Two days ago I wrote about my real life experiences with fundamentalists and defined them for the purposes of this conversation as those Christians among us who believe in the absolute inerrancy of Scripture and that 1950s America was the perfect expression of God’s kingdom.
The question that inspired these posts was, “what is it about fundamentalists that makes me so eager to hate and judge them?” As I pondered that question it led to a greater question: “What actual harm are fundamentalists doing to the world and to Christianity?” Yesterday I answered the first question by saying, “there is not much that deserves my eager angst.” Today’s and tomorrow’s posts are the answers I have arrived at to that second question.
I believe there is real harm being done by the fundamentalists among us. As I have interacted with them I find that they are doing harm to the Christian doctrine they claim to defend and to the fellow Christians they try to convert to their thinking. Today I will talk about the harm to greater Christian doctrine. Tomorrow I will talk about the practical, personal ways they violate others.
First I want to tell about a conversation I had with one of the most hardcore fundamentalists in town. Like most of my conversations with fundamentalists it began with me complimenting him and ended with him insulting me and calling me not Christian. The conversation began by me sharing that I feel like some Christians worship Scripture instead of Jesus. He was baffled by that comment because, as he explained, “Scripture is the Word of God and Jesus is the Word of God so Scripture is Jesus and we must worship Scripture.” I was shocked by that statement, not only because Scripture never calls itself the Word of God but always reserves that title for Jesus but also because it proved to me that fundamentalists really believe that the Bible is God.
By contrast, in historical Christianity Jesus has always been the absolute revelation of who God is. After Jesus ascended into heaven, the Holy Spirit continued and continues to reveal Jesus in several means. Scripture over time (a lot of time) became the primary (but not the only) way the Holy Spirit reveals Jesus to us. And in my tradition, it is a necessary book to keep the church from getting off track. By metaphor it is the chief tool in our tool belt and we desperately need it because without the Bible a congregation is a carpenter without a hammer or a barber without scissors or a writer without a computer.
But the Bible cannot do for us what Jesus did on the cross and the Bible cannot replace the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth using many means. Scripture can only remind us about what Jesus did and encourage us to enter into life giving relationship with Jesus through the other means of grace. Those means are things like prayer, congregational worship, Christian conversation, academic study, and exercise, among many others. They, along with Scripture, sustain our right relationships with God and others.
But for fundamentalists Scripture is God, particularly King James’ Version of it. It is God’s arm instead of the church’s hammer or scissors or computer. They think Scripture is fully God, or at least the only part revealed to us. Thus Scripture becomes the only work of the Holy Spirit and fundamentalists end up with no room for Jesus or the Holy Spirit. To them God is just a book and interestingly a book they talk a lot about but seldom ever read (but that is another post for another day).
Then they read Scripture as if it provides correct logic to us. But logic will not save the world in the way that the very human and very God, Jesus saves the world. I have not had one honest debate with a fundamentalist that didn’t end with their insistence that if you think the wrong thing about God you are going to hell. So their evangelism often takes the form of displaying right logic instead of Godly love. But Scripture, the very Scripture they claim to protect, claims that people will only know Christ by our love. It is not doctrine or logic that saves us, except the doctrine and logic of right relationship with God and neighbor and enemy.
Therefore Scripture, in their thinking is God itself, a God who is as small as a logical system and cannot do anything but be words on a page. Put another way, they don’t use Scripture to worship God made flesh. They worship Scripture as God made paper.
To end with another story that illustrates these points, the Baptist church in town sent out a mailer that invited people to come to their events. The mailer was a wonderful idea with the church’s calendar of events and mission statement. It even had a letter from their pastor that spent three paragraphs explaining how their church was all about Scripture: How Scripture tells us how to be better parents and how to manage our finances and all the right rules and wisdom to live a happy life. But not once did the pastor or the entire packet mention Jesus. The church seemingly doesn’t need Jesus because they have the Bible. For them evangelism isn’t about introducing people to Jesus. It is about introducing people to Scripture.
But what Christianity has always had to offer is not petty moralisms or God given self helps or divinely revealed logic. We have always offered the very presence of the resurrected Christ through the Holy Spirit. But fundamentalists believe they have all they need in the sacred words of Scripture, so they don’t need or want Jesus or the Holy Spirit.
This is how the fundamentalists are killing themselves. They cut themselves off from the presence of Jesus by choosing to worship the created Scriptures instead of the creator God. And now they have empty doctrine that cannot sustain itself.
Come back tomorrow to see how this plays out practically.