Monday, March 10, 2008

Why I'm Not a Fundamentalist -- Part 1, Scripture

For some reason last night I found myself thinking about the 5 fundamentals of Christian Fundamentalism. And I have never been accused of being a fundamentalist. But I thought more of us need to respond to fundamentalism beyond a rejection of it. So over the next little while (maybe by Easter) I intend a 5 part series on why I am not a fundamentalist.

WE shall begin with Scripture, for the simple fact that within Reformed theology one begins with scripture (also one's approach to Scripture deeply influences how one approaches the other fundamentals).

One of the fundamentals is Inerrancy of the Scriptures

There are some shadings of this belief. Some claim inerrancy in the original manuscripts (which of course do NOT exist so this is a red herring). Some claim inerrancy in original languages. Some claim inerrancy in the King James Version. Not a year ago I heard a radio preacher trying to explain why the KJV is the ONLY appropriate translation of the Bible for Christians to use (notwithstanding the fact that many Biblical scholars now consider the KJV a poor translation based on current knowledge).

Now to me the whole infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture argument has always made little to no sense:
  • Scripture openly disagrees with itself at various points (the 2 creation stories in Genesis, the 4 different portrayals of Jesus, the differences in the history of Israel/Judah between Kings and Chronicles).
  • It is known that textual errors, emendations, and "corrections" became part of the text that was passed on as things were copied by hand.
  • Much of Scripture is poetic and/or imaginary language and therefore impossible to take literally.
  • Those who take Scripture literally and/or treat it as infallible tend to interpret it very differently than the original writers did--often through the benefit of hindsight.

I find no need to look at Scripture in this way. In the words of John Spong "I take Scripture too seriously to take it literally".

Inerrantists will sometimes claim that they don't interpret Scripture, that they treat all texts as having equal value. But they don't. We ALL interpret Scripture, even if unconsciously. We ALL have a sub-canon that we use (often unconsciously).

Given the nature of Scripture, given the way it came to be written by a variety of humans, given that much of it is mythic and poetic and metaphoric, I find that treating it as inerrant or infallible or taking it as literal historic fact is often at best a misuse of the text.

Within my faith tradition we talk about the Bible in these words:

We receive the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, given by inspiration of God, as containing the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God's gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ.

These are words I can live with. The Bible contains the rule of life, but the words of the Bible are not, in and of themselves the words of God. It is the record of people trying to understand how God is active in their lives, not a word for word historical account of events and sayings. Not infallible, not inerrant, not even consistent at times. But it is part of how God is revealed. It is a big part of our faith. We have to take it seriously, we have to deal with it as source and referent. We do not have to, and in my opinion should not, take it literally or make an idol out of it.

So I really can't be a fundamentalist. Luckily being a fundamentalist and agreeing with the fundamentals is not required to be a faithful Christian. In fact fundamentalism itself is really a new phenomenon in Christian history -- as is Biblical inerrancy/literalism as the terms are now used.

1 comment:

  1. I agree on all of your points here Gord. And we didn't even go to the same theological college! Go figure.

    I actually had someone say to me (during my internship, so I had to withold my witty response) - "If the King James Version was good enough for Jesus, it's good enough for me!"

    *bangs head on desk*