Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Fundamentals

Are you a fundamentalist?

‘Depends on what you mean by “fundamentalist”?’ insists the clever chap.

Indeed, there are all sorts of things hidden in ‘fundamentalism’.

There is, oddly, ‘fun’ and, appropriately, ‘mental’, for example.

But if we trace things back to the roots, most point out the series of pamphlets, by the name of The Fundamentals, published between 1910 and 1915. In these, the five fundamentals were laid out:

  1. the verbal inerrancy of Scripture
  2. the divinity of Jesus
  3. the virgin birth
  4. the substitutionary theory of atonement
  5. and the physical return of Jesus.
In a small book that is keeping me awake at night it’s so interesting, Keith Ward writes:

‘It seems very odd to make these the fundamental items of Christian belief. My list of fundamental beliefs would be the existence of a creator God, the revelation of the unlimited love of God shown in the life and death of Jesus, and the hope that all might share in the redemption of the world that is accomplished by God in and through Jesus Christ and in the power of the Spirit’
(What the Bible Really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists, p. 1-2)

In the near future, I will make my own suggestions here as to what I consider could be called the fundamentals, and how one should understand ‘fundamental’.

Until then, what are your fundamentals?


At 3/15/2006 7:36 AM, Anonymous Ben Myers said...

Yes, this is an excellent post Chris. I can't see why any of these points should be a "fundamental", apart from the "divinity of Jesus" (and I wouldn't even want to call this a "fundamental" until the concept had been expressed much more clearly).

It seems to me that there are really no doctrinal points that you can isolate and then set up as "fundamentals", since the one true "fundamental" is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which itself refuses to be pinned down in any narrowly defined way.

Perhaps instead of talking about "fundamentals" (i.e. things that you have to believe in order to be a Christian), it would be better to speak of "identifying beliefs" of Christian faith (i.e. beliefs which are essential to the identification of faith as Christian faith). In this case, there's no question of trying to impose certain beliefs on others or of turning doctrines into laws that must be obeyed (as the early fundamentalists wanted to do), but only of describing those beliefs that distinctively mark out Christian communities and traditions in distinction from other communities and traditions.

So anyway, if I were to try to nominate any beliefs as "identifying beliefs", I'd probably choose two: Christian faith is identified both by its christological character and by its trinitarian character. And it seems to me that at the core of both of these identifying characteristics is a single, central belief (which the Nicene Fathers represented with the term homoousion): that in Jesus Christ we have to do with God himself.

At 3/15/2006 8:54 AM, Anonymous Simon Hardwick said...

I am glad you are enjoying the book Chris! Keith Ward makes an engaging read and covers all the important subjects e.g. Salvation, evil and grace, the second coming, atonement etc.

The first of my 'fundamentals' would be:
fundamentalists are fundamentally wrong in their approach to scripture(!!!)

the second...
I am fundamentally right in my approach to scripture

Some may say this is a reaction against Fundamentalism rather than a thought out biblical position. Well your're WRONG. Why? Because I am RIGHT!

*begins to dawn on me that I am fundamentalist in my liberalism*

At 3/15/2006 11:31 AM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Interesting post, Chris.

The "Fundamentals" pamphlets were not an attempt to set out a definitive list of essential Christian truths. They set out to define and defend certian Christian doctrines that were under attack by Liberal Theology at that time.

I would accept as essential Christian truths the verbal inerrancy of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus the virgin birth, the substitutionary theory of atonement and the physical return of Jesus. But I would want to add the doctine of God as sovereign creator and sustainer of the universe, The Trinity, the resurrection of Christ, the work of the Spirit in regeneration, justification by faith alone etc.

In an article in my blog I try to make a distinction between Fundamentalism and Historic Evangelicalism:

See the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches basis of faith for a good outline of essential Christian truths:

Guy Davies

At 3/15/2006 10:08 PM, Anonymous Eddie said...

I would say the metanarrative or coherent story that the scriptures tell and that undewrites them. Of course, the question then must be asked, is it simply the bare bones of the narrative or meat that is important, and how much meat?

At 3/15/2006 11:36 PM, Anonymous Chris Petersen said...

Any of you that have visited my blog site know that I have dedicated the majority of it to questions concerning resurrection. So, of course, I'm astonished to see that no one has mentioned the resurrection as an essential part of the Christian faith.

I think Ben is correct here to say that we should be thinking in terms of "identifying beliefs." For myself I see Romans 10:9 as an example of two things that "identify" a believer. It is their confession that Jesus is Lord and their belief in their heart that God raised him from the dead that defined them as believers. This is made all the more significant since many commentators see behind Romans 10:9 an early baptimsal creed that converts would say as they were being "baptised" into the believing community.

At 3/15/2006 11:53 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Ben said: It seems to me that there are really no doctrinal points that you can isolate and then set up as "fundamentals", since the one true "fundamental" is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which itself refuses to be pinned down in any narrowly defined way.

Yes, perhaps also because reducing essentials down to a certain set of propositions is to say that the bible is essentially the wrong sort of book.

I like the 'identifying beliefs' label too.

Si, thanks for this book tip matey. Really enjoying it.

Thanks for your comments Guy, appreciated as ever. I wonder, though, if we must make verbal inerrancy an absolute essential, when it is simply clear that the scriptures aren’t inerrant. Besides, like my comment in response to Ben, to make the essentials a set of propositions is to say the bible is the wrong genre, isn’t it?

Hi Eddie. Just a couple of thoughts: Wouldn’t you want to say more? And how this story is understood could be abused i.e., the flood – must believe it as historical fact or I’m unorthodox. If you cannot say this, then why not?

Thanks for your wise comments Petros alias Chris.

At 3/16/2006 10:58 AM, Anonymous Exiled Preacher said...

Hi Chris,

I don't think that the comments section of your blog is the place to launch into a full-blown discussion of the doctrine of Scripture. The infallibility inerrancy of the Bible as God-breathed Scripture is not an invention of Evangelicals in the 1920's. It is 1) The Bible's view of itself as truth from God & 2) the generally accepted view of the Christian Church until the Enlightenment. To paraphrase Cromwell, "I beseech you by the bowels of Christ to consider that the Enlightenment rather than the Bible may be mistaken. Now there's a thought!

The Bible contains narrative, poetry, proverbs, letters etc. But propositional truths are being taught via all the various Biblical genre. "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is a proposition. So is, "Jesus is Lord". Without propositions we have no message to declare to the world.

Guy Davies

At 3/16/2006 12:08 PM, Anonymous C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

Chris said:

Ben said: It seems to me that there are really no doctrinal points that you can isolate and then set up as "fundamentals", since the one true "fundamental" is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which itself refuses to be pinned down in any narrowly defined way.

"Yes, perhaps also because reducing essentials down to a certain set of propositions is to say that the bible is essentially the wrong sort of book."

Chris, Ben and the rest of you,

I agree with Francis Schaeffer, to deny the propositional nature of revelation leads quickly and inevitably to the silence of God. So a first order fundamental is that we can know God because he has spoken. Just try telling a bible translation consultant that divine speech acts are non-propositional and see what sort of response you will get. Every book of the bible from Genesis to the Apocalypse is loaded with propositions. There are propositions on every page. The question of propositions is not a genre issue. Even biblical poetry, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes are weighted down by endless streams of propositions.


At 3/17/2006 11:44 PM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

Keep in mind that "list" is in fundamentalist, so maybe that list of five things wasn't too far off...

Good call on Rez, Petros. Also on metanarrative, Eddie. Anyone in for "Jesus is Lord"?

Ben wrote: "apart from the "divinity of Jesus" (and I wouldn't even want to call this a "fundamental" until the concept had been expressed much more clearly)." But seems to me this should be fundamental even if relatively undefined, i.e., "Having to do with God". That's essentially what you did on your blog, mate, isn't it?

It's interesting than any such discussion will be culturally bound, so we should perhaps go easy on the fundies of the early 20th century. For example, no one has argued for "embodied Jesus" as a fundamental, though 1 John does! This of course is because we all track very well today with "Jesus was a first century human Jew"; ain't too much proto-gnostic stuff running around.

Scot McKnight has hit a home run on Jesus Creed as something close to fundamental, or at least a non-negotiable, I think.

At 3/18/2006 12:22 AM, Anonymous J. B. Hood said...

If I remember correctly, I think the new Pope hit on "love" in a way reminiscent of McKnight's material (or maybe reminiscent of Jesus and the Bible that inspired Scot--hard to be sure) in his first "blog" as Pope.

Surely that indicates it's a "fundamental" we can all agree on...

At 3/18/2006 12:31 AM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Thanks for these intelligent comments JB - some good points there.

At 1/02/2009 1:09 PM, Anonymous thevr said...

I think for me the thing that really sets apart the 'fundamentalists' is that they think there are fundamentals. Just the belief that there are fundamental truths that can be known to any degree with regards to Christianity is quite a big deal.

It seems like at one point in our history (I think around the time of the pamphlet). To be a 'Christian' essentially meant 'agreeable'. In some ways I'd like to thank new atheism because certainly in our culture (in the UK) that kind of relativism is no longer as significant. I think the kind of person that the pamphlet was aimed at would now simply call themself a secular humanist.

At 1/02/2010 9:35 PM, Anonymous Drew Sedrel said...

Thank you for putting together an alternative listing of fundamentals. Mine may differ from yours somewhat, because I am less concerned with the nature of the Divinity or of Creation, but they are very similar in that they are driven by a true and sincere belief in that the Holiness of Jesus is revealed in his teachings, in his words and actions, moreso than in the circumstances of his birth.

Again, thank you. To borrow another phrase, I'll be 'status jacking' from your post.

At 1/01/2011 12:40 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

why don't we just stick to the ancient church creeds (Apostles', Nicene, etc.)?


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