As Iron Sharpens Iron

An ongoing and online discussion between: an Orthodox informed Ecumaniac without a denominational home, an ordained Baptist youth pastor with an open mind, a Calvinist worship leader/seminarian with a staggering vocabulary and ability to make a point, and a cradle Catholic with a love/hate relationship to Rome.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Fundamentalism vs. Evangelicalism

Somebody sent me this quote from John Shelby Spong:
Neither evangelicals nor fundamentalists have yet discovered the critical biblical scholarship that has graced the western world for at least the last 200 years. When I last was on a television program with Albert Mohler, it was painfully obvious that he was not in touch with any of the contemporary biblical scholarship of the past century. Both camps seem to me to operate with pre-modern images of the universe as well as God. Evangelicals and fundamentalists like to call themselves conservative Christians, as if there is something called conservative or liberal scholarship. There isn't. There is just competent and incompetent scholarship.

To call ignorance 'conservative' is a clever ploy, since conservatism is a legitimate political perspective, but that word does not translate well into religious categories. My sense is that the difference between those who call themselves "conservative" Christians and those they call "liberal" Christians is more about being open or closed to ongoing truth than it is about anything else. J. B. Phillips once wrote a book entitled, "Your God is Too Small." That is the peril into which I fear both evangelicals and fundamentalists fall.

Deep down I find that almost every person seeks security in some form of literalism or unchanging certainty, both in religion and politics. I find little difference between those politicians who talk about 'strict construction of the constitution' and those preachers who talk about the Bible as 'the inerrant word of God.' Perhaps it is fair to say that evangelicals draw the line at what must be viewed literally a tiny bit more loosely than do fundamentalists.

The difference, however, is very, very small. For example some people are literal about Adam and Eve; some about the Virgin Birth; and some about the physical Resurrection. I do not believe that any prepositional statement about God can be literally true. I think people should take the Bible seriously but never literally. Literalism is finally and always idolatry. Someday, all Christians will recognize that.
This was my response:
I received this very quote in my periodic e-mail from Spong. I find myself having mixed reactions. On the one hand, I agree that the interpretation of Evangelicals and Fundamentalists are not only similar, but are also wrong-minded. I understand, however, their fear. They (and many others) need an ultimate authority to which they can appeal, something tangible. Some have popes, some have councils, and some have the Bible.

The problem with Spong is that he, too, has an authority to which he appeals ... modernity and scholarship. He is willing to drop any belief or make any statement if only he can back himself up with the proper authorities. He, like everyone else, suffers from that most insidious of logical fallacies, the appeal to authority.

The Church appeals to no authority but itself, because that is where Christ gave His authority. The Bible is authoritative inasmuch as it is a product of and affirmed by the Church. The Pope, and other bishops, are only authoritative inasmuch as they are part of the Church. Same with the councils. It is us, together, who are the authority.

That's a scary thing. We want something to which we can point. We don't trust each other. We want to be able to argue using something outside ourselves. But that is not how the Body of Christ works.

Spong, like all other fundamentalists, is wrong.


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