Saturday, April 07, 2018

Fundamentalism and Biblical Literalism

Image by David Hayward at nakedpastor.com

Part of my homework assignment this week for one of my seminary classes was to answer this question:

What is the connection between biblical literalism and fundamentalism?  Do you consider yourself a fundamentalist in the classic and best sense? 

Here is my response:

The fundamentalist movement started in the early 1920’s (in the USA) as a response (backlash) to liberal theology that had been arguing for a non-literal, non-miraculous interpretation of Jesus’ life (Wood 27-28). The fundamentalist overcorrection was to interpret the Bible as literally as possible, emphasizing “the plain meaning of the text”, as if there is such a thing. Fundamentalists created a house of cards kind of faith where if you take one card out, literal six-day creation, for example, the whole thing falls down. If it’s not all literally true than none of it is.

Do you consider yourself a fundamentalist in the classic and best sense? 

I take this part of the question to be referring to the five fundamentals of the faith mentioned on page 28: the verbal inspiration of Scripture, the virgin birth, the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the imminent and visible second coming. But even with that, I am wary of what is meant by verbal inspiration. I assume it means “verbal plenary inspiration”, and while I certainly affirm that the Bible is inspired by God, I do not believe that God dictated every word that was written down. Dynamic inspiration, as mentioned on page 36, is closer to my view. I also have a wider view of the atonement than the penal substitutionary theory. So no, I do not consider myself a fundamentalist, even in the classic and best sense. Nor do I think that word is even helpful at this point unless we are using it to be synonymous with biblical literalists, none of which describes me. I’ve seen the idea in a couple different places now of taking the Bible seriously, not always literally. I also advocate for reading the Bible literarily, that is to say, according to the genre and literary conventions. Notice the metaphors and poetic language. Don’t try to make Genesis 1 into a history text or a science text when it is a poem.

(The text I refer to is Theology as History and Hermeneutics by Laurence W. Wood)

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