Archives For Fundamentalism

heresy_GMSI’ve been reading Roger Olson’s new book Counterfeit Christianity: The Persistence of Errors in the Church, a book about Christian heresies that is vastly superior to my own writing on them. Nonetheless, I thought this would be the perfect time to pull my ‘Top Ten Heresies‘ posts from 4 years ago out of the vault.

Heresy = Beliefs considered anathema by the ecumenical councils of the Christian Church

If Orthodoxy = ‘right praise’ then heresy = ‘wrong praise.’

*Leviticus 10: wrong praise = a very big deal

If Stanley Hauerwas is correct to assert that most Christians in America today are ‘functional atheists;’ that is, most Christians live in such a way that it makes no difference that God raised Jesus from the dead, then surely even more Christians today are inadvertent heretics, trodding paths of belief the ancient Church long ago labeled dangerous detours.

Today these ancient errors of the faith can be found wearing many different guises. For all you know, you might be wearing one too.

By pointing out what Christians DO NOT believe, we can get one step closer to what we do.

Heresy #8: Fundamentalism

What Is It?

A) The strict adherence to and elevation of particular religious principles and values over and against all others- even the person and character of Jesus Christ- thereby making such principles the absolute test of fidelity.

B) Believing the complexity of scripture and the peripatetic nature of Christ can be distilled into abstract, general principles which one can assent to without submitting oneself to a community that is committed to the embodiment and practice of the faith.

Who Screwed Up First

Admittedly, fundamentalism is not actually an ancient anathema; nonetheless it’s one that I imagine would cause Constantine, were he still around, to convene another ecumenical council.

Even though fundamentalists purport to represent authentic (‘4 Square,’ ‘Bible-Believing’) Christianity, fundamentalism is really quite a new phenomenon, starting in late 19th century America as a reaction to the corrosive effects of both Darwinism and modernism.

If we’re going to assign blame for the blight we know as Christian fundamentalism, then let’s lay it at the feet of A.C. Dixon, the original editor from 1910-1915 of ‘The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.’

‘The Fundamentals’ identified 1) Biblical Inerrancy, 2) the Virgin Birth of Jesus, 3) Penal Substitutionary Atonement 4) Physical Resurrection of Christ and 5) the Second Coming of Christ as the essential doctrines for an orthodox Christianity.

How Do You Know If You’re a Heretic?

If you insist on defining the ‘Gospel’ exclusively in terms of ‘Penal Substitution’ (the belief that Jesus suffered, as a substitute, God’s wrath toward you) and if you find Penal Substitution foreshadowed and alluded to in every nook and cranny and every last syllable of scripture then you just might be a fundamentalist.

If you spend more time arguing for the literal, physical resurrection of Jesus than you do actually living a risen life that’s been set free from Sin and Death, then I’m sorry but you’re a fundamentalist.

If you think you’re ‘saved’ because you believe Jesus died for you and it matters not that in your life you resemble Jesus not at all, then you’re a fundamentalist in the most fundamental definition of the word. You’ve taken an idea and made it more important than following and worshipping Christ.

If you think Christianity is about beliefs instead of discipleship, that ideas are more important than character, that the right doctrines in your head (or on your church website) are more important than the cruciform shape of your heart then, yes, you’re a fundamentalist.

If certain ‘faith-based’ values or principles (Inclusivity, Compassion for the Poor, Diversity, Justice, Care for the Environment) are more precious to you than a brother or sister in Christ who disagrees with you, then you might call yourself ‘Progressive’ but you’re really a blue-hued fundamentalist by a different name.

If you think the letter of scripture- or your reading of it- deputizes you for ugly, un-Jesusy, Pharsaic behavior towards another (‘Love the sinner, hate the sin’) then you’re the worst kind of fundamentalist.

If you spend more time bemoaning the decay of American culture than you do pursuing the 21st century equivalent of ‘eating and drinking with sinners’ then you’re a heretic and, what’s worse, you probably don’t realize it.

If you’re preoccupied with labeling other Christians as heretics (but not in a cheeky way like this) then: pot meet kettle.

If you spend more time on your opinions than you do in prayer, then you’re like me and, regrettably, I’m obviously something of a fundamentalist.

Persons Most Likely to Commit This Heresy Today

Marcus Borg (rest his soul)

Emergent Christians

People who want the Ten Commandments posted in public spaces.


Delegates, Clergy and Lay, to Denominational Conferences

Most Contemporary Christian songwriters

Southern Baptists

Any Christian Leader who appears on Cable News

Home Remedies

Read Matthew 19.16-30 and take Jesus at his Word.

Abstain from Christian blogs.

Fast from Cable News.

Become politically neutral for an electoral season.

Really get to the know someone, in all the complexity of their life, who is completely different from you.

Be honest about the complexity of your own life and relationships.

Pray. Alone. In a closet if you have to.

david_bentley_hartI’ve just started reading David Bentley Hart’s new book, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness and Bliss.

Let’s just say that had this been written in the 3rd century it would be worth the canon’s consideration. I took a few of DBH’s classes back when I was a lowly freshman at UVA and he was finishing up his PhD. My theological training then was sufficient only to alert me to how very little I understood of what DBH tried to teach us. Dr Hart seemed well aware of our impoverished intellects too, treating us with resigned sarcasm that every now and then was tempered by true Christian charity.

The gentle condescension and humor that comes through in his writing came through loud and clear in his lectures as well, and I loved every moment of it. I had only been a Christian for a few years, and DBH was the most brilliant brother in Christ I had ever encountered. And he remains so today.

Being taught by DBH was perhaps the first time I realized the extraordinary depth and sophistication that is the ancient Christian philosophic tradition.

At a time when my Christian peers were, in predictable if shallow fashion, having their faith challenged by what they learned in their science and biblical studies classes, my faith was being edified at an exponential rate.

If I could understand only 8% of what DBH tried to teach me, I wagered, then the tradition of Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, Bonaventure, and Aquinas was secure from anything the Physics or Biology Departments could throw at it.

Anyone who could not accept the philosophical validity of the Christian vision of God, I concluded, simply didn’t understand either the vision or how that vision defines ‘God.’

Ironically, my conclusion is the subject of Hart’s new book. With rhetorical flights and biting condescension, Hart points out the logical sloppiness of pure atheism (calling it ‘magical thinking’ but that’s a post for another day) and skewers the so-called New Atheist Movement for being a rather vulgar misapprehension of what the great theistic traditions of the world mean by the word ‘God.’

Hart rightly points out that pure atheism is only one strand of a fundamentalism common in our unsubtle age, ridiculing biblical literalists for making the same category error.

Hart writes:

“Many [19th century Christians who opposed Darwinism] genuinely believed that there was some sort of logical conflict between the idea that God had created the world and the idea that terrestrial life had evolved over time. This was and is a view held, of course, by any number of atheists as well.”

And then, Hart hit me with a point so obvious I’d never even considered it:

“One assumes that fundamentalist Christians and atheists alike are well aware that Christians believe God is the creator of every person; but presumably none of them would be so foolish as to imagine that this means each person is not also the product of spermatozoon and ovum; surely they grasp that here God’s act of creation is understood as the whole event of nature and existence, not as a distinct causal agency that in some way rivals the natural process of conception.”


In other words, not even the most strident biblical literalist would hold their new born baby in their arms and deny that the child is the very obvious fruit of sexual (biological) love. Yet, at the same time, few parents would not also rightly confess that no matter how ‘natural’ this child’s birth was it remains, nonetheless and thoroughly so, a mysterious and gracious gift of God.

Why is it, then, that biblical literalists cannot apply to scripture the same theo-logic with which they read their children?