Coming to Terms with Fundamentalism
* Part I: IntroductionBiblical Inerrancy
Meet Dr. John MacArthur of Grace Community Church
in Sun Valley, California.
Throughout this series will be numerous references to Dr. MacArthur and his brand of Christian fundamentalism which will be the focus of my critical analysis. The reasons are threefold.
First, Dr. MacArthur's brand of fundamentalism is what I am most familiar with. During my years in college, most of the people that I rubbed shoulders with in campus Christian circles had close ties to his church in Sun Valley, California and inevitably albeit indirectly, Dr. MacArthur heavily influenced my world view during my formative years. For three years after graduating from college, I attended his church before relocating to Orange County.
Second, he is widely respected and is considered a "hero of the faith" in mainstream fundamentalist circles. His radio ministry called Grace to You
is among the most listened to Christian radio programs and his books regularly top the best selling lists of Christian publications. Churches with strong fundamentalist leanings from across the nation and around the world look upon his church as a model to mimic. All these factors make him fairly representative of the practices and beliefs of Christian fundamentalism.
Finally, this may sound a bit blunt, but I don't know how else to put it. Dr. MacArthur and his church expend a lot of time and energy in unleashing harsh criticisms of non-fundamentalist churches and sects which they believe have watered down the "truth." Billy Graham is just one of several names you may recognize on the long list of his targets. It is only fair and reasonable that anyone who makes a career out of dishing out be subject to scrutiny and criticism himself.
My observations will be based mostly on documents available on the Internet and his published books, and some on my own anecdotal accounts. I do not claim to be privy to anything about Dr. MacArthur's life and his church other than what is available in the public domain, and my own experiences.
Also, I will attempt to avoid run of the mill charges of hypocrisy. Run of the mill charges of hypocrisy will always degenerate into a war of rhetorical retorts, which are not only counterproductive, but unbecoming of how Christians should live out their lives. I am an ex-fundamentalist, but certainly not an ex-Christian.What is fundamentalism?
As I alluded to in my first posting
in this series, it is nearly impossible to discuss matters of faith without stepping onto a field of semantic land mines in which any given word means different things to different people and the term "fundamentalism" is no exception.
Christian fundamentalism, like much of Christendom, is fragmented with no one defining leader or institution, and thus one dimensional depictions fall far short of doing justice. To some, it conjures up the virulent images of racism in the South back in the 60's and of the Religious Right which has become a powerful political force in American national politics today.
To Dr. John MacArthur's credit, his brand of fundamentalism is neither of those two. In fact, he has argued against promoting moralism
through political activism, although it must be duly noted that you are much more likely to win the lottery before meeting a liberal Democrat in his church, and that he matriculated at Bob Jones University which made headlines recently for its long standing campus rules against interracial dating. But unlike Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell, you will never see Dr. MacArthur mobilize his congregation to promote his political agenda using his capacity as a Christian pastor, and I cannot say I experienced overt racism during my three years in his church.
The single most important doctrine and identity which unite fundamentalists of all stripes including Dr. MacArthur's is "Biblical Inerrancy." or "Sola Scriptura." The fundamentalists believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the ultimate source of truth. Every single word, they believe, from Genesis which speaks of the creation of the world to Revelation which details how this present world will end is directly from God Himself, not man.
As you probably know, Christians of all stripes embrace the Bible in some fashion, but Christian fundamentalism takes the concept "pretty far", which will be the focus of this series.
One manifestation of how far they take it can be found in what they say they believe. Take a look at the statement of faith
published by Independent Fundamental Churches of America, which John MacArthur's church is a member of.
Notice that the first statement before
the mentioning of God or Jesus concerns The Holy Scriptures.
How about God and Jesus, you may wonder. The line of thinking is that once you read, study, and correctly interpret the Bible, sound beliefs about God and Jesus naturally and automatically follow. But if you don't have the right view of the Bible, then the rest crumbles like a house of cards.
Fundamentalists vehemently deny that the Bible is the end all and be all and God takes the backseat in their system. My upcoming entries will attempt to show how their patterns of behavior and practices betray their denial. Needless to say, that is why I have left fundamentalism after nearly two decades.
That they take the Bible very seriously and passionately manifests itself in some unexpected ways, to put it mildly. Recently, one fundamentalist pastor called certain people "vipers," and the "enemies of the cross" for promoting "false doctrine."
When I chimed in to take the pastor to task for debasing the tone of discourse with name calling, his justification came from the Bible. Since Jesus called his detractors "vipers" and the Apostle Paul called certain people the "enemies of the cross," he insisted that he was "biblically" justified in lashing out with such colorful metaphors.
Expletives aren't acceptable because they are not in the Bible. But I can tell you that there is one word that you do not want to associate yourself with even though it is nowhere
to be found in the Bible.
The word is .... (drum roll please) ...l i b e r a l
I am not a liberal.*
Vipers, the enemies of the cross, fornicators and etc. may cover different groups of people. For example, it's not easy to be a fornicator and a viper at the same time. Most fornicators want to snuggle with you, not bite you.
But if you are a liberal, you are all of the aforementioned and more. A lot more.
May God have mercy on you, because the fundamentalists won't. And if you happen to agree with me, please curb your enthusiasm in your comments. I have a reputation to maintain around here.*
notice how quickly I deny being one.Addendum (added May 10)
Nathan has written a post called The Death of Fundamentalism in which he argues that the label is outdated and no longer applies. It's a good read, even though I disagree with most of it. My response is in comments.