Most Christians in America have been affected one way or the other by fundamentalist Christianity. Many of us would still claim to be fundamentalists, and others of us are rejecting any association with fundamentalist Christianity, for various reasons. What I want to do in this post is talk about the impact that Fundamentalism has had, negatively, on the American Christian psyche. First off let me give a brief oversimplified definition of what Fundamentalism is:
Fundamentalism originated in the early 20th century North America as a movement to preserve and promote conservative, Biblical Christian orthodoxy. It was a militant reaction against challenges from liberal theology, the theory of evolution, and higher critical methodology in biblical studies. (David L. Smith, “A Handbook of Contemporary Theology: Tracing Trends And Discerning Directions in Today’s Theological Landscape,” 11)
From the definition above the key phrase I want to focus on is: “… It was a militant reaction against challenges from liberal theology …,” the idea that fundamentalism’s very beginning was shaped by militant reaction and fear I believe is highly problematic for a Christians’ spirituality. Let me unpack that a bit: the primary problem I see with this, and have felt in my own Christianity, is that fundamentalism as a movement has been shaped by reaction and hyper active response to questions dictated to them by the world. In other words when we take a look at our systematic theologies, the autonomy of the local church, our fortress Bible colleges, our self serving political engagement, etc., etc., it becomes quickly apparent that all of these things are shaped by negative factors.
For example, fundamentalist evangelical systematic theologies are very telling on this point; when you enter a particular Fundy systematic theology one of the first things we will find are arguments, philosophical arguments, for the existence of God. Or how about the Bible college movement for a case in point? These were created early on out of a pietistic zeal to the liberalism that had crept into many seminaries of that time frame. This was done in an ostrich like way running backwards away from the battle, and hoping it would just all go away. Instead what happened is that we became a subculture, fundamentalists that is, and instead of being engaged intellectually we became anti-intellectual; which we are experiencing the fallout from right before our eyes, even now. Fundamentalists are still running backwards, still trying to shore up our beachheads, still trying to sustain our subculture; looking for a way to engage the culture without really being in the culture.
I digress a bit above, my concern actually is very personal. Christian theology should not be determined by the questions that the world poses as priorities. Christian theology should not be fundamentally apologetics, but that is what Fundy theology has become.This has negative negative consequences on how we think about God. God isn’t the sum total of the ontological argument, or the teleological argument, etc.; NO! The Christian God is a relational God, He is Trinity. He determines the questions and the categories we should think in about Him. This way he also is able to provide the answers that he wants us to know about him and about ourselves. If we follow the Fundy way then WE determine who God is, and we emphasize things about God and ourselves that he never intended — in other words we are idolaters.
In the end the fear of man has ensnared us, and this fear leads us to bondage because in the end fear of man necessarily starts with man. This is a terrible methodological flaw, with serious consequences for Christian spirituality in America and abroad. My silver bullet case in point, and I will leave it at this, is the American Evangelical Church.