My last post on Christian fundamentalism has generated some discussion. Before returning to A W Tozer's analysis, we need to be sure what actually constitutes fundamentalist Christianity. Do an image search on an internet browser under those words and up come an inglorious succession of caricatures of clichéd tub-thumpers and slightly weird bible-bashers. This is clearly the perception 'out there'. This is as sad as it is uninformed. The origins of modern fundamentalism lie back in the 1890s and an attempt to safeguard the true foundations of Christianity, which had been attacked and eroded from all sides throughout that century. For example, the 1910 General Assembly of the [American] Presbyterian Church distilled the historic faith to "five fundamentals":
* The divine inspiration of the Bible, and therefore its inerrancy;
* The virgin birth of Jesus;
* The belief that Christ's death atoned for sin.
* The bodily resurrection of Jesus.
* The historical reality of Jesus' miracles.
Others added extra stones to these key foundations, principally the belief in Christ's divinity. Conservative, conscientious Christians rallied to these as to a firm rock in a stormy ocean. They became known as "fundamentalists".
As we saw last time in A W Tozer's trenchant analysis, what began as a laudable attempt to stay the tide that was pounding away at Christianity, morphed into a rigid system that regulated all belief - what Tozer calls "the cult of textualism". As Jeffrey O'Rourke commented after my last post, Tozer eloquently sums up the huge danger involved in a rigid, mental reliance on prescribed beliefs.
"The error of textualism is not doctrinal. It is far more subtle than that and much more difficult to discover, but its effects are just as deadly. It assumes, for instance, that if we have the word for a thing we have the thing itself. If it is in the Bible, it is in us. If we have the doctrine, we have the experience. If something was true of Paul, it is of necessity true of us because we accept Paul's epistles as divinely inspired... Assurance of individual salvation is thus no more than a logical conclusion drawn from doctrinal premises, and the resultant experience wholly mental."
John Vagabond's comment on my last post ably shows the process whereby "fundamental-ism" (the correct process of returning to what God actually said and wants done) turns into Fundamentalism (a doctrinal system which allows a self-righteous elite to pass judgement on others): When belief hardens into principle, thereafter into doctrine which people then are willing to defend, textual criticism becomes its own harbinger of destruction.
As Tozer rightly points out, the human mind can endure textualism just so long, before it seeks a way of escape, and this is what I hope to turn to in Part 3.