Thursday, February 4, 2010

Are You A Fundamentalist?: McLaren v. McKnight

I'll be reading and reviewing Brian McLaren's new book, A New Kind of Christianity, in the next month or so. I posted a video interview with Brian and Spencer Burke here, and today I'm posting an interesting exchange between Brian and North Park University professor/author/├╝ber-blogger Scot McKnight.

Here's Brian's post:

Are You A Fundamentalist? A One-Question Quiz

When I am presented with a new idea or proposal, my first question is more likely to be ...

___A. Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?

___B. Is it possibly true, valuable and worth exploring?

If you chose A, you're probably a fundamentalist and probably shouldn't read
my new book because it will only get you in trouble. If you do decide to read it, don't let your fundamentalist friends know. Hide the book in a brown paper bag, and only read it in private.

If you chose B, you're curious, and I think you'll enjoy
my new book.

Here's Seth Godin talking about fundamentalism and curiosity. (Thank to
Mike Todd for this link.)

'curiosity' from Nic Askew on Vimeo.

Here's Scot's response:

I don't think that question's answers separate fundamentalists from the curious. The opening answer is about traditionalism, and in fact characteristic of all of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.

Furthermore, the arrangement smacks of radical individualism and denies the foundational role our communities play in our knowledge and social construction of reality. What's wrong with asking about every new idea what "the Church" or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I've already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second, and that is has been brought to the fore by cultural anthropologists like Bruce Malina, who adapts the research of Mary Douglas and others.

I also wonder if this is not a false dichotomy: I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder "what if?" and who are always chasing down their questions. I know plenty on the other side who aren't in the least curious.

Is Seth Godin a good source for defining fundamentalism?

It's a good conversation, and I definitely agree with Scot. I think Brian has set up a false dichotomy. This is not just an either/or. I know lots of fundamentalists who are "curious" and lots of more "generously orthodox" people who are very set in their ways and not willing to consider that their ideas may be wrong.

It's also snotty and superior-sounding. "Don't let those fundamentalists catch you reading something cool and dangerous! Only read it in private! It'll be our little secret..."

Unfortunately I understand where some of that is coming from, though... I agree with Brian that followers of Jesus need to be free to be curious. I wrote a post last month about the questions we feel like we can't even ask for fear of being labeled a heretic. I've certainly felt that way before and sometimes still do: What if they knew that I doubt (fill in the blank) or wonder about (so and so)? If Jesus is the Truth, and if the Truth will set us free, why are we so afraid to follow the Truth wherever it takes us?

Sometimes truth is revealed in science, sometimes in philosophy, sometimes in pop culture. Oftentimes, I find truth revealed in places that are far outside my limited background and experiences. Oftentimes I learn the most from the people who are least like me. The Pentecostals need the Episcopals. The Methodists need the Presbyterians. The rich white folks (me included) desperately need to learn from our brothers and sisters of different ethnic and socio-economic backgrounds. Heterosexuals need to listen to and learn from the LGBT community.

I would argue that Christian fundamentalism has become too rigid, too concerned with doctrinal purity. It doesn't make room for the mystery of God. It doesn't admit the truth that we can't know all the answers. It tends to think that it alone knows the "simple" reading of Scripture and doesn't admit readily enough that we all come to the Word with filters and presuppositions.

So, although I don't call myself one anymore, I am a lot more generous in my portrayal of fundamentalists than McLaren and Godin are. We need to remember that fundamentalism is a movement born out of genuine love for Jesus, concern for His Church and devotion to doctrinal purity. All of these are good things.

This is one of those posts that has no good ending... I'm just fascinated by the topic and wanted to discuss it. I'll offer a sincere prayer:

Father, grant us your wisdom in discerning truth from lies. Guide us by Your Holy Spirit to the life eternal and abundant that You have offered to us through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Thank you for Your great love and mercy that is new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness. May Your kingdom come and Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.


Scott Lyons said...

Earlier today, I read an Orthodox blog saying that not all heresies are deviations from dogma (revealed truth, necessary for my salvation), but that some heresies are such because they elevate that which is not dogma to dogma. Here's where I am in line with McLaren, contra some arenas of fundamentalism. On the other hand, contra McLaren (seemingly) there are dogmatic truths that I would not question, questioning that runs contrary to the tradition of the Church, for the simple reason that for me to do so is for me to cease to have faith. Because for me, faith is assent to revealed truth - in other words, faith says "I believe that too" (in line with the Creeds, e.g.) and not "this is what I have decided to believe." Faith is an individual decision, by grace, that makes me a member of Christ, joins me to his body, which necessarily lives and believes in a certain ways; faith is not about autonomy. Autonomy is original sin.

So while I don't know what McLaren is writing about in his next book, I would still agree with you and Scot on this issue - indeed, I would check both boxes myself. (For instance, I don't have a problem with theistic evolution, but for some that would be automatically filtered out by their belief system.) When McLaren makes his questions oppose one another, then he makes faith out to be nothing more than an autonomous act. "I have decided that this is right belief (according to how I interpret the Scriptures today) - because this and this seem true to me, and not that."

Btw, for some clarification on where I am coming from, dogma is for us and not for them - for me and not for you. So I never have the right to judge another person, which is contrary to love. [God is our judge.] I can only examine my own life to see if Christ is being manifest in me by the way I live and believe - and to repent, confess and convert where he is not. The Muslim and the Buddhist and the agnostic, whom God loves just as he loves me, are God's. My duty is love.

Lord have mercy on me, a sinner, and have mercy on my agnostic brother. Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner, and have mercy on Brian McLaren. And so on. (And this out of charity rather than some fear that they are on their way to hell in a hand basket.)

Or, if I were to make a rap out of it: "There is no utha, there's just my brutha." : )

victoria said...

I could say much here, and I have to say I was perplexed a bit by the questions and the video. I'm a curious type yet I think there still needs to be discernment..... I can go 'round and 'round, read book after book with altering views, listen to different speakers and still question.... and there's a part of me that nearly hates myself because I question so much.... so lacking in "faith."

I think life would be easier for me if I did not question and I do have to wonder when it becomes an issue of faith. Perhaps there is a time for someone like me to embrace the mystery and not try to figure things out..... yet I think at times I judge harshly my brothers and sister that don't question at all and just trust. They don't understand much but it's okay....

It's not okay for me! I want to understand my faith.

I like doctrine, I like to get things right, and yet I don't want to just believe what I grew up solely because it's all I've ever known. I want truth.

Though I question and seek, I'm actually a bit scared of what I'll find. Will my questions make my faith stronger and more real? Will it be my undoing? Sometimes I really don't know. Today I was reading 1 Cor 11 and I have questions about complementarianism vs. egalitarianism, a subject I already have taken "sides" and yet.... I'm questioning. Not so much THAT but how we view scripture and culture, and what the scripture really means when it states that man.... is the image and glory of God and women the glory of man? Later it makes the point that Eve was deceived and will be saved through childbirth. What does that mean?

See? I've questions. A LOT. And I do feel that questions are not welcome.

Matt Nightingale said...

Thanks for your comments, friends... Scott, I appreciate what you said, although I have one question that continues to guide me... I can't shake it.

I like what you write about assenting to revealed truths. I get that, and I think I agree. However, I don't know how much choice we have as to what we believe. I suppose this may get into free will/election theories and conversations, but can one really CHOOSE to believe anything?

I believe what I believe because I believe it. I don't think that's circular reasoning. I just think it's true.

I believe that the sky is blue. If it was somehow revealed to me that it was red, I don't know that I could believe it. I might try, I might act like I believe it, but I don't think deep down I could believe it.

I remember in high school, my bible teacher was teaching about predestination and, by default (although he didn't call it this), double predestination, the Calvinist belief that God creates some people for salvation and some for destruction. And by destruction, he meant eternal, conscious torment.

I couldn't believe it. I still can't. I've read palusible defenses of this theory, I've had wonderful, godly people show me how it all works and how the bible teaches it. I have tried desperately to believe it, and even pretended at times to believe it. I can't do it.

I guess that's what I mean by choosing to believe.

On the other hand, I acted like I believed in egalitarianism (women are equal to men in all roles in the home and church) and wanted to believe in egalitarianism before I actually did. When I finally DID believe, it wasn't a choice. It was an "aha" moment, an awakening. A moment in time when my desires and teachings finally matched my true beliefs. My convictions.

So, that's a lot to think about. I have always wondered why people seems to think beliefs are so easy to come by. "Just believe in Jesus" they say. If it were only that easy.

Atheists use this reasoning all the time, and frankly I understand and appreciate it! In much the same way that I cannot believe in the Flying Spaghetti Monster, they say they cannot believe in God.

I get it. I'm grateful that I have a deep down belief in/conviction that God is real and that I am in a relationship with Him through Jesus. But I don't think it's anything I did... I believe in Jesus like breathing. I just do. Thanks be to God, and may it be for everyone.

Maybe I just proved predestination. :)

Matt Nightingale said...

Oh Victoria, I feel your pain, and I appreciate you so much. Your questions are absolutely welcome here, and I wish you could find safe community in your "real" life where your questions would be welcomed and celebrated for what they are: a curious mind reaching for the truth of God. God welcomes your questions.

And yes, those verses sound crazy, don't they? Women, saved through childbirth? What about those who never bear children? What?? Women are the glory of men?

I'm learning all the time. Never stop asking questions. That's when you die.

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