A Spoonful of Medicine for the Christian Right

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Wednesday, February 15, 2017 0 comments

by David Odegard

I encourage you to read my posts from the last two weeks (here and here) for some more context on today’s writing.

When all of the suppositions of German higher criticism washed up on the American shore, it was received by many who were trying to honestly deal with the naturalistic conclusions of science and philosophy as it related to ancient Christianity. There were many who accepted Kant’s view of reality that there was no self-revealing God and that miracles could not occur. Understandably this had great effects on theology. Liberal Christianity had come to America with all of its relativism and Biblical criticism. Some received it with great joy, others were revolted by its rejection of God.

One of the reactions among faithful Christians was the creation of the Fundamentals, a series of essays published by Biola University in 1910-15. These essays were originally intended to interact with contemporary issues and philosophy along Biblical lines. It featured some of the greatest Christian thinkers and writers: B. B. Warfield, G. Campbell Morgan, and R. A. Torrey. They took on the most controversial topics and tried to give an answer that was faithful to the Bible and the Christian faith. It was a great thing to begin with, but as time went on the Fundamentals gave rise to the fundamentalists.

The fundamentalists closed themselves to discussions with “worldly philosophies” and intellectual interaction with most of the world. They erected an anti-intellectual fortress around their beliefs, unintentionally justifying the assertion from the leftists that Christianity was at odds with science. Fundamentalists became increasingly dogmatic even where the Bible was silent or vague. For example, they began to insist on a dispensationalist view of eschatology (the study of the end of the world) as the only right way to believe. They insisted on the King James Version of the Bible being the only correct version. It wasn’t enough to prefer it to other translations; they said all other translations were a compromise with Satan himself. To my mind, they seemed to be in competition for who would be the most dogmatic and unyielding on what they had accepted as truth. They were determined to make the way even narrower than had God.

They accepted the Fundamentals as finished theology and did not see a need to engage in any further discussion. They embraced anti-intellectualism, which was foreign to Christianity. For them, the truth had been chiseled in stone and no further reflection was necessary. If a person did not put the biblical emphasis exactly where they did, that person was dismissed as a liberal compromiser. Bob Jones University criticized anyone who supported Billy Graham for instance, because he was willing to work with mainline churches to advance the gospel.

This was very damaging to the Christian Right. Because of their unwillingness to interact intellectually with society, their influence became small and their anti-intellectualism only justified the proponents of higher criticism that held scholasticism in the highest regard. Not that the fundamentalists cared; as far as they were concerned, they were short-timers on earth because Jesus was going to come any second. The rest of the world could and would go to hell. The world had been warned and now they were going to be judged! The tone of their message left the impression that they were glad to see people going to hell. A review of a few Chick Tracts will confirm for anyone the flavor of fundamentalism.

Many Christians had had enough and decided to remove themselves from the fundamentalists. These came to be called evangelicals because they felt called to be salt and light to the world, to interact with the world socially and intellectually and to exert a Christian influence in the world. They believed emphatically in the Bible as the word of God and felt that it was the only thing that could rescue the world. In this way the original intent for publishing the Fundamentals was recovered in an invigorated evangelicalism.

Since evangelical theology is committed to faithfulness to Scripture and contemporary issues, you can see influence from just about every source upon it. Evangelicalism is becoming more polarized today by the dividing influences of the social gospel and progressivism versus fundamentalism and nationalism. Each side of the debate reacts against the abuses of the other side and further alienation occurs.

Many fundamentalists remain today in formerly evangelical churches. I would issue a challenge to them to open their minds to listen to other Christian voices, to see other perspectives than the one mandated by your local pastor. Think through the Biblical text and the contemporary issues at hand. If you remain an ardent fundamentalist, chances are your children will abandon the faith altogether when you cannot provide them any satisfactory answers that do not rely on authoritarianism. Please join me next week when I explore The Curious Case of John Hick.

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