Fundamentally Flawed

Back in 2008, a friend of mine posted on his personal blog a blurb about a Theological Worldview Quiz which piqued my interest somewhat.

(Update now years later: neither the blog post nor the quiz seem to exist any longer, so you can’t follow along, but I’ll describe things.)

I’m always interested in what people think about theology, so I took the quiz and scored like this:

Evangelical Holiness/Wesleyan 79%
Neo orthodox 57%
Fundamentalist 50%
Emergent/Postmodern 46%
Reformed Evangelical 39%
Classical Liberal 32%
Roman Catholic 18%
Modern Liberal 14%
Charismatic/Pentecostal 14%

Looks like the quiz setter-upper has nine worldview categories and scores the taker as to what percentage agreement he has with that worldview.  I suppose, for example, that a Catholic who is big on ceremony and ritual and tradition would score high in Roman Catholic and low in Charismatic/Pentecostal.  The quiz results also show you a summary description of what his perspective on your highest category is.  Mine was:

You are an evangelical in the Wesleyan tradition. You believe that God’s grace enables you to choose to believe in him, even though you yourself are totally depraved. The gift of the Holy Spirit gives you assurance of your salvation, and he also enables you to live the life of obedience to which God has called us. You are influenced heavly [sic] by John Wesley and the Methodists.

Interesting… I went to a Methodist church for years during high school and college, where I learned nothing, zero, zilch about doctrine except “God loves you”. My doctrinal beliefs are derived more from Hank Hanegraaff and DTS grads than from Methodism. But if you throw out Methodist and Neo orthodox (what’s that??), I think it’s a fairly accurate portrayal of me as a half-fundamentalist who is open-minded enough to see some merits of the Emergent & Liberal perspectives.

I was going for the high score on the “fundamentalist” and “orthodox” part of “neo orthodox”, but someone else beat me out, scoring 64% in Neo Orthodox and 64% in Fundamentalist.  Dang.  But I see the reason why — I don’t like the results’ description of Fundamentalist.  The guy who scored higher than me in Fundamentalism has this said about him:

You are a fundamentalist. You take the Bible as the foundation of your faith and read it very literally, and it shapes your worldview. Non-fundamentalist Christians have watered-down the Gospel in your view, and academic study of the Bible stops us from ‘taking God at his word.’ Science is opposed to faith, as it contradicts basic biblical truths.

Unfortunately, the popular and official definition of Fundamentalist is quite different from my (more correct IMHO) definition.  I would define Fundamentalism as “adherence to the fundamental, basic, foundational elements of a belief system without particular regard for extreme or less-substantiated variations thereof”.  I consider myself a Fundamentalist in that I think I adhere to the Fundamentals; however, the popular conception of Fundamentalism has replaced “fundamental” with “extreme”, as this description does – just look at and

If my conception of Fundamentalist were applied, we would see that:

  • the Fundamental is that God created the natural universe whereas the Extreme is that He created it in six literal 24-hour days
  • the Fundamental is that Jesus will return and reign as King forever whereas the Extreme is that believers will be raptured before a seven-year tribulation and subsequent 1000-year earthly Kingdom
  • the Fundamental is that God is sovereign judge whereas the Extreme is that he sends hurricanes and floods as divine punishment on an apostate people
  • the Fundamental is that God blesses us with giftedness which we are to use to serve others and glorify Him whereas the Extreme is that He specifically fills us with the ability to speak in other languages

I could go on.  The point is, in these examples, the Extreme position is not necessarily wrong, it’s just that it’s not Fundamental. The popular conception of Fundamentalist is what I would call Extremist. The quiz results’ conception of Fundamentalism is not far off, basically characterized as believing in miraculous or supernatural occurrences without critical thought, as evidenced by the comments on academic study and science being opposed to faith.

Academic study does not stop us from taking God at His Word – it helps us to understand what His Word actually means.  Science is not opposed to faith – they are two different realms – indeed countless scientific discoveries have come about as a result of faith and many serve to confirm the validity of faith, but at the core, science is concerned with measuring the physical-natural world and does not apply to anything that is not physical-natural.

As for the role of the Bible… I’ll throw away the “you read it very literally” clause because I find it very misleading.  At least 4 of the first 5 respondents I saw on Andy’s blog in the first few days attend a “Bible Church”, but scored low on Fundamentalism — presumably, hopefully, because of a wrong definition of Fundamentalism.  “Bible Church” is not a denomination, so there’s no official doctrinal statement that spans all fellowships that have “Bible Church” in the name, but the very word Bible in the name suggests that the bible is of fundamental importance.  Indeed, if you look at the “what we believe” or “our beliefs” or “doctrine” section of your favorite local Bible Church (samples: IBC, NWBC, BCBC, Grace), you will likely find things like “supreme source of truth”, “truth without any mixture of error”, “inerrant in the original writings”, “of supreme and final authority”, “without error in the original writings”, “supreme and final authority in doctrine and practice”.  Sounds pretty fundamental to me.  The worship, sermons, lay teaching, educational programming, and outreach ministry I’ve experienced in Bible Churches demonstrate that the bible is of fundamental importance.  The Bible Churches have arrived at this doctrine not whimsically, but rather because the pastors and elders and staffs have, as a result of careful consideration, determined that there is sufficient evidence that the Bible is divine rather than human in origin, and as such authoritative.

Which brings me to the disparity in the quiz’ treatment of Fundamentalist and Emergent/Postmodern.  Emergent and Postmodern are displayed together, and the definitions and popular conceptions of Fundamentalist and Postmodern are that the two are opposing positions.  Of course we’re not given the details of how the quiz is scored, but I see a few examples of questions that necessarily set up an either-or relationship between the two – answering such a question in a non-neutral way necessarily leans you toward one and away from the other.

For the past year or so, I have personally become very interested in observing, maybe even participating in, dialogue that describes the dynamics of Fundamentalist vs. Emergent thinking.  I say “vs.” because I see it as just that – Fundamentalism pitted against Emergentism.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who sees a correlation between the Fundamentalist/Emergent sides of the theological spectrum and the Conservative/Liberal sides of the political spectrum.  You might not like it, but I will generalize: it’s not always the case, but is often the case, that theological Fundamentalists are political Conservatives and theological Emergents are political Liberals.  I’ll go ahead and say it so there’s no ambiguity: I lean decidedly toward theological Fundamentalism and political Conservatism.

This thought process led me to check out one prominent example.  Well-known Emergent pastor and author Rob Bell’s church has a very different “what we believe > theology” statement.  Interestingly, the church’s name is Mars Hill Bible Church, but their theology statement stands in stark contrast to the other Bible Churches I’ve referenced here.  The lone reference to any thought of scripture being authoritative or inerrant is the word “inspired”, and it’s weakened by the fact that it’s not talking directly about the scriptures themselves but about the people who wrote them.

An important and legitimate criticism of churches that would be termed “Emergent” or “Emerging” and the more liberal denominations is that they in general have a low view of scripture and place more emphasis on subjective experience and conversation to heighten or broaden spirituality.  In my view, there is a very real danger of having those who lead from such perspectives floating their followers along untethered to a guided scriptural interpretation, leaving them to rely on something wavering and subjective (experience, feelings) rather than solid and objective (the Bible).  That’s closer to Oprahism than Christianity.

All this is not to say that I am against the “emergent church”, whatever that is, in all its forms, whatever those are.  Nor am I against a certain amount of liberal thinking in terms of spirituality.  But as a Conservative I err on the side of caution.  I am all for the Emergent and Liberal ideas of engaging culture in dialogue without being dogmatic, integrating arts as part of worship, and showing love to people who don’t behave as we think they ought to.  The beef that I have with Emergent entities (whether they be people, pastors, churches, or books) is only insofar as they are “propositionless”.  There’s too much to go into here, so I’ll make another post about all this, but the point here is that I believe that I am quite justified in my insistence that the bible be central to the Christian’s theology, and that will not do damage to one’s own spirituality or evangelism.

For all of us out there who attend Bible Churches, whether you’re at IBC, NWBC, or BCBC, I pray that we keep the B in BC and sound an alarm when it’s in danger of being dropped in favor of something else.  If your congregation doesn’t have a B in the name, that’s OK; for you I pray that you have a B in your doctrine.

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