Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Another Question Pondered

Offering my perspective on this may make all three of you who like my blog get downright mad at me, but here goes...

What makes someone a fundamentalist?

The truth is, we're all pretty fundamental about most things. We all have a handful of core beliefs, our own personal fundamentals, that we build our base of faith around. It's completely normal. Some have more fundamentals. Some have less. Some are more pronounced and have more of an impact than others. Still completely normal. Hopefully, Christ is the foremost, prime, and principle fundamental. The threshold, in my honest, southern opinion, is in the level of honesty with which we treat, approach, and implement these fundamentals, where Christ fits in - and whether these fundamentals have morphed into agenda that has little to do with Christ. Often, maybe even more often than not, fundamentalists have fundamentals that have become very twisted, with very little actually connecting them to the original tenet - yet the fundamentalist refuses to look honestly at his or her own beliefs. It's become an agenda.

Fundamentalism in Christianity is technically defined by the "Five Fundamentals". I'm not interested in going into all five. If you're interested, one place you can read a bit about them is here. I want to focus on the one that I believe causes most of the problems...

"The inerrancy of the Scriptures."

It sounds innocuous enough. Yet, it houses the potential for worlds of hurt. In many ways it's a buzz phrase (a dead-ender/a thought stopper/a guilt inducer). In actuality, fundamentalists would be giving a more honest assessment of this fundamental if it read: "The inerrancy of MY interpretation (or my pastor/leader's) of the Scripture."

Here's where I may lose some friends. I don't believe either representation (mine or theirs) of that fundamental to be right.  Most human interpretations have some errors. That comes with the territory when humans get involved with something. But to go out into deeper waters...the bible has errors. Theological errors.

Most of the book of Job is flat wrong. Think about it. Most of the theology in that book is flat wrong. It's humanity feebly trying to speak on behalf of God, judge Job, and attribute things to God which God had nothing to do with. God had to come in in the last few chapters and set the record straight.

One of the most quoted phrases from the book of Job, "The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord", is theologically wrong. Job went through that entire ordeal, and for all we know, his entire life, without being aware of what had gone on in the heavenlies to bring it all about. He looked at the situation with a human filter and ignorantly summed it up on human terms. The only thing which God "took" from the situation was a measure of His protection. Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, swooped into Job's life and stole, killed, and destroyed as far as he could reach. Job was guilty of doing what a lot of us do - he blamed God, ignorantly and unintentionally, for the work of the devil. Job had a better excuse than we do, though. He didn't have the Holy Spirit. Job's statement should've been, "The Lord gives. The enemy takes away. The Lord in His mercy restores. Blessed be the name of the Lord."

Unless we approach the scriptures with discernment, willing to be led by the Spirit and  discover where God is speaking and where man is speaking, where things were under convicting Law and where things are under forgiving Grace, where things applied culturally and where things apply universally, we'll miss out on a lot, and probably begin to blame things on God that He has nothing whatsoever to do with. Not all of the scriptures are God talking. But, this single paragraph would be just about enough heresy to get me stoned by a group of fundamentalists, probably right next to the church marquee that reads: "You think it's hot here? You won't like HELL." When you take a rigid stand on "inerrancy", it applies across the board, with no leeway, and it's ALL God talking. It HAS to be, or the scriptures have room for error, and fundamentalists can't have that. It has to be in black and white terms that authoritative mouth-pieces and policy makers can control and manipulate or they want no part of it.

Then, with inerrancy, we get into proof-texting. Making mountains out of scriptural molehills based on two or three words of scripture taken entirely out of context. Heck, Gothard has made a career out of such. You can't argue with them, because the scriptures are "inerrant", and those two or three words were God-breathed, and to reject the proof-texting and scriptural gymnastics is to disagree with the God of all Himself! How dare you, you godless infidel?! 

Some friends of mine (who came up in an Independent Baptist church) once told me about a message that was preached in their church. It's, at the same time, one of the funniest things I've ever heard and one of the saddest things I've ever heard. The message went something like this (in my best Independent Baptist preacher typing voice)...

"If you have your bah-I-ble, turn with me to the first chapter of Genesis, and let us all stand in honor of the reading of the word of God (I've never understood this - it's unlikely they stand every time they read the bible at home, so why in church?). We'll see that God says to us there, 'In the beginning...Ga HAA duh!'. Do you see that church? That's gettin' rich right there! Now I want you to turn over with me to the last chapter of Revelation. We'll see that it says there, 'Aaaaayyyy-men!' Do you see that church?!

In the beginning Ga HAA duh!...Aaaay-men! In the beginning Ga HAA duh!...Aaaaay-men! That'll preach to ya if ya let it, church!

He literally based an entire message on the first four words of Genesis and the last word of Revelation. You couldn't argue with him. It's in the bible, and it's inerrant, ya know?

With this one fundamental, the door is opened for the inerrancy of scripture to become the inerrancy of human interpretation, and before long, ancillary aspects of our spiritual lives, ancillary issues in scripture, become the bellcows for entire movements. Mountains out of scriptural molehills. Largely meaningless (in the grand scheme) minutiae becomes a bigger part of the gospel than Jesus Himself. That's how movements like those I write about come to be. In the movements I write about, the family unit, while precious, blessed, and important, has been raised to deity, and it's become the basis of their gospel. 

This is the threshold I measure fundamentalism by: Where does Christ fit into the food chain of your gospel?...and if everything else was stripped away, would Christ be enough? Does my behavior or Christ's blood save me from my sin? Is it more important that I conform to a code of behavior or surrender to Christ in a personal way?

What I'm about to write won't sit well with fundamentalists...One of the most beautiful things I've ever read is the "Book of the Secrets of Enoch". It's emotional, powerful, tender, and a compelling look at God. This book obviously isn't in our canon - except that it is. Jude, the half-brother of Christ, quoted directly from it in his super-short epistle. That's right. A chunk of the book of Jude is direct, word for word quotation of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. This tells me a couple of things. First, it was probably an accepted, maybe even heartily so, writing among early Christians. Second, being that this was the half-brother of Christ, it was probably accepted in Mary and Joseph's home and a part of Christ's upbringing.

Sorry about that, fundamentalists.


  1. Wow, I never realized that about it being maybe part of Jesus's childhood. You're not the first person to recommend it, I'll probably have to go read it now.

    Also, I have never heard that about Job's statement that is so often quoted at funerals. It totally makes sense, though. I'm learning a lot this morning!


  2. Lewis,
    You are going to have to work harder than this to make me mad.

    I have to take my daughter to the dentist so can't babble on. But let me leave you with a couple links. And if I get back in time, I'll comment on a few other things.

    This is one of the posts I've written that talks about the same things you are talking about.


    And this is a post I wrote on how we are to keep our eyes on the whole rather than the details (or proof texts). i.e. see the forest that all these trees make up rather than continually barking up the wrong tree.


    I don't think blogger allows me to post links so you'll have to cut and paste the links into your browser if you want to see them. And I think you will see, more people agree with you than you think.

    I, as 'one of the three' who likes your blog ;), knows that we are pursuing the same goals.

    I keep in mind the KISS method in my studies.(short for: Keep It Simple Stupid)
    Greatest theological truth known to man: Jesus loves me this I know. For the Bible tells me so.

    Have more to say. But have to go. Aren't you lucky ;)

  3. Wow! You are on fire today. Well, ya stepped on my toes...a little. The good news is I can still walk! You should be a professor. Make your students recite the 10 commandments in 20 seconds for extra credit. Hehe. Look forward to hearing more. Guess I better wear a bullet proof vest. ;)

  4. Love this! I went to a IFB Bible College. Oh boy! I know *exactly* what you are talking about with the preaching.

    When DH and I left that church, and came back for a visit, a preacher took the verse about Abraham leaving his birth country and followed God.

    Somehow, he turned that into a message about America??? Crazy!

    However, I still believe the Bible is without mistakes...in that God has given us exactly what is needed.

    The problem with every cult and man made system is that they do not take into account the context. And then they build their pet doctrines on a couple of principles that aren't even meant for Christians.

  5. Wow. I mostly lurk around here, but I am amazed by how you "bring it."

    I have a firestarter along those lines too! It drives me crazy how invested Christians can be in LITERAL INTERPRETATIONS!!!!11! that are actually total extrapolations. Ahem: young earth creationism. The Bible does NOT say, "in the year 4000 B.C., God created the heavens and the earth." Six thousand years is a scholarly extrapolation. There may be many fine reasons for believing it, but it is absolutely untrue that that is what the Bible literally says.

    And then there's the wild, wild extrapolating that goes in the name of taking Revelations "literally." Hi, Tim LaHaye! But the worst offender has got to be that white-headed dude on TV with the shaky-voiced wife who reads headlines and rattles off the verses that they supposedly literally represent. It's madness and buffoonery.

  6. CDG, That would be Jack Van Impe. He's one of many who insist that Magog, Meschech and Tubal in Ezekiel 37-39 are Russia and it drives me nuts (Genesis puts them in the region of Turkey and they were known at the time of Ezekiel. Moscow was established around 1148 AD and Tubalsk in the 20th Century)!

    It is true that there is a lot of teaching which purports to be "literal" interpretation and is anything but. 1 Tim. 3 deals with a one-to-one situation, so how can they claim to be following it literally to tell a woman that she cannot lead a class or church? That's clearly not there, literally. The word "raputre" isn't in scripture anywhere, so how can the teaching of it be literal?

    The fundamental of the inerrancy of scripture was in response to an all-out attack against the reliability of scripture for "teaching... training in righteousness...." Not a bad thing at all. The problem is not intrinsic, but what people have done with it.

  7. Mr. Lewis,

    Your views regarding fundamentalism are different, and may I dare say, refreshing. I don't think that I have quite heard fundamentalism described in this manner before.

    However, I would have to disagree with you when you mentioned that the bible has "errors." If I beleive that the bible is the inspired word of God (which I do), then how could it have errors, since God doesn't make mistakes (although albeit, humans often do).

    Interesting thought on the Book of Job. I think you could say the same thing about the Book of Ecclesiastes, for God does not speak in that book either. It's basically, Solomon's "opinion" about the ways of life. Despite this fact, this bible book still has significant merrit.

    I actually have The Book of Enoch, but have not read it. Maybe I might give it a go in the near future.

    Lastly, as for being "mad" at you, naaah! If you didn't "run me off" when you talked about the topics regarding Patriarchy, why would I "leave" over a "frivilous" topical discussion regarding fundamentalism? :)

  8. In your church, if "power" is a one-syllable word (i.e. "pahr") and "glory" is a three-syllable word (i.e. "guh-LOH-wree), you might be a redneck church. :)

  9. Wow.....once again, YES to all of what you said! It's like you're talking out of my brain but you can put it into words way better than I can!

  10. Excellent thoughts, Lewis. I believe that the Bible is a beautiful gift from God, but I really dislike how we have taken it and practically made it a part of the trinity. The Bible is not the "Word of God" - that's Jesus! The Bible DOES contain the "words of God", but it doesn't claim to be the capital "W" Word of God. John said that Jesus is the Word. The Bible is not the mediator between us and God - that's Jesus! The Bible is not God's only word to us - the Spirit speaks to us every day.

  11. Thankfully, I was not taught to take everything in the Bible literally. But I was taught to take it at "face value." In other words, if something is clearly allegory, take it that way. If something is clearly a literal story of history, then take it that way.

    That is the way we read any other book. We don't assume that John Bunyan actually knew "Christian" and that he actually visited a place called "Vanity Fair," but we understand the parallels in our life. A biography we take as one person's perspective on another person's life. A true story, but likely with someone's personal opinion in there somewhere.

    Same with the Bible. Some of it is history. Some of it is parables (which are open to a lot of interpretation unless Jesus specifically told us what He meant). Some of it is the story of someone.

    I find it totally amazing that when I read the Bible now, I sure don't see some of the things I was taught! In fact, I sometimes see the opposite. There are things I don't understand. That's ok; I don't have to. The Holy Spirit will help me understand what I need to of it.

  12. Loved the post, Lewis, and loved the comments just as much! Smart people. =)

  13. This post is awesome. Awesome.

    It reminds me of how a few months ago my brother came back from Vision Forum's Sufficiency of Scripture conference trying to convince us that since youth groups were not mentioned in the Bible they are unbiblical and "realtruechristians" shouldn't be involved in them. The sufficiency and inerrancy things totally sound good - and seem very "godly" - but they are abused and used to control people and keep them under the law and then the Bible is elevated to a status higher than God.

    Speaking of Job, my husband learned in Hebrew class in our (extremely conservative) seminary that the Hebrew in Job is so ancient that no one can be sure what as much as 40% of it actually says.

  14. Hi there, Lewis. I just started reading your blog recently, with the post about "Sewing Up the Veil." (Great post, by the way!)

    Good point that a lot of what the Bible says is simply quoting humans, not necessarily presenting what they said as truth. It is also important to look at the context, to examine whether this passage still applies under the New Covenant, etc. However, can we agree that in everything the Bible actually *teaches*, it is absolutely true?

    I think in many cases the problem is simply incorrect interpretation or application of the Bible, wrong emphasis, or even twisting, modifying, adding to, or omitting from what God has said. I am reminded of 2 Peter 3:14-18 (verse 16 in particular). I would not say necessarily that the doctrine of inerrancy is the problem.

    As far as Job's statement, "The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away," I've heard some people say that he was correct, others that he was incorrect. Personally I am of the opinion that what Job said was true. The very next verse, Job 1:22, says, "In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong." (Also see Job 2:9-10.) But that is incidental to this post.

    Interesting that you should mention the Book of Enoch (or whatever it's called). I was just wondering the other day why this isn't part of the canon of Scripture when Jude quotes from it. Maybe I'll read the book myself sometime and see what I think.


  15. Aaaaaaaaaa. So much here.

    I go to a large independent fundamentalist church, with two pastors actually. The father and founder of the church, as good a man as he is, is (in my opinion) guilty of preaching out-of-context. His sermons are usually from one verse. His son, on the other hand, does a lot more passage preaching: lately it's been "timeless truths from well-known Bible stories," and they are much more, well-rounded, may I say?

    I cannot agree more with discernment and context. Amen and amen. It's why they teach pants are wrong on women and the all-power of tithing from passages in the Old Testament, and yet sacrifices, purity laws, and food laws are no longer applicable. Bugs me to death every time.

  16. Thanks for bringing up these points. I've also been concerned about "Fundamentalists" treating their interpretations as inerrant. And it was nice to see The Book of Enoch getting some attention. It's a rather strange work, but Jude's use of it definitely warrants deeper study of it.