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Fundamentalism and liberalism

Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

Do movies like “The Passion” bring you to tears over the sacrifice Christ made? Do you wonder if what He stood for is represented by today’s Christianity? If you share these questions with me, Bruce Bawer’s book “Stealing Jesus” is worth reviewing.

Book Review – Stealing Jesus: How Fundamentalism Betrays Christianity

When engaging the world, Christians spend much of their time defending the culturally accepted view of Christianity. This act of engagement is very difficult in America, where the popular image of a Christian usually involves either a slimy televangelist or Ned Flanders, a character from the Simpsons who goes away for the weekend to a church camp to “learn how to be more judgmental.” Stereotypes can never capture the entire population of a complete body of data; however, the most common Christian stereotype is not centered around Christ’s predominant teachings of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.


As I read this book I wondered how many of the struggles Bruce has gone through were made worse because of dealing with fundamentalists. As someone who lost their faith completely for a period of time, I know the repulsion I felt towards fundamentalists engendered in me a profound distaste for anything spiritual.


A recent Newsweek article talked about the struggle ministers are having with pornography. The most poignant part of the article for me was not that a minister could have such a struggle, but rather that the minister would be honest enough about his struggle to tell his family, friends and parishioners. Forgiveness is absolutely central to the Christian life; do we allow those who struggle, who question, who are seeking and perhaps even cynical to probe, to question, to disagree with us? Or are we so concerned with being right that we feel obligated to make a point? My fellow Christians, Bruce has something important to say. He says it in his book explicitly, but his life also says it. It is a life spent searching for truth, for absolution, for connection with his Creator. Let us allow God to be God and seek common ground by which we can show the world what being a Christian is.

But such an attitude is not common in Christian fundamentalism. The point in fundamentalism is rooted strongly in the Puritan faith – a faith that mandated being right above all else. As my good friend Rich Vincent has reminded me, “God does not love you because you are right.” Within the American fundamentalist movement, being right has become the reason for being active socially, culturally and politically. It is within such movements that Bruce contends Jesus is being stolen; it is here that fundamentalism is betraying Christianity.

No doubt for Bruce, the title of this book is more than pithy wordsmithing. For him it is a core belief upon which his faith is built – the belief that Christianity stands for more than externals – that it must produce meaningful changes of the heart. Because fundamentalism first focuses on the outside, Bruce rightly believes that the Christianity of today is not based on the real teaching of Jesus.


Neither of these cases probably best explains what the primary reasoning is for those who seek to go back to the “old days.” For these people, such a desire is based on their knowledge that fundamentalism frightens away those they disagree with, making it easier for them to retain control. Even for people willing to engage in a potentially heated and contentious argument, dealing with fundamentalists can be frightening. It is not an accident that many totalitarian religious institutions and political bodies come to power quickly without resistance. Many times, those who oppose fundamentalists are so put off by their lack of logic and extremism that they believe such ideologies will burn themselves out. At times this can happen. History, however, is full of examples when fundamentalism has grown in intensity and consumed even the most moderate of objectors. Fundamentalism also allows for a high degree of control of those who stay within the institution of power. Fundamentalism is, and always has been, a device for letting people in power get what they want: power, control and homogenous populations (people that look, act and believe as “I” do).


Even R.C. Sproul, a theologian who is doctrinally miles away from Bawer, says in his Ideas that Shaped Our World that we live in the most anti-intellectual age of Christianity ever. From Bawer’s book: “In their suspicion of the intellect and their categorical assertion that the Bible contains all truth, these kinds of Christianity reflect the American distrust of mind described by Richard Hofstadter in his book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life; indeed, they can be understood as ways of avoiding the obligation to think – and, especially, to think for oneself. As William Ray puts it, ‘fundamentalism demands believers, not thinkers.'” (page 8) As a result of such reasoning, teachers like Hal Lindsay (The Late Great Planet Earth) are allowed to represent Christianity – a thought that saddens me. Bawer’s comment linking Lindsay to the anti-intellectualism within fundamentalism is right on: “Consistently, Lindsey pounds home the message that the important truths of life cannot be discovered through education, scientific experimentation, and objective critical analysis, but rather through predictions by seers who have demonstrated their premonitory prowess. Over and over again, Lindsey makes the point that people with fancy educations don’t know the things that really matter and that they are dangerous because they lead others astray.” (page 146) When I reflect on Bawer and Sproul’s words I am reminded of one of the most fundamental characteristics of every fascist and communist system of government: the extinction of intellectuals.


Any religious system or leader that tells people exactly what to think and does not share with them their own struggles, imperfections and spiritual journey is a system or leader that is not to be trusted. None of us have all the answers; none of us grasp all of the concepts required to know God fully. Fundamentalism wants to white-wash over these struggles and instead drive home conformity. Within conformity comes control, and control means power. A system of belief that cares so little for affairs of the heart, as well as questions of the mind, is a system of belief that is not worth having.


I agree with Bruce’s primary assertion that fundamentalism betrays the core of Christian belief. …..

Posted by Ben at May 18, 2004 04:03 PM

from http://www.mysteriousfaith.com/archives/000018.html

Response from another netfriend:

I am in complete agreement with Bruce and Ben’s contention that Fundamentalism has stolen the faith. Not only has it stolen the faith, it replaced it with a tawdry counterfeit.

However, while Fundamentalism stole the faith, Liberalism buried the faith.

Fundamentalism replaces the worship of God with the worship of the Bible, though most Fundamentalists will deny that. Liberalism, too, replaced the worship of God with the worship of something else. In the case of Liberalism, however, the worship of God was replaced by the worship of human reason.

Science says, for instance, that miracles, by definition, are outside the realm of scientific inquiry, are beyond the scope of the scientific method and are therefore “unscientific.” Popular culture and many armchair philosophers interpreted this to mean that miracles are impossible. Of course, this view, too, being untestable, is also unscientific, but philosophical and/or religious. How many Liberals have bitten into this actual worship of science (as opposed to science itself) and have, therefore, denied the virgin birth, the healings of Jesus, or, worst of all, the central tenet of the Christian faith, the literal, physical and bodily resurrection of our Lord. Here, Liberals deny the truths of the faith while embracing the tenets of religions such as secularism and scientism. Paul declared that if Christ is not risen from the dead then our faith is utterly worthless. If that is the case, we may just as well hang up our hats, kick off our shoes and dance our futile little lives away.

Likewise, when Liberal scholars claim that Peter did not write Second Peter or that Paul did not write Ephesians, for instance, they are worshiping their own minds, instead of worshiping God. We know that “all scripture is inspired by God” (2 Timothy 3:16). We know that God is not a liar (Titus 1:2). Not being a liar, God cannot be responsible for inspiring lies. While He may allow people to innocently use factually incorrect statements (such as Jude 14 — Enoch did not write the quote, it was written by a Second Century BCE forger), He cannot inspire an outright lie. If Paul did not write Ephesians and Peter did not write Second Peter then Ephesians 1:1 and Second Peter 1:1 are both bare faced lies. Whoever wrote them would surely know that they were not Peter or Paul.

This means that if you could prove that Ephesians (or any other book Paul wrote) was not written by Paul or Second (or even First) Peter was not written by Peter then it was not inspired by God. How could it be since God is the author of turth, not of any lie. If it was not inspired by God, then it has no place in the Bible. While I suppose that it is theoretically conceivable that an apostate church in the fourth or fifth century, when the Canon was fixed, erred when it comes to perhaps one book, it is extremely unlikely since one would have to assume that the Holy Spirit is smart enough to know what He inspiried and what He did not inspire and to assume that He is smart enough and powerful enough to make sure that those books He wanted in the Bible got in and only those books.

You can find some Liberal “scholar” or another to attack the inspired origin of most of the books of the New Testament. Some scholars went so far as to assume that Paul, for instance, did not write most of the books that he wrote. Now, if half of the books of the Bible, especially of the New Testament (since they have been attacked more intensely) are based on lies, hence uninspired by the Holy Spirit, then how can we trust ANY of it. The Bible then is no more inspired by God and, therefore, no more to be trusted than the Qur’an, the Vedas or even Greek or Norse mythology. If that is the case, Christianity is just as worthless and we just may as well bury it as a rotten old carcass.

Fundamentalists worship every word and letter in the Bible. Actually, they worship their own private interpretation of scripture (compare 2 Peter 1:20). This is the same error that the Pharisees fell into. They ended up worshiping Torah more than God, and, even more than Torah, they worshiped their own interpretations (and the interpretations of the elders) of Torah. (They still do so today, only now they have codified those traditions into the Talmud.) Likewise, so do Fundamentalists worship their own interpretation of Scripture. In both cases, “they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever.” (Romans 1:25).

Similarly, Liberals worship their own reasonings, the products of their own minds, their own denial of Scripture. In doing so, like the Fundamentalists and the Pharisees, they worship their own interpretations, the products of their own minds, therefore they, too, worship the creature instead of the Creator.

One problem that both Fundamentalists and Liberals have in common is that they both would rather have someone else spoon feed them rather than learn for themselves. Liberals are eager to hear what Tillich, Bultmann, Kierkegaard or even their own pastor than to dig into the truth of the faith for themselves. Likewise, Fundamentalists would rather hear what C. I. Schofield, Hal Lindsey, Walter Martin or even their own pastor than to dig into the truth of the faith for themselves. Both sides are equally intellectually lazy. Both sides are equally wrong.

Jesus said, “Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks” (John 4:23). It is time for both Fundamentalists and Liberals to stop worshipping the products of their own mind and “worship the Father in spirit and truth,” only this will please the Father above.

Fundamentalists need to learn the truth of 2 Corinthians 3:6, “Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” They need to seek God in SPIRIT and in Truth. Liberals need to learn the truth of John 4:23 (quoted above) and ofJohn 6:63, “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit[1] and they are life.” They need to seek God in Spirit and in TRUTH.



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  1. […] spoken to you are spirit[1] and they are life.” They need to seek God in Spirit and in TRUTH.” http://jmm.aaa.net.au/articles/12941.htm […]

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