I was reflecting this morning that the formula for creating a fundamentalist Christian is actually quite simple and predictable. I've tried to think of a picture for what I'm thinking here--I know one will come to me. I've thought of vampire bites or movies where if you get scratched by the alien you will eventually turn into one. The best I've come up with, though, is rather arcane.
The formula for creating a fundamentalist is like a chemical process where, if certain catalysts are introduced into the system, the process goes a different direction. Alternatively, it's like replacing one gene in the sequence that results in a mutated product. Basically, a fundamentalist is a pre-modern interpreter of the Bible who has been confronted by history and biblical scholarship in a certain way that creates an adverse reaction.
Christian fundamentalism is largely a twentieth century phenomenon. It is a defensive reaction to Enlightenment challenges to a pre-modern view of Scripture. A pre-modern view of Scripture is one that largely reads the Bible out of context. It reads it as a single book with a single author (God) to a single audience (me, understood as all humanity). It organizes the whole text into a single story with a single message, a fairly unified theology and ethic.
A Christian can do just fine with this hermeneutic. In fact, most have throughout history. And living in the bubble of IWU for so many years, I was content for most Wesleyans to be in this category. They believe things that are true. They live the way they're supposed to. Just, from my perspective, they didn't realize that what they were believing and living was largely a theological overlay on the real Bible.
But I am increasingly realizing that this state is easily morphed into a fundamentalist hermeneutic. All you have to do is bring history and context into the chemical process in a confrontative or combative way. Or, you present modernist views as hostile to God, the Bible, and Christian faith.
Pre-modern + historical/contextual challenge of God, the Bible, and faith =
fundamentalism or faith crisis
My increasing feeling is that this chemical reaction is catalyzed so easily and unthinkingly that it is no longer safe for me to just to let the pre-modern view stand. The proper reaction is:
pre-modern + clarification of true structure underlying understanding of God, the Bible, and faith
= continued faith with clarified underpinnings
For this reason, I hope to blog through Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology on weekends for the next year. The goal is to clarify where he "fundamentally" goes wrong, as well as to give an Arminian response.