Back to the Fundamentals

By: Chris Johnson

David French, formerly of the conservative “National Review” publication, has made some interesting statements in the past few days.

One, which I appreciate as someone who once quoted French extensively, was this admission. “…in reflecting on my life, I realize there were things I was once adamant about, yet I was ultimately wrong…” I take this as an admission that the French I considered to be a clear thinker would consider the current iteration to be ultimately wrong as well.

Last weekend, he shared a quote on social media from Rick Warren, popular author and former pastor, on Russell Moore’s podcast. Moore was until fairly recently the head of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission before resigning and assuming the position of Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today magazine.

“’A conservative Baptist believes in the inerrancy of scripture. A fundamentalist Baptist believes in the inerrancy of their interpretation of scripture.’ @RickWarren on @drmoore’s podcast.

A very helpful distinction, one that echoes well beyond the SBC.”

In this comment, French – channeling Rick Warren – carries on a long tradition of using “fundamentalist” as an insult, but more importantly he makes a nonsensical distinction. “Inerrant” means, literally, “without error.” So, scripture can clearly be without error, and yet be misunderstood by its readers. But, the designation – and denigration – of believers who believe they know what the Bible says as “fundamentalists” is nonsense.

“The Bible has no errors, but we believe that no one can understand it” is a nonsense position. But it does have the benefit, for the liberal theologian, of allowing any Biblical doctrine to be infinitely malleable. If we can’t be sure of what the Bible says, it can be used to say almost anything.

In his book, Fundamentalism and the Word of God, Anglican theologian J.I. Packer says this: “‘Fundamentalism’ is the only consistently thought-out version of the faith, and the ‘Fundamentalist’ is the only Christian who uses his mind in a fully Christian way.”

The most famous “Fundamentalist” when the term was coined in the 1920s as a derisive descriptor of those who stood against theological liberalism, was J. Gresham Machen, although he did not favor the label for himself.

In his book, Christianity and Liberalism, he dismantles the liberal position, although clearly not all the liberals took notice. He says, as if in direct response to French and Warren, “If all creeds (statements of belief) are equally true, then since they are contradictory to each other, they are all equally false – or at least equally uncertain.”

In other words, to say, “The Bible has no errors, but one cannot believe in one’s own understanding of It,” is, in essence, to decertify it.

The testimony of one more historical figure displays the ideal “fundamentalist” position. Martin Luther, risking not only his career, but his life as he stood before both the pope’s and the emperor’s representatives in defense of his “interpretation” of scripture said this, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason—for I believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves—I consider myself convicted by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”

The Bible is not only inerrant, it is understandable. And if it is able to be understood, it is able to be stood on. It is able to be used as a foundation for the formation of morality, society, and even government, and this is what terrifies those who use “fundamentalism” as a smear.

It is at this point that comparisons of Christian fundamentalists to the Taliban seems to be the go-to argument. In arguing for a city ordinance supporting “same-sex marriage,” one citizen wrote in to the Kalamazoo Gazette to compare the Taliban to what he called the “Chriliban:” “both build schools,” he said, forgetting the Christians established the public school system in America (unfortunately.) “Both are anything but Democratic in their governance,” he said, not realizing that the republican form of government is heavily influenced by Presbyterianism.

More recently, and more publicly, Rep. Adam Kinzinger (R-Ill.) took Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-Colo.) to task for criticizing the widely misunderstood concept of “separation of church and state.” Boebert noted in a speech that the First Amendment was written to defend the church from undue state influence, not vice versa. Kinzinger’s response, via Twitter, was to say, “There is no difference between this and the Taliban. We must oppose the Christian Taliban. I say this as a Christian.”

If allowed to influence government, the fear is that Christians would begin to legislate morality. They would crack down on free speech, enacting blasphemy laws, and silencing those who disagreed with them.

The irony is that we already have those things, we just call them different names. A few weeks ago, a pickup in Fort Lauderdale, FL did a burnout, leaving tire marks on pavement. This action brought a comment by the mayor, a city manager, and a police spokesperson, assuring the public that they would “get to the bottom of this.” When does a burnout require so much attention? When it’s done over an LGBT Pride flag that’s been painted on the street. Replace that symbol with a Muslim crescent moon, and no one would second guess labeling the city government’s reaction as a “blasphemy law.”

Here’s another example, hat tip to Albert Mohler’s “The Briefing” podcast: “As Laurie Roberts, columnist for The Arizona Republic and USA Today Network, writes, ‘The Washington Elementary School District school board has a message for education majors who attend Arizona Christian University. You aren’t welcome here.’ She then goes on to explain, ‘The board is ending its contract with Arizona Christian University, which for 11 years has supplied student teachers in the North Valley’s school district.’ She goes on to say, ‘It seems the university’s budding educators are simply too Christian to be allowed to teach in the district’s 32 schools.’”

Mohler goes on to explain: “The values of the University of Arizona Christian University singled out, for censure here, include the university’s public declaration on its website that it defines traditional sexual morality and lifelong marriage as being between one man and one woman.”

To be sure, these are “fundamental” issues, which we can only stand firm on if we can believe that we can understand God’s inerrant Word, as He meant it to be understood. And in the instance of David French’s citing Rick Warren’s comment on Russell Moore’s podcast, and then with Veggie Tales’ Phil Vischer showing up in the comments to run defense of French, J. Gresham Machen’s comment rings as true now as it did 100 years ago when he wrote it: “At the present time, when the opponents of the gospel are almost in control of our churches, the slightest avoidance of the defense of the gospel is just sheer unfaithfulness to the Lord.”

But just a few pages later, Machen says this, “Yet there is in the Christian life no room for despair. Only, our hopefulness should not be founded on the sand, It should be founded, not upon a blind ignorance of the danger, but solely upon the precious promises of God. Laymen, as well as ministers, should return, in these trying days, with new earnestness, to the study of the Word of God.”

Why? Because it can and must be understood AND stood upon.



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