The threat to a mainline church of a fundamentalist climate then, is that such a climate as today's mobilises and catalyses the ontological anxiety that is already present within the Church. The presence of a Fundamentalist system which promises "the magical elimination of doubt by absolutising a segment of the finite" [Alves pp54] ; that is, promises limited courage, seems an easy answer to such aroused anxieties. Today's climate threatens to give Fundamentalism credibility. It masks or draws attention away from, the evil features of the system. As much as people take up the Fundamentalist option, so the Church will be subverted from its mission and purpose. This is because the static nature of the reality construct of Fundamentalism is the loss of nerve I mention at the beginning of this essay. Once a church becomes static it becomes less effective in its mission. Its reality construct becomes less approximate to what really is as time passes and it will speak to a world that is not there.
The second aspect of threat which I mentioned was that the Church may fail to recognise the seriousness of the threat. David Parker's "Deprogramming a Cult" [Colloquium vol 117,(1)] is an example of this tendency. He notes many (mainly theologically conservative!) criticisms of Barr's Fundamentalism and goes further to say the book is even less applicable in Australia than Britain.
As someone having been deeply immured in Fundamentalism it seems to me that the criticisms Parker notes and supports often show a lack of understanding of the force of the power which affects an explicit fundamentalist. I fail to see that Barr is so full of overstatement. [This is especially if one takes the book as an exposition of Fundamentalism, rather than "what every Fundamentalist believes."]
Parker also takes some time to show that that the "intellectual and rationalistic elements" of Fundamentalism, and the inerrancy debate, are not issues in Australia. Australia is characterised more by a '"heart religion pietism" than [Parker pp24] "widespread public doctrinal disputes". [Parker pp 23] Despite his Australian research [again pp23] I wonder where he has been reading.
New Life ("Australia's Evangelical Newspaper") to which I subscribed for a number of years was characterised by a continual reactionary response to anything that even smelt of 'liberalism' to the point that even I was repelled. The letters columns of New Times or On Being show each month ample evidence of the presence of the doctrinal dispute.
It may not be on the same scale as the debate in the USA but it exists, and is just as heated. I think Parker misses the distinction between the system of Fundamentalism and the range of commitments to it or influences it has upon people, which I have implied by the terms 'explicit' and 'implicit' fundamentalist. He says "It is only when pietism senses that its very being is undergoing a severe threat from a clearly defined alternative...,that it begins to defend the extremely conservative and non-critical basis which sustains its life. It is at this point that conditions exist for the emergence of a genuine overt fundamentalism." [pp 24]
As much as I disagreed with David Parker at the time, the above paragraph is strangely prophetic of what has happened within the Uniting Church in recent years. EMU has arisen as an organised defense of conservative positions.
I'm not hearing the use of the word "inerrancy", but the attitudes I have met in some quarters have all the flavour of what I described in the essay, especially the sense of fear.
The pietism David Parker spoke of is certainly more present than I perceived. It's response has been fear driven, and in some discussions I have only been able to conclude that a lack of existential courage is a major factor. (Which is not to say courage as Tillich defined it is easy; it is not.)
Fundamentalism as a system exists in Australia. "Pietism" as he defines it is, at the least, implicit fundamentalism, I have already suggested it is a good deal more explicit than he seems to admit. Our current fundamentalist climate is the beginnings of the response of the secular and religious culture to "a severe threat from a clearly defined alternative" as Parker puts it. It is the response of people to pressures on their reality constructs which are either all too clear, or if confusing, still a severe test of courage.
From the point of view of my definitions (and experience) Barr's Fundamentalism is an accurate description of the system. Parker's missing the distinction between the (presence of the) system and the implicit fundamentalists, suggests he has not seen the power of the system and the seriousness of the threat. His "pietists" are not yet fundamentalists, although still sustained by the "extremely conservative and non critical basis" of the system! [Parker pp 24]
I want to say that at least implicitly, they are, and are thus ready prey for the system when it arise in response to the present climate. The ready availability of such authors as Geisler (Inerrancy , Biblical Errancy), Lindsell (The Battle for the Bible), McDowell (More Evidence That Demands a Verdict), and Frances Schaeffer (The God Who is There etc.), in the average Christian Bookshop suggests a trend to a more explicit stance by many people. So too, does the increasing popularity and influence of Creation Science (so called) and the increase in small sectarian Christian schools. The 'opposite side of the coin' to all this is that in seeing the threat, a church will become judgmental in its confrontation with fundamentalists and miss the ambivalent nature of the antithesis between church and Fundamentalism which means that, paradoxically, even Fundamentalism is very often a channel through which grace may begin to flow. In other words, fundamentalists will be treated as though they are the system, which they are not.
This is exactly what some of the conservatives in the Uniting Church witness to in their complaints about people's attitude to them in our present controversies (1990's). There seems an inability to see that they 'return the favour' to people on the other side.An afterword follows the bibliography
Alves R. Protestantism and Repression (SCM 1985)
Barr J. Fundamentalism (SCM 1978)
Escaping From Fundamentalism (SCM 1984)
Explorations in Theology 7 (SCM 1980)
Dulles A. Models of the Church (Gill and Macmillan 1976)
Feyerabend P. Against Method (Verso 1978)
Kuhn T. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago Uni. Press 1972)
McKim D (Ed) The Authoritative Word (Eerdmans 1983)
Macouarrie J. Principles of Christian Theology Revised Edn. (SCM1977)
Parker D. "Deprogramming a Cult- James Barr and Fundamentalism in Australia" Colloquium 17(1)1984:18-25
Rogers J. "The Church Doctrine of Biblical Authority" in McKim pp197-226
Tillich P. The Courage to Be (Fontana 1962)
Wallis J. Agenda for Biblical People (Harper and Row 1976)
The original essay ended with the paragraph below. In some respects it would be better at the beginning. The hard logic of my early post-fundy days is very much in evidence in the essay! So too, is my anger at the betrayal I felt from the system which had promised me truth and salvation.
The analysis of this essay is limited by its 'unitrack' style. That is, its logic is like that of a simple computer program, following one thread. People are 'multi-track.' That is they can grow and think along more than one front. This makes inconsistency in us a very easy and, fortunately, common thing. It is this 'multitrackness' that leaves open the best way to pastorally care for the fundamentalist, especially the one trapped in an explicit formulation. As much as I slowly came to terms with a new intellectual system, which was a major intellectual crisis for me (I felt I was on the abyss of insanity at one stage as the inerrant Word disappeared), I grew more quickly along other tracks which pulled me through the intellectual muddles. The great thing for me was to find love and spiritual reality and power even among the dreaded 'liberals'. Thus God did not cease to exist as my view of reality crumbled and the Bible became 'errant'. My construct crisis was thus constructive instead of destructive. We should be seeking not just to argue with people in this area then, (they will often not hear us), but be about creating 'benevolent crisis'.
Would you like to comment?
I have turned off the feedback module due to constant spamming. However, if you would like to comment, or discuss a post, you are welcome to email me, and I may include your comments at the bottom of this article.