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?