Saturday, December 6, 2008

Fundamentalism vs. Traditional Christianity

One of the things that a Christian apologist does is to attempt to clearly and accurately articulate what it is that Christians believe. This post is part of such an effort.

In the last post, I shared a quote from Dinesh D'Souza in which he alluded to a significant distinction between traditional Christianity and Fundamentalism. He went on to argue that the New Atheists have used Fundamentalism as a straw man, a mischaracterization of true Christianity that is easily knocked down. And I think he's absolutely right.

So what distinguishes Fundamentalism from traditional Christianity? What is there in Fundamentalism that is absent from the orthodox faith? Both involve belief in the inspiration of Scripture, in creation ex nihilo, in the Trinity, the deity of Christ, and in His substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection, and eventual second coming in judgment. So what is there in Fundamentalism for which you will search in vain the creeds to which all believers (Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) have assented and that have retained their vibrancy and relevance throughout the centuries?

Just one thing... belief that the Bible teaches that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old. This belief became (for Fundamentalists) a central tenet in the early 1900's as a response to the widespread teaching of naturalistic evolution.*

Of course, there are some corollary ideas that make Fundamentalism even more problematic, and D'Souza probably had some of these in mind as well. All are logically necessary to belief in a young earth, and all represent obstacles to the acceptance and understanding of true Christianity. These include biblicism, the notion that the Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge. This idea involves a rejection (in large measure) of the traditional doctrine of dual revelation, which says that God has revealed Himself both through the Bible and through the creation. (On the biblicist view, science is completely unreliable, and the only accurate scientific conclusions are those made by Christians who are also believers in a young earth.) Hand in hand with young earth beliefs is the interpretation (again a very modern one) that the flood of Noah's day (recorded in Genesis 6-8) was not only universal (applying to all humans and the region they inhabited) but actually global. This leads, for example, to claims that the Grand Canyon was carved out in less than a year, that all terrestrial life was represented on the ark, that dinosaurs and people existed simultaneously, and more. Other corollary aspects of Fundamentalism are a hyper-literal approach to Scripture, fideism, and a general tendency toward anti-intellectualism.

I'm with D'Souza on this one. I'm irritated that many modern Christians are unfamiliar with what constitutes traditional Christianity and willing to accept as biblical a superficial interpretation that is so indefensible. Because Fundamentalism has become so widespread within the American church, much of apologetics--defending true Christianity--requires first explaining what the Bible does not say--that the Earth and universe are only thousands of years old or that there was a global flood.

* Regular readers of this blog will realize that subsequent discoveries of the 20th and 21st centuries have made naturalistic (or even gradualistic) evolution a dying paradigm (although the theistic implications of those discoveries have caused many scientists, educators, and media personnel to cling to Darwinism despite the evidence). Primary among such discoveries is the recognition that the universe had a hot "big bang" beginning only 13.7 billion years ago. This finite beginning to the universe both undermines a central assumption of naturalistic evolution (an eternal universe) and supports claims that the Bible has made all along.

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