There’s been a lot of a talk in the news lately about Sarah Palin. So much so that one might be led to believe that Sarah Palin is already President. Much of this noise is around the complete disbelief that she would be so stupid as to believe wholeheartedly in creationism and deny evolution. I find such persecution pretty ironic since science claims not to hold to dogma. I’m not so interested in politics in this post, but to show a fact: believing in spirituality or religious things is not nearly so hated as particular beliefs that violate popular dogma. Fundamentalism requires taboo beliefs on a number of subjects, which I want to contrast with the more popular liberal alternatives.
Fundamental Christianity finds it’s core in unswerving belief in the Bible as the sole unbiased source of truth. This belief finds it’s roots in early church policy as well as in the beliefs of the Reformers. There are many, many ways to deviate from these fundamentals and all of them find their source in a desire to compromise belief in the Bible as the source of truth with another source. In both cases I examine here, I refer to the compromise as “liberalism” (this is theological liberalism, not to be confused with the political term).
Compromise with Science
This is one of the places fundamentalism is most frequently left behind by otherwise fundamental Christians. For the most part, Christianity and science do not intersect. The Bible says very little about physics, astronomy, biology, meteorology, geology, or anything else scientific. The Bible makes no claim on being a scientific text, particularly since science in it’s modern form did not exist when any part of it was written. On most scientific subjects a fundamentalist and liberal will agree because there’s really no reason not to agree. The Earth revolves around the Sun and rainbows are caused when light is refracted through a prism. What is there to disagree about? These are certainly props in the Bible, but they are not explained formally as being this way or that way. They just are.
However, there is a significant difference between the fundamentalist and the liberal when it comes to a couple key points: creation and the flood. I’ll focus just on creation. The Bible states that the universe was created in a period of six days (not seven!). Light and dark were created on the first, then water and clouds on the second, land and plants on the third, the sun and moon and stars on the fourth, the fish and birds on the fifth day, and finally land animals and humans on the sixth day. (Genesis 1) The fundamentalist accepts the Bible’s statement at face value. There’s no need to dispute what the Bible says.
Now, the liberal has a problem. If the creation story is true, why does science say otherwise? The liberal desire is to harmonize popular theories with the statement of Scripture. He must first understand the universe in the context of modern science and then interpret scripture within that framework. This compromises Scripture by forcing upon it a point of view rather than trying to understand the world from its point of view.
As far as the fundamentalist is concerned, this is a completely foolish way of trying to understand the universe. Modern science is based upon a non-Christian philosophy that either rejects God or ignores Him. There’s nothing to harmonize since these are contradictory points of view. Therefore, any attempt to Christianize evolution or uniformitarianism or other theories and frameworks built within this paradigm don’t make sense to the fundamentalist (nor to the scientist, for that matter).
This is not to say that the fundamentalist is not interested in understanding origins of the universe on a formal level, but that he does not find the observed facts of earth and the universe in contradiction with Scripture. He works to understand these observations within the context of Scripture rather than the other way around. For example, stars are billions of light years away, so how can we see them if the earth is not billions of years old? The fundamentalist may propose the “hypothesis” that God brought the light here at creation or that the speed of light hasn’t always been constant. Such “hypotheses” aren’t unscientific to suppose, at least not when compared to the alternative. The common scientific “hypothesis” is that the speed of light has remained mostly constant for the past few billion years, but how do you propose to test that? You cannot. It is an assumption, which is not really a hypothesis (which is why I put “hypothesis” in quotes here), but scientists rarely admit to making these kinds of dogmatic assumptions.
Compromise with the Position of Women
This is the second great compromise of our age. There has been a great deal of effort to level the playing field between men and women. Some of this work has been good and positive, some of it has not. Interestingly, I make that statement and I am confident that both fundamentalists and liberals will agree with it. Yet each will disagree with the other on which aspects of this work have been good versus which have not been good.
Fundamental Christianity reads passages on relations between men and women and accept them at face value. For example, the Bible states, “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.” (Ephesians 5:22-24) This passage continues in verses 25-28, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.”
This position, however, is strongly rejected by many non-Christians. This rejection is not a modern belief. In fact, the first book of the Bible mentions this very rejection in Genesis 3:16, “You desire shall be [against] your husband, and he shall rule over you.” Women have long desired the overlordship of men and men have long abused the overlordship they hold simply by being physically stronger. The modern western reaction to this is to either seek to place women in authority over men or an attempt to toss away the authority altogether. The latter is probably the more popular view, but militant feminism certainly strains toward the former.
In any case, the liberal does not like to apply the word “submission” to women under any circumstances. Therefore, a liberal tries to find any way possible to make it so that this scripture can be ignored or explained away. The most common mechanism among liberals in my experience is to explain scriptures they don’t agree with by saying such things were only meant in a First Century culture, which wasn’t as enlightened as we are today. But whatever the tool, the result is the same. The liberal must somehow compromise Christianity with the popular views to be comfortable.
In the meantime, the fundamentalist Christian is simply baffled. If one has all the graces of Christ, what need have we to compromise the plain wording of the Bible? A fundamentalist understands that submission does not imply diminishing a person, that submission is commanded of each Christian to other Christians. He understands that loving as Christ loves the church is a loaded command. Does Christ beat anyone into submission? Does Christ force anyone to do anything? Nope. This kind of headship is not that stupid and does not imply that those who are led are somehow powerless or less equal as humans.
Fundamental Christians, both men and women, read these passages and understand them at face value. Men have a role as the head of the marriage and family. That role involves straining toward perfection and helping his wife do the same. A wife is to strain towards perfection as well and help her husband. There’s nothing here that asserts that men are more equal than women, just that men and women both have a certain, God-given place in a well-ordered Christian family.
Trying to compromise that position doesn’t make sense in a Biblical context or to that of any secular person. You end up with a Christianity that contradicts itself and holds to no firm standard but which way the winds of doctrine blow today.
It is my belief that the only kind of Christianity that makes sense is fundamentalism. If you want to believe science over Christianity, then do so. If you simply want to be agnostic and uncommitted, fine. If you want to believe in Zen Buddhism or something else, I won’t attempt to stop you. The Bible fully supports your right to choose whatever way to hell you want. I’m not offended if you reject God, I did so for years myself. I have family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers that reject God and I feel no more or less general affection for them than the same folks that love Jesus Christ. They remain my family, friends, colleagues, and coworkers and I love them even if I cannot relate to them as brothers and sisters in Christ.
However, if you want to be a Christian or claim the title, but you don’t want all of it. You want to pick and choose to throw out parts just because you can’t stomach what it says about men and women, science, homosexuality, adultery, idolatry, money, government, war, family, infanticide, or anything else, I have a problem with you. You are choosing a position for which I am frequently annoyed.
If you have been converted and saved by Christ, you are choosing to lead a childish Christianity that is impossible to justify and you will be tossed back and forth by every wind of false doctrine. (Ephesians 4:14) Maturity in Christ is defined by how much you cling to the fundamentals of Christ and his Word understood through his Spirit.
If you are not saved or are not sure of your salvation, you have chosen a gray path that might lead to Christ, but probably doesn’t. Like the parable of the seeds that fall among thorns, your belief is being crushed by an unbelieving world. (Matthew 13:22) You have taken a kernel of truth, but how can you know if it has planted and grown? Compromising your beliefs with the ways of those that don’t believe is no way to be assured that you believe anything for certain.