Hip and Thigh: Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter. Judges 15:8

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Examining the Values of the Christian Alliance Pt. 1

I had stated in my last posting that I wanted to give an examination to the seven values of the Christian Alliance for Progress. These seven values are a statement of faith, in a manner of speaking, declaring the beliefs of political liberals who wish to reclaim biblical Christianity (or better, their version of biblical Christianity) from the zealots on the Republican right. The CAP is one of the groups spearheading this grass roots effort.

I heard a spokesman by the name of Tim Simpson interviewed on Michael Medved's talk radio program. The self-proclaimed reverend (I don't recall him saying which denomination ordained him), spoke on the necessity of wrestling Christian faith from radical fundamental conservatives who are bent upon establishing a theocratic society which would result in squelching personal religious freedoms. According to the Rev. Simpson, it was this fundamentalism in America that propelled George Bush to re-election in 2004 and desired to change the congressional filibuster rules and this same fundamentalism does not in any way represent the Christianity taught by Jesus and the Bible. I would probably concur with the right reverend, but not without some specific clarification.

The complaints Rev. Simpson raises against right wing fundamentalists and their alleged stranglehold upon American society, politics and the Christian faith in general, are fraught with at least two major, urban legend like misconceptions. Before proceeding to examining their seven values, it will be helpful to disabuse these wrong-headed accusations.

The first one is a grave misunderstanding about the definition of fundamentalism. The word "fundamental" simply means basics, or elemental, and when the word is attached to a religion or philosophy it means anyone adhering to a system of belief believes and practices the basic elements of that particular religion or philosophy. In short, a practicing fundamentalist is a person who is devout and serious about his beliefs. Hence, a fundamentalist Christian believes the truths proclaimed in the Bible about God, Jesus Christ and the saving gospel are genuinely true and are devoted to living out those truths in his or her everyday life.

The mistaken notion made by most people is that fundamentalism is only attached to religion. But, the non-religious secularist can be fundamental with his beliefs as well. Evolutionists, for example, are atheistic and anti-supernatural, for the most part, and could be called fundamentalists with their Darwinian beliefs. The word "fundamentalism," however, has had a lot of negativity attached to it in recent years due to Islamic terrorism. No one wants to be associated with unyielding extremism, so people shy away from the word. It doesn't matter what a group of people believe fundamentally with their beliefs, any person who practices fundamentalism, especially with any religion, is viewed as a mindless fanatic; someone who blindly follows superstitious dictates with unreasoned and illogical faith.

In addition to a misapplication of the term fundamentalist, Rev. Simpson and his friends also have a misunderstanding of historic, Christian fundamentalism, particularly here in the U.S. Initially, fundamentalism within Christianity was a reaction to modernistic, anti-supernaturalism that had taken hold in the thinking and teaching of many mainstream denominations in the early 20th century. These denominations were beginning to reject the historical, supernatural elements recorded in scripture, like the miracles of Christ, His Resurrection, and the Virgin birth. It amounted to a rejection of the truthfulness and authority of the Bible. Fundamental Christian advocated a repudiation of this modernistic thought and a return to historic, orthodox Christianity. They believed Christians should read the Bible literally - at face value - as the infallible revelation of God. Many folks in our day, like Rev. Simpson, suggest this "literalism" was something novel to 20th century fundamentalism and was never a part of biblical Christianity. Fundamentalists are seen as being outside normal, traditional Christianity and are considered extremists. This is patently false. It was the modernism infiltrating denominations and twisting the plain reading of God's Word that was novel. Fundamentalist were only attempting to free the Church from these intrusive heresies by returning to the authority of God's Word. That involves believing the Bible as an accurate, true, historic and infallible revealed by God; a belief all Christians have maintained throughout the 2000 years of Church history.

Now, that is not to say fundamentalism in the early 20th century is without it's criticisms. I do not wish to minimalize the many foibles of American fundamentalists, especially the involvement they have had in the political arena. In fact, I would encourage anyone to either listen to a lecture given by Phil Johnson at the 2005 Shepherd's Conference addressing the problems within Christian Fundamentalism, or read the transcript. He provides some excellent insights to these problems as a friend of fundamentalism himself. Also, the correspondence and interaction between Phil and David Doran of the Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary that was made public at the Sharper Iron web board will also be helpful in shaping a correct perspective of fundamentalism.

Then, a second misconception offered by Rev. Simpson is his equating Right Wing religious leaders like James Dobson and Pat Robertson with fundamentalism. If a person understands the basic truths under girding fundamentalism, he will notice quickly these men are not fundamentalists. One of the clearest proofs of this is the fact Dr. Dobson, Pat Robertson, and other political, religious Right Wingers, tend to be overly inclusive with partnering with other religious Right Wingers who happen to not be fundamentalists. Some, in fact, may not even be Christian. Yet, because all of these religious groups strive for the same Right Wing political principles, their theological differences are overlooked and put aside. A true, fundamentalists Christian would never yoke himself up with a Roman Catholic, Torah observing Jew and a Mormon Republican, just because they share the same political issues. If anything, men like Dobson and Robertson can be called "evangelical," but even the word "evangelical" has become so broad and encompassing that it has lost any clarifying definition.

With those opening clarifications in mind, the next time I will begin by considering the first value listed in the Jacksonville Declaration and attempt to answer the question, "what is a Christian's source of authority?"


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