job about how he has overcome the powers of chaos (Job 38:1-40:2) -- essentially putting Job in Job's place.

--John

John,

God did not put Job in his place--He answered Job's questions. Just imagine, Job himself said that all he knew of God was what other people had told him--what wonder he must have felt when God spoke directly to him and showed the hurting man how powerful He is. But God did not stop there; He went on to tell Job about the enemy of the human race. You see, the behemoth and the leviathan (Isaiah 27:1) represent Satan--while we may not have the context to understand all of the imagery God used, God said two things that we need to understand: Satan is a king over all the children of pride (Job 41:34) and the One that made Satan can make His sword to approach unto him while the swords of anyone else will not hold (Job 40:19, 41:26).

Just because we have difficulty understanding all the imagery God used in talking with Job does not mean that Job did not understand it. In fact, Job learned a valuable lesson we need to learn--when something comes against us, we are not to assume that God is in control, but demand answers from God (Job 42:4-5).

Patricia,

God definitely puts Job in his place. The first thing he says is, "Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and make it known to me. 'Where were you when I laid the foundations of the the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding.' " (Job 38:1-4 ESV). I disagree with your view of what the Leviathan represents -- Leviathan was a being that the ancients believed was real. Plus, I think you have misunderstood Isa 27:1. The Leviathan was viewed as a serpent-like and crocodile-like creature -- that is even how it is depicted in hieroglyphics. Plus, "the Satan" in Job represents the adversary -- the accuser -- that is even what "ha satan" means in Hebrew "the accuser, the adversary." Hence, the courtroom scene in the beginning of Job. "Ha Satan" is even used in Chronicles to represent a nation fighting another nation.

Yes, we should question God nonetheless (like the psalmist does). We just have to be careful how we do so. We can't call God unjust like Job does, otherwise we will be in the same position. Job had done no wrong in the beginning, but as the story goes on, he surely makes mistakes in the way he speaks to God and about him.

--John

John,

I think when God was speaking to Job, He was speaking out of love, compassion, and mercy. He knew exactly where Job was lacking in understanding and proceeded to meet Job's needs. Job's biggest problem was that everything he knew about God was based on what other people had told him--sort of a spiritual telephone game (remember playing that in grade school?). Job didn't know that he didn't understand, so God had to tell him that. God then proceeded to tell Job things he already "knew," but everything was different. An analogy would be knowing what a banana split is and actually eating one.

After talking to Job about who He was, God went on to describe the enemy of the human race. Think about this, John. Jesus continually used similes, metaphors, symbols, and imagery to explain what was going on in the world--why wouldn't God do the same with Job? You see, God did not cause Job's destruction; Satan did. So, when God was explaining what was happening, why wouldn't He talk about Satan? What happened to Job was monstrous, so God talked about the monsters. The two most important concepts God was getting across to Job was that Satan was the king over all the children of pride (Job had based his faith on what he did rather than on who God is) and that the sword of God (the Word of God) is the only weapon that works against Satan.

Patricia

Patricia,

Thanks for your comment. I see where you are coming from, and in fact I use to hold a similar a view. However, I do not hold that view anymore for the reasons I listed in my previous response. Try examining what I suggested -- the possibility that "ha satan" (the satan) is really "the accuser" (the prosecuting attorney in the story). Secondly, read carefully God's words to Job in Job 38 forward -- yes, they were said out of love and compassion -- but they were also words of anger and frustration. Job was trying to play God and Yahweh simply was not interested in entertaining that thought. Everyone gets put in their place in the book of Job, including "ha satan" and Job's friends. Yahweh is the only who is shown to be righteous and beyond rebuke. And in that is the real point of the story: There is only one true judge, Yahweh, and he can do as he places because he holds ultimate wisdom.

--John

John,

God was not (is not) angry and frustrated at Job or anyone else. (Why in the world would He be angry at Job? The man didn't do anything wrong!) God knew what was going on and had the answer for Job. God is not against us--He is for us! Satan is the one who is the destroyer. God sent His Son to crush Satan's ability to stand between the human race and God.

We have to be careful to look at the Old Testament through the knowledge and understanding that came with Christ. Jesus never called God "Yahweh," as the Old Testament writers did--he called God "Abba Father." God has never changed; our human understanding of Him is what has changed. Remember the Old Testament writers were limited by the veil between them and God and that veil was torn in two the moment Christ died.

Also, remember that in the Old Testament righteousness came by faith--although Job was tempted to let go of God almost beyond endurance, he did hold on. Now, we have been made the righteousness of God through Jesus Christ, and we have the ability to understand within our inner beings.

Patricia

Patricia,

We obviously fundamentally disagree on this point. I have made my case for my interpretation of Job in my previous responses. I still maintain the view that God is very much confronting Job head on and is frustrated with him playing God (Job 38 forward).

Also, we don't know if Jesus called God (Elohim) Yahweh because the words of Jesus we have are recorded in Greek, where there is no distinction between Lord as in “master” (kurios in Greek; adony in Hebrew) and Lord (also kurios in Greek; Yahweh in Hebrew). Jesus spoke Aramaic, and his words were translated into Greek, so we really can’t draw a conclusion on this matter. All we can say is that he did use “Father” regularly. ("Abba" means "Father" in Aramaic). But I must emphasize that Jesus does refer to the Father as “Lord” (Matt 11:25), which very well may be an instance of him using the divine name. I also disagree with you on the way we should interpret the Old Testament. I am all for reading the Old Testament from a confessional stance and seeing Jesus in the Old Testament. But I think we need to read the Old Testament on the Old Testament's terms first, based on the culture and language of the period, as well as the religious understandings they possessed. We must balance both readings.

As far as your last comment goes, I do not doubt Job's faith or his right standing before Yahweh. Nonetheless, a careful reading of God's words to Job very much show his feelings about the situation. God's final words in his first speech to Job are: "Shall a faultfinder [Job] contend with the Almighty? He who argues with God let him answer" (Job 40:2). Job’s mistake was not in his deeds, but in his accusation that God was unjust. This is what made God frustrated. No one confronts someone the way God does Job without being frustrated, and even a little angry. God’s words ring of his fury. Everything he says has to do with power—and that is for a reason. God even challenges Job, "Dress for action like a man, I will question you, and you will make it known to me" (Job 40:7).

But there is no doubt that God is most angry with Eliphaz and his two friends who wrongly rebuked Job, accusing him of doing wrong deeds against God. They are wrong about Job’s deeds. What they don’t get is how Job’s words provoked God. We cannot ignore the deepest message of this book: Be careful when you contend with God. Job decided to contend with God and he didn't win. He may have been blameless in his actions, but when he challenged the creator of the universe he was put in his place.

Patricia, I realize you are not going to see this my way and I in no way expect for you to do so, I am just asking that you consider this option.

Now, though, I think we need to move onto a different discussion topic since we have got a bit off track from the topic of the original post.

Thanks for your comments.

--John

John,

Okay, we'll agree to disagree. Isn't it wonderful that in the end, Job repented, learned his lesson well, found out he could demand answers from God, and never went through a trial like that again? God's blessings to you!

--Patricia

Patricia,

It is wonderful! Thanks for the enjoyable conversation.

God Bless you as well.

--John

Regarding fundamentalism, much of the discussion is over semantics. If fundamentalism means believing and basing your life on the fundamentals (foundations) of your faith, then I consider myself a fundamentalist. However, if being a fundamentalist is the traditional stereotype of a rigid, unloving, condemning, self-righteous, judgemental individual then I hope no-one considers me a fundamentalist.

I think that most people (now correct me if I'm wrong Patricia and John, if this isn't how you meant it) speak of fundamentalism in one of two ways. 1) Philosophically, fundamentalists tend to be scriptural foundationalists (i.e. "Scripture is the basis of all truth and it needs not to be proven to me, if it says it I believe it!") or 2) Politically, fundamentalists are strictly right-wing conservatives who will never consider voting for a candidate who supports abortion or gay marriage, and that is all they need to know about the candidate. Now with those two stereotypical definitions let me say that I disagree that all who are labeled (by themselves or others) as fundamentalists fit into these two categories. The fact of the matter is though that unfortunately there are some who do fit into these categories.

I don't even think that to fit into either of these categories is such a terrible thing, but let me now explain why I myself will not be found in either of these groups, though my ideology is not too far from a fundamentalist's. 1) Philosophically I think that scriptural foundationalism is a misnomer and not very sound logic. I say this because inevitably due to the fact that we are all fallible human beings who read scripture through our own lens, there is no way to actually base your thoughts and belief system solely on scripture, what you are doing is basing it solely on the tradition of what you interpret scripture to mean. This is possibly what I think John's point from the beginning may have been (again correct me if I'm wrong). 2) Politically I think that we too often hold a hurting world at arms length because we want to make the penal and legal system follow our biblical standards of right and wrong. Though I want to end abortion and certainly don't advocate gay marriage, I think that too often evangelical right-wing fundamentalists make these things to be the greatest evils our nation has ever seen (certainly this is true for abortion), but for all the time we spend fighting abortion how many christians are willing to disrupt their lives by taking in a pregnant teenager to teach her how to be a mother and love on her? I think that in the political arena our hopes, dreams, and attitudes about affecting change though not wrong are misguided and disproportionate. And all while we're holding those hurting communities (by the way the GLBT community is one of the most hurting communities at large, we need to reach out to them big time!), we do something far worse. We give "good people" who are really just filthy sinners like the rest of us a vaccine to Christianity. You see Christianity in America because it has crept its way into the norm of life has caused a lot of people to think that because their morals align with ours their good. So, they never have to encounter Christ to get the truth they just accept the truth without the Truth giver and that is one of the most dangerous things of all. We've given them just the right dose of Christianity that they don't feel their need for Christ. We really need to be careful of this because in my opinion the lack of morality is not the greatest tragedy in America it's the overwhelming sense of morality, that has led to Americans being so unreachable. (sorry slight tangent there)

I promise to end it here guys, sorry for talking so long. I just want to say that fundamentalism is not the enemy. Lack of love is! So, at the risk of sounding like a fortune cookie or bumper sticker, let's remember that "love wins." And, let me end by saying I just graduated from one of the most conservative fundamentalist schools, so I love fundamentalists because they challenge me and stretch me to grow in the word, we need you guys, but remember that the world needs the Way, the Truth, and the Life! Not just the Truth. If Christ is the Way, let's get the world to meet Him, then they will undoubtedly encounter the Truth that gives Life. Keep the dialogue going I love your thoughts guys!

Kristen,

It is good to hear from you again. Thank you for your insightful comments.

Yes, you have read me correctly on the first point. I do think that reading Scripture the way you described is incorrect.

As far as your second point goes, I think we need to be very careful about imposing any theological framework upon the biblical text. In this regard, I still see fundamentalism as the problem. Though, it is not the only problem—showing Christ’s love to a hurting world is obviously a much more massive one, as you have pointed out. Fundamentalism, as I described it, and as you defined it, has notoriously imposed things upon the biblical text. One of the most extreme examples being the imposition of a modernist view of creation upon the ancient view in Genesis 1–2. The ancients viewed the created order completely different than us, and we cannot expect them to conform to our view. You can see my post on this here: http://www.conversantlife.com/intelligent-design/the-bible-and-science-c...

I would love to hear someone else chime in on this discussion. Now is the chance to speak your mind.

--John

Good point Doc. Anybody else want to chime in?

--John

It saddens me, John, to see people pointing out a group of Christians and "discussing" their problems. Kind of sounds like, "I am of Apollos, I am of Paul, etc." I am a graduate of a VERY fundamentalist university but do not consider myself a fundamentalist, except in the sense of the word as pertaining to standing on the fundamentals of Scripture and separating from worldly pleasures and striving to be devoted unto God with His help. After graduating, I have noticed many (and I repeat MANY) who graduated from such schools who are bitter or talk about the shortcomings of "those people." Growing up in a very rigid, strict fundamentalist home, I saw different aspects of the weakness of fundamentalism, but, knowing that God puts me where He wants me (in that family, in that school, around those people for a long part of my life), that was HIS will for my life to be able to grow in Him. I do not say this in any kind of condescension (God knows my heart), but I notice also that there are looming problems with those who "walk away" from fundamentalism and focus on "God's grace" by throwing out much of, if not all of, God's law (which draws us to the cross), and who "live in God's grace" (because God will love them no matter what instead of thinking and acting on what has God said that would be pleasing to Him?) which is exactly what Paul was preaching against in "Should we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!" When we bring up fundamentalism and the barbs of it, should we not also bring up the other side that a lot do not want to talk about -- "grace" lifestyle -- the other extreme? When speaking with persecuted Christians in other countries, especially China, THAT is what they express the glaring problem with American Christianity is along with Christians being able to accomplish so much "without God."

Thank you for this forum in which to post, and, please, know that I mentioned this as to expand the topic that seemed one-sidedly harsh.

Beth, I'm not quite sure what you mean, by "It saddens me to see people pointing out a group of Christians and "discussing" their problems." It seems to me that your comment does the same, so maybe I'm simply misunderstanding your meaning. But, please know this, the forum that you see here is meant for us all to grow. There is no doubt in my mind that those who claim to not be fundamentalists have problems as much as those who claim to be fundamentalists. I believe (and I know he will correct me here if I'm wrong) this discussion was not so much meant to point out fundamentalists as much as fundamentalism. The fact of the matter is John, I think, was trying to point out that the rigid paradigm of fundamentalism does not allow the proper struggle with interpreting the bible that needs to be allowed to take place, because though the pages may be black and white, often their meaning is not. I hope that helps, and I hope that you feel welcomed into the conversation, we will value your input.

Beth,

Thanks for your comment. As far as my viewpoint goes, Kristen hit the nail on the head.

I love fundamentalists, biblical scholars, liberals and atheists alike. I also tend to dislike the things all those groups do as well.

Our discussion is about the problem of bringing a certain set of values to the biblical text, and subsequently imposing it upon the text. In this case, we are discussing fundamentalism because in my view it is one of the most dangerous views to bring to the text. (I may expound upon this in a later blog post.) I have argued on this post and others that we should read the text for what the text says within its own framework and worldview -- which clearly disagrees with ours. For example, we don't need to make Genesis 1-2 into a scientific account. Instead, we need to realize that God used their pre-scientific views of the world to express that he is the God who brings order to chaos. The God who can stand in the face of all the primeval enemies and be triumphant.

--John

Thanks, John, for retweeting the reference to this blog. I missed it when it first came out.

You and other commenters have noted that "fundamentalists" come in many stripes--more than just acolytes of a 20th Century movement or strict adherents to a set of principles or rules. I'd just like to reiterate that point. Most of the fundamentalists that I know and have known (those who use the word) imply only that they follow "Bible-based" doctrines that they view as fundamental to spiritual growth and maturity. As far as your examples go, I also know many non-fundamentalists who are Creationists of the sort you describe.

So--I think you "distracted" readers from your main point that often well-intentioned Christians can--in the heat of the moment--make unsound arguments that only weaken their credibility. I felt that your examples were far fetched. That is, anyone who actually made such statements when backed into a corner had more "problems" than simply being a fundamentalist. And I've never once read a blog by someone who would argue the exact points that your examples portrayed--even those by enutty bloggers.

But, seriously, can we hope that Christian preachers (fundy or not) will stop making blanket statements that don't stand up under scholarly scrutiny? I'm not talking about the documentary hypothesis nonsense--that doesn't stand up itself. I'm talking about the doctrines currently discussed in the book "Jesus Wars". Or the stuff CT Mag wrote "about" that book. The reviewer was so mired in denominational muck that Jenkins main point (equally debatable) actually escaped the reviewer. So much hot air, so little time.

I support your work promoting scholarly excellence. But I think the established theological seminaries are the springs from which the most detritus wafts, not fundamentalist pulpits.

Thanks for the feedback Phil.

There are some folks who have commented on this post and others on my blog that have experienced similar things as me, so you may want to check out their comments.

Regarding your last comment, I have posted several times about the problems with biblical scholarship as well. You may want to check out these posts:

http://www.conversantlife.com/theology/tribes-at-war-fundamentalism-libe...

http://www.conversantlife.com/theology/everyone-wants-to-save-judas-but-...

Anyone want to chime in on Phil's comments?

--John

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It is a common mistaken practice by laymen, including government officials and journalists, to view fundamentalist movements as localized, recent phenomena. - Dr Paul Perito

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The Infinite God is everywhere, are you looking? I am dedicated to finding God in all aspects of life – the Bible, the news, and the arts. Because I find that the most fulfilling journey of all is searching for heaven here on earth.