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Not the review I would have written

Buzz Thomas visited Chattanooga a year or two back & a dear friend* invited me to accompany him and his wife to a book signing event. I picked up a copy… breezed through it, then set it aside. I found it pretty weak tea, with a propensity to overstate some issues, understate others, and to leave way too much unsaid regarding the controversies surrounding all of them. But this isn’t James McGrath’s take.. His review is much more gracious than what I might have written. He says:

While it is not the case that all the things Thomas mentions are things that all ministers would tell you if they could, I suspect that enough of them are, and if not these things then there are other things that they could tell you were they not afraid that ordinary Christians, rather than welcoming a deeper understanding of the faith, of the Bible, and of Christian history, would complain, argue, and eventually drive the minister out who dared expose them to uncomfortable truths.Although a very short book, it packs a serious punch and reveals more in its 108 pages than many other works of much greater length on more specific subjects.
[...]
His recognition not only of [these facts is] refreshingly honest but even more than that refreshingly Biblical compared to the selective quote mining of the fundamentalists.

Despite my dimmer view of the book, I agree wholeheartedly with McGrath’s final word:

To paraphrase a famous quote that the book mentions at one point, all that has to happen for fundamentalism to thrive is for those who have actually studied the Bible and understand it in depth and detail to keep silent.

*not in the Mark Sanford sense

5 comments to Not the review I would have written

  • It is the final word that is most important. I guess fundamentalism is just another term for conventional wisdom and if your fundamental conventional wisdom is in error then I think it needs to be pointed out to you. Truth is always buried in and amongst the weeds of error.

    Personally I really enjoyed the book and it has made rounds through my entire family.

  • Well… I’m actually re-thinking that final word. Reflecting on history, it seems to me that fundamentalism in the U.S. has its roots in reacting to the liberalization of mainstream Christianity and the efforts of German schools of higher criticism. Maybe the idea of paying attention to the text in a deep and detailed way just fans the flames… who knows?

  • Jan

    Would you define what you mean when YOU use the term “fundamentalist”?

  • As always, the use of a word depends on the context. In this context, I mean a Biblical fundamentalist… I think of Biblical fundamentalists as generally sharing most or all of the following viewpoints:

    1) Sola Scriptura – the notion any scripture should be interpreted foremost in terms of other scripture (which is problematic, if in fact, Paul writes against ‘James’).

    2) The view that modern translations of the Bible, interpreted in terms of modern conservative Christianity (with little else other than the use of a convenient ancient language clarification or general cultural cue) are adequate for understanding the Bible.

    3) Harmonizations of multiple authors’ accounts of events – even if they require fabulous narratives that are not actually found in the Bible – represent the the best understanding of the events under discussion, because contradictions caused by real errors in reporting would not have been allowed by God.

    4) If rational and empirical investigation lead one to a conclusion about a subject is at odds with (understood in terms of 1-3, above) Biblical pronouncements on that subject, then either a) the Biblical account must be harmonized (even at the risk of violence to the authors’ original intent), or b) the rational and empirical investigation must be considered flawed.

    5) … Most importantly… if moral reasoning about an issue leads one to a conclusion at odds with Biblical pronouncements (understood in terms of 1-3, above), then either a) the Biblical account must be harmonized (even at risk of violence to the authors’ original intent), or b) the moral reasoning must be deemed flawed.

    As examples… 4a) would be represented by the re-interpretion as allegorical passages that represent an ancient cosmological view of the heavens being a dome with windows that release rain.

    4b) would be represented by “Scientific Creationism” – denying the rational/empirical result.

    5a) would be represented the soft-peddling of moral statements about the value of slaves in both the old and new testament.

    5b) would be represented by the fundamentalist response to the advancement of gay families.

    I may be painting with too broad a brush here… I understand that there are conservative/Evangelical churches that do not follow classic “Fundamentalism” as it was conceived at the turn of the last century, yet who share most or all of these traits. But I’m talking about how I understand the word, and these are the areas that stand out to me.

    Items 1 – 3 on my list are not “bad things” from my perspective… I think that this kind of fundamentalism may cheat believers out of a deeper understanding of their holy scripture, but it doesn’t really harm anyone. I feel much the same way about items 4a & 5a. The real problems I see stem from items 4b & 5b, because they tend to create political movements that seek to dumb down the public school curriculum and undermine real morality.

  • Fundamentalists to me usually just means Aunts, Uncles, Cousins………KINFOLK :-)

    Mostly on my mothers side. And wouldn’t you know that they all can trace their roots back to where else but Germany. I guess they didn’t get the memo.

    Fundamentalist to me just says, There is but one way and that is Gods way which just so happens to also be my way and please go away son, ya bother me!

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