Monday, August 6, 2012

Why Fundamentalism is not Orthodoxy

I'm just starting to read Thomas C Oden's systematic theology, Classic Christianity, his preface is great fun. Oden was a theological liberal who has rediscovered orthodox Christian faith, as you read him you get a great sense of his own awakening to the reality of 2,000 years of church history and reflection on God's revelation in Christ. He is scathing of contemporary theologians who strive for novelty and controversy while in his own work he seeks to say nothing new but only bring to light for a new generation what the church has always believed. It is very encouraging in our time of uncountable denominations and factions to realise someone can write a nearly thousand page book in small print detailing what all Christians, protestants, roman catholics, eastern orthodox, coptic, etc, have believed through the centuries. He provides a helpful table detailing why historic Christian orthodoxy should not be confused with fundamentalism. I couldn't find it anywhere on the net, so here it is for your edification. (Square brackets are my elaboration)

Classic Christian Consensus: A work of the Spirit who came to dwell in the disciples after the resurection
Fundamentalism: A literal approach to Scripture

CCC: Focuses on the meaning of the resurrection
F: Focuses on the historicity of the resurrection [to the neglect of its meaning]

CCC: Longevity: two millenia
F: Longevity: Since the 1895 Niagara Conference

CCC: A faith shared worldwide by believers of twenty centuries of diverse generations and cultures
F: A particular crisis between parties within North American Protestantism

CCC: Has lived through and beyond hundreds of alleged modernities
F: A defensive response to particular challenges nineteenth-century "modernity," especially Darwin and rising secular humanism

CCC: Scriptural authority received and tested by lay consensus of believers
F: Scriptural authority asserted against tradition

CCC: A catholic and orthodox faith is established through authoratative texts tested in many cultures
F: A truncated orthodoxy is cast in the terms of the crises of modernity, lacking in the whole fabric of historic orthodox belief

CCC: Confident through historical change based on historic experience [i.e. don't panic! God is in control]
F: Often expecting the worst from the human future [i.e. the sky is falling!]

CCC: Recognition of metaphor and varieties of expression of inspired doctrine in Scripture
F: Single legitimate interpretation of each text

CCC: Texts viewed within historic contexts
F: Texts viewed apart from historic contexts

Of course the problem is that in our globalising world the USA is increasingly managing to export its fundamentalism to other nations, I can certainly testify to its negative influence in both NZ and the UK, and that short sighted and fear filled approach to modernity is in danger of choking the life out of the church.

Let me know what you think, :-)


  1. Hmmm...yep. That about does it. ;-)

  2. I think the most important is:

    CCC: Has lived thorugh and beyond hundreds of alleged modernities
    F: A defensive response to particular challenges nineteenth-century "modernity," especially Darwin and rising secular humanism"

    That about sums up the rest of them since the rest of the F are basically defensive statements against the challenges of late modernity. That's why I feel fairly comfortable that fundamentalism will be mostly dead within 100 years - the things that it was defending against will dominate less and less as post-modernism takes stronger hold on the western world.

  3. How is Fundamentalism defined by Oden?

    I certainly agree that there are many unhelpful tendancies that he outlines in the modern (and even post-modern :) ) church, but I'm not sure whether what I am thinking of would be considered fundamentalism. Or does the acceptance of certain positions automatically put you in that box whether you identify as one or not?

    I personally remember struggling with the implicit teaching (and probably explicit, though I can't call any examples to mind) that only those who believed the Bible in the way modern evangelicals did in the the 1990's would be saved. It was very liberating to recognise God's work in history and other parts of the Church.

    I also remember rediscovering how broad the gospel was as opposed to the cling-wrapped version championed by many churches in my youth.

  4. Hi , Steve, Ryan and Ali, nice of you to drop me a comment. Ali, I think this list is his definition of fundamentalism. So fundamentalists may or may not be into "creation science" or "dispensationalism" but it is the reason why they are into those things and the way they are into those things that make them fundamentalists, not necessarily the individual articles of faith they hold. I think. If you are interested he has written a book on it, "After Modernity, What?" but it isn't the one i'm presently reading.

    he says

    "I'm making a very simple point, that fundamentalism is an extremely modern notion. It is far less in touch with the early Christian writers, the martyrs, the saints, the writers of the early Christian period, and certainly with the Reformation writers. I would make a distinction between Christian orthodoxy and fundamentalism."