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nube's picture

I have been thinking a lot about fundamentalism and fundamentalists lately and IT SEEMS TO ME that the real problem with Fundamentalism--from a hermeneutical standpoint--is that it asserts a certain definite kind of authority over the scriptures, which insists that the bible must be true in this way (and not THAT way) if it is true at all. To me, who is not an expert, it seems as if fundamentalists are in danger of being like those learned men who know every jot and tittle very well, and believe that the inerrancy (and therefore truth) of scripture is to be found in the preservation and observation of those same tittles and jots.

Are there any practicing fundamentalists out there who are able to clarify for me better the way they understand the bible, and why they are fundamentalist? I know many good fundamentalists, but I have never been able to understand their position on the authority of the Bible, though I sense that they have a deep respect for the book and for the Lord. It is not my desire to attack fundamentalists but to understand them--please help me understand your position, so that we may commune with respect.

nube's picture

Would I be correct in saying

Would I be correct in saying that classically, fundamentalism has rested on literal-historical or factual-historical interpretation of key scriptures? I think of fundamentalism as characterized by the insistence that the correct way to read the Bible is literally, especially those parts of the Bible that are at the same time "historical accounts" and "supernatural" or "miraculous." That is, don't most fundamentalists insist on a literal interpretation of both New and Old Testament fantastical events, as if the Bible and all its narratives are essentially history first and theology second? Fundamentalism emerged as a movement counter to scholarly criticism in the 1800s and 1900s, and affirms the literal nature of the virgin birth, resurrection, ascension, that sort of thing. As well as the Old Testament, too--the ground really did open up under Korah, Elijah really did go up to heaven in the whirlwind, God really did create the heavens and earth in seven days. Those are classical Fundamentalist positions, I think.

Which is why I wonder if "literalism" would be a better word for Fundamentalism, because the title "fundamentalism" makes it sound like what is fundamental to Christianity about these events is their literal or historical accuracy. As I said above, this is very parallel to the approach of those people who were unwilling to accept Jesus on the grounds that their scriptural expectations or mandates had to be observed or fulfilled in a particular way (letter vs. spirit). Whenever the church combats shifting morals in society, they seem to appeal to the words of scripture as if they have some kind of legal weight. While we have become more sophisticated (i.e., noting things like context and genre) in the way we read the scriptures, we still appeal to them as a moral-legal authority on a constant basis, as if we are appealing to the same kind of authority embodied in Moses, rather than embracing the obvious shift away from legalism/literalism that the New Testament embodies.

I know many fundamentalists who believe themselves to be good Christians because they are dependent upon the Bible for their authority, but that just doesn't seem to be what the Bible asks of Christians. But everything is wrong about something, I suppose. There is no one perfect Christian ideal, no brother is superior before another brother in the worth of his soul based on the accuracy of his facts, or based upon the insight of his heart. But I find it difficult to teach fundamentalistically-trained believers to see the other (I would say "higher," but that might sound elitist) types of authority and wisdom in scripture. There is a reluctance in the church to recognize multiple and competing levels of meaning and authority in the scriptures, because it requires more of the believer than mental assent to a list of doctrinal yes-and-nos. It is frustrating, though, to see Christians who deeply revere the Bible cutting themselves off from its depth and richness because they will not accept its mystery.