I Peter 3:15 says:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
and Jude 3 says:
Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
We, as followers of the Truth, are responsible to make an apologia, or defense for the ‘Gospel’ whenever the opportunity presents itself. My ‘Christian’ tradition, ‘Fundamentalism’ (I should say former, in some respects), has its origins in making a defense for the Gospel truth. But, is making a ‘defense’ the best position for articulating Christian doctrine? Is constructing theological apparatus best served by being methodologically defensive, or might it be better served by being positive? These are hard questions, certainly, at least in some respects.
As we look back at the history of the church, we see some of our most sacrosanct confessions and creeds (e.g. Nicene, Apostolic, Council of Nicaea, Chalcedon, etc.) coming to fruition as a result of making a defense for gospel-fidelity. For example we have Irenaeus fighting the dualistic Gnostics, or Athanasius doing combat with the heretic, Arius; and these kinds of engagements are strewn ostensibly throughout church history. The result of such banter has provided us with a very rich heritage of refined and wind-tested dogma that continues to stand the test of time and thought precisely because of its ‘Gospel-faithfulness’; indeed, Chalcedonian Christology, for example, has become a benchmark of ‘orthodoxy’ (albeit, not static).
With the above sketch provided, it is reasonable to think that most, if not all, of our ‘orthodox Christianity’ has taken shape through rigorous dissent, debate, and dialogue; and this continues to be the case even into the present. But I want to get back to my first point on being methodologically defensive as the starting point for theological engagement. The most recent and current version of this kind of practice is best illustrated by Fundamentalist Christianity. B. B. Warfield was a very influential Presbyterian theologian of Princeton, at the turn of the twentieth century; He was one of the champions of the fundamentalist movement, which was responding to the modernist influences of his day (this was written in 1903):
It is the distinction of Christianity that it has come into the world clothed with the mission to reason its way to its dominion. Other religions may appeal to the sword, or seek some other way to propagate themselves. Christianity makes its appeal to right reason, and stands out among all religions, therefore, as distinctively “the Apologetic religion.” It is solely by reasoning that it has come thus far on its way to its kingship. And it is solely by reasoning that it will put all its enemies under its feet. (George Marsden quoting B.B. Warfield, “Fundamentalism And American Culture,” 115)
Here we have an excellent example of someone whose primary goal was to be ‘Gospel-faithful’; as a result of such thinking and activism a whole movement was spawned, evinced in an array of expressions today, especially in America, but not limited to America. Ironically, this same movement has resulted in anti-intellectualism as well (but that’s fodder for another post); but the primary point I want to highlight is the negative approach this stream of thought has promoted in codified ways. In other words, this methodology tries to meet the opposition (i.e. theological liberalism, in Warfield’s case) on their own ground; it allows the oppositions questions about God, the Bible, the Church, etc. to determine and shape the answers that Christians feel compelled to answer. The problem really only arises when these ‘defenses’ become the foundation for thinking Christianly, and in fact, the categories for how we think about God. So in the end what we are given is a God who answers to the culture, and ‘human’ rationalist questions, instead of vice-versa; we end up with a Christianity who has the ‘Christian-fish’ swallowing the ‘Darwinian-fish’ (you know, the car emblem).
Does anyone else see a problem with ‘doing Christianity’ like this? And what makes Fundamentalist Christianity, and her defensiveness different from the ‘defensiveness’ provided by the early church (as mentioned above)? Certainly we are called to make a defense for the Faith, but what does this really mean?