Exorcising the ghosts of fundamentalism

Ted Grimsrud—February 27, 2017

It is common in my circles of friends and acquaintances to encounter people who are former fundamentalist or evangelical Christians and who now distance themselves from that past faith perspective. Often, the rationales for the changes have to do with the Bible. For the sake of opposition to violence, to religious arrogance and exclusivism, to judgmentalism and the like, my friends will say the Bible is so hurtful, so damaging. Maybe they will add that they like Jesus but they see the Old Testament as profoundly problematic—and maybe Paul and Revelation too.

 I am sympathetic with such sentiments. I spent a period of my life in my late teens and early twenties as first a fundamentalist and then evangelical Christian. Starting with my embrace of pacifism at the time of my 22nd birthday, I fairly quickly came to distance myself from those traditions (I tell the story of that evolution here). And I agree that the way the Bible is used by many conservative Christians is problematic and helps underwrite violence and other hurtful attitudes and actions. And I do think it is true that there are materials in the Bible that do lend themselves to hurtful uses.

However, at the same time I love the Bible and most of my theological work consists of engaging the Bible as a positive resource for peace (several of my books focus on the Bible and peace: see, for example, Triumph of the LambGod’s Healing StrategyInstead of Atonement; and Arguing Peace). I often have been told by post-fundamentalist friends (and others) that while they admire my attempts to wring some peace from the Bible, they think I am engaged in spin, at times even in ways that seem dishonest or at least overly and misleadingly optimistic.

I had one such conversation just recently after preaching a sermon. As we talked, I realized that my friend was actually still reading the Bible in a quite conservative way. It’s just that now she disagrees with what she finds there. So I suggested that it would help if she could move past her fundamentalist hermeneutic. She agreed, but also noted that such a move is very difficult. Not so much because she still wants to believe in that approach, but that it is so deeply ingrained in her psyche that she can’t simply by a quick and easy decision get rid of it.

One small aid to help a post-fundamentaist move away from a fundamentalist biblical hermeneutic might be simply to articulate what a post-fundamentalist approach to affirming the Bible as a peace book might look like.

Exiting the House of Authority

Fundamentalists are not the only Christians who make authority central to their faith. And the priority on authority is a problem for all Christians who prioritize it. But for fundamentalists, it is really a problem. My sense is that in practice, the belief that the Bible is authoritative is more important for fundamentalists than the actual content of the Bible. Over and over again, they will call a view “biblical” as a way of lending authenticity to that view without actually delving into the Bible itself. This emphasis on authority over content helps explain how fundamentalists can make the life and teaching of Jesus so peripheral.

A number of years ago, theologian Edward Farley wrote a helpful book on how authority works for many Christians (not only fundamentalists). In Ecclesial Reflection: An Anatomy of Theological Method (Fortress, 1982), Farley analyses what he calls the “House of Authority,” where he shows that to have authoritative teachings, Christians must have three elements at work: the revealed scripture, church hierarchies to interpret the Bible, and church structures to enforce the authoritative interpretations. He points out that Catholics are upfront about these dynamics with their understandings of how Tradition works. However, Protestants, including fundamentalists, also in practice have the same structure. They have to for their practice of biblical authority to work. The text cannot enforce its own authority but needs human agents to do that.

One problem with the House of Authority is that the actual authority does not rest with the content of the Bible but with the human interpreters and enforcers. However, the emphasis on biblical authority is crucial because it provides an illusion of divine sanction for what actually are human efforts to define truth.

The power of the House of Authority stems mainly from how it cultivates a sense of fearfulness about the consequences of not have such authority in place. Fear of chaos, of vulnerability, of not being in control. The main beneficiaries of the work of the House of Authority are religious institutions that are able to dominate their members.

One fact about this authority-centered theology is that to a large degree it is modern. In the past two hundred years or so, Protestant Christians have tended to begin their articulations of theological convictions (often in the form of systematic theology) with a discussion of biblical inspiration and authority. One of the main reasons for this move is the need to establish at the beginning the bases for theological claims in a world that does not automatically accept the truthfulness of the Bible. That is, with the rise of secularism and skepticism, Christians have felt the need to respond with apologetics that rationally support their truth claims.

So, at its heart, fundamentalist Protestantism is a modern reaction to the breaking down of the Christian consensus in the West. This priority on establishing that the Bible is authoritative before considering its content was a defensive move from the start that made it even more difficult for Christians to focus on the life and teaching of Jesus—and the embodiment of Jesus’s message in communities of faith. Instead, fundamentalist Christianity evolved to be quite rationalistic, defensive, and otherworldly. And the centrality of authority became deeply embedded in fundamentalist communities. It became simply part of the spiritual air fundamentalists breathed. As part of their embedded theology, the centrality of authority over content in relation to the Bible is not questioned, not even consciously recognized. And this lack of self-consciousness is true for many of those who when they grow older leave fundamentalism. They leave that faith community, but don’t always realize that they are taking with themselves a certain approach to biblical authority and content.

One element of the fundamentalist way of approaching the Bible is to give authority to the pieces more than the whole of the Bible. The doctrine of biblical authority has at its center the notion of what is called “verbal plenary inspiration”—the idea that each word in the Bible is directly inspired by God (and hence without error). So isolated texts have great authority (or, in reality, isolated texts which are interpreted by church leaders and whose interpretation is enforced by those leaders). And little effort need be exerted to discern historical contexts and literary dynamics for those texts.

It is an unfortunate irony, then, that for many post-fundamentalists, when they don’t like something in the Bible (such as the divinely commanded genocide in Joshua) they feel they have no choice but to reject the Bible altogether. They may not realize that the reason they take such an all-or-nothing approach is because when they look at the Bible they still look at through the lenses of a religious system they have rejected. They may not realize that that fundamentalist approach to the Bible is only one option—and far from the best alternative even for those who continue to affirm their Christian faith.

What post-fundamentalists need to know about the Bible

I have been thinking for some time about how to encourage post-fundamentalists to affirm the Bible in a different way. One version of such encouragement with a helpful title is Marcus Borg’s book, Reading the Bible Again for the First Time. Borg was not strictly a fundamentalist as a young person, but his conservative Lutheran background had quite a bit in common with more fundamentalist Christians. I appreciate Borg’s work a great deal, and I think just about all of his books are well-suited for post-fundamentalists. My approach will be a bit different, though. I want to focus more on approaching the Bible as a story and am less interested in historical-critical issues than Borg.

I will mention five points that I think if taken seriously might help post-fundamentalists exorcise the ghosts of fundamentalist approaches to the Bible—and thereby possibly free such folks to embrace a much more affirmative view of the Christian scriptures.

(1) Recognize that fundamentalist Christianity is modernistic

The fundamentalist approach to the Bible—inerrancy, verbal plenary inspiration, Bible authority as central to Christian faith—is modern; it does not have special weight as the way Christians have always approached the Bible. There is nothing sacred or even time-validated about it.

The fundamentalist approach only makes sense in the light of modern rationalism and of efforts to use apologetics to establish truth based on irrefutable arguments and evidence. The desire for a fundamentalist approach to the Bible was the result of the rise of modern skepticism. So it is a defensive approach that does not arise out of the actual living of the faith over the years. It is much more consistent with the actual content of the Bible and with pre-modern ways of reading the Bible simply to dismiss the fundamentalist hermeneutic as unnecessary and to approach the Bible in non-fundamentalist ways.

(2) Non-literal truthfulness

One can affirm the truthfulness of the Bible without taking it literally (in the fundamentalist sense). We may find truth in the Bible in similar ways to how we find truth in great literature, in poetry, in music, in visual art, in the stories of indigenous and other traditional cultures, and in many other ways that do not rely on scientifically-verifiable facts or utterly consistent logic.

The truth of the Bible has to do with how it inspires creative and love-enhancing ways of life. This affirmation about the Bible’s truth actually is confirmed by how the Bible presents itself. A famous text from one of the latest writings in the Bible, the Second Letter to Timothy, affirms that the Bible is “inspired” for the purpose of training us in the practice of justice. The point of the “inspiration” is not that the Bible hence is perfect and error-free and therefore an absolute authority; rather, the Bible as inspired is a guide to life.

One big stumbling block for many post-fundamentalists are stories of violence in the Old Testament. We may learn from those stories without assuming that they tell us accurately that the real God literally told, say, Joshua, to lead the Hebrews in the practice of genocide when they took over the promised land. There is truth in those stories even as we are not bound to take them as literal history (more on this in point #4 below).

(3) Jesus and the Old Testament

Jesus is central to the Christian Bible, and Jesus loved the Old Testament. Most post-fundamentalists like Jesus a lot, but do not seem to share Jesus’s love for the Old Testament. However, if we take seriously Jesus’s positive view of the Old Testament, we perhaps might be better able to see it as a positive asset for a humane philosophy of life rather than as a problem.

Jesus’s “antitheses” (“You have it said…, but I say to you…”) are not aimed at the Old Testament itself but at ways he believed the tradition misinterpreted and misused the Old Testament. If we take Jesus’s positive view as our starting point, we will notice the kinds of emphases in the Old Testament that would have fed into his message and way of life. Just of few of these emphases include: the positive view of the created world as reflective of God’s love, the model of forgiveness that we find in stories of characters such as Esau and Joseph in Genesis, the centrality of the concern for vulnerable people in Torah, the critique of power politics in the story of the elders of Israel asking for a king in 1 Samuel 8, and God’s power expressed in servanthood in the “servant songs” of Isaiah 40–55.

(4) A narrative approach

A narrative approach helps the reader resolve (at least partially) many of the problems with the Bible that have undermined so many people’s faith. The emphasis on each word being equally “inspired” (coming directly from God) makes it difficult within the fundamentalist hermeneutic to appreciate the larger dynamics of the Bible’s teaching. It is more helpful to understand the meaningfulness of the Bible in relation to the big picture. The words have meaning in sentences, the sentences have meaning in paragraphs, the paragraphs have meaning in sections, and the sections have meaning in books. The books were written as narrative wholes and that is how they are best read.

Then, when the books were gathered into collections that ultimately made up what we call the Bible, they gained an added depth of meaning in relation to each other. A narrative approach looks at the bigger collection as an important clue for the meaning of the particular parts. Thus, for example, in relation to the difficult stories of God-ordained violence such as Joshua, we may read Joshua in light of what follows in the big story. As it turns out, the establishment of a territorial kingdom as a channel for God’s promises to establish a people that will “bless all the families of the earth” (Gen 12) ended up as a failed approach. Once the Hebrew kingdom, which had become fundamentally broken, was destroyed by the Babylonians, it disappeared as an option for the peoplehood.

In terms of the overall biblical story, the point in telling the story of the violence of Joshua’s time is to show why such violence could never be a possibility again. God will never again channel the promise through territorial kingdoms. At the same time, we are not bound to believe that the Joshua story ever actually happened as it is told. There is no reason why we can’t recognize the story as a legend.

Based on the Bible’s overall story, the political message of the Old Testament, then, is not that God might on occasion command genocidal violence to establish and defend a territorial kingdom. Rather, the story is that the kingdom of God is no longer ever to be linked with possession of a particular territory. This lesson, of course, is reiterated in the life and teaching of Jesus.

Post-fundamentalists are not bound to a way of reading particular texts as truthful and authoritative in isolation from the overall biblical story. They are not required to find meaning (or, to reject meaning) in specific, isolated stories of violence and punitive anger. Those stories are interesting and important and should be scrutinized for meaning. But their deepest meaning is as part of broader story that ultimately points toward (in the positive sense) the inclusive, compassionate, healing work of God that culminates in the healing of the nations (Revelation 21–22) and points toward (in the negative sense) a sharp critique of domination and power politics that Jesus’s summarized as the way of tyrants that should not characterize his followers (Mark 10:42-45).

(5) Meaningful more than authoritative

Finally, it is better to think of the Bible as “meaningful” than as “authoritative.” One of the reasons post-fundamentalists distance themselves from the Bible is because of their sense that the only valid way to read and use the Bible is to see it as an absolute authority that one must simply bow down to. However, they actually would be hard pressed to find evidence internal to the Bible that presents it in that way. The notion of absolute authority comes from much later doctrines of the Bible rather than from the teaching of the Bible itself.

I think that to treat the Bible as meaningful rather than authoritative might make it easier for post-fundamentalists to approach the Bible as a positive resource and not as something oppressive and coercive. The meaningfulness of the Bible is a affirmation based on the actual experience of the Bible as life-giving and encouraging. If we expect that the Bible does give a message of peace and restorative justice, we will be better prepared to recognize the presence of that message—and won’t be overly distracted by the elements that seem to undermine such a message.

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21 Comments

Filed under Bible, Biblical theology, Evangelicalism, Jesus, Old Testament, peace theology, Theology, Violence

21 responses to “Exorcising the ghosts of fundamentalism

  1. Craig Anderson

    Thanks. Well done.

  2. Sarah Myers

    So helpful. Thank you, Ted. Sarah Myers

  3. Frank Breznyak

    I consider myself a fundamentalist evangelical Christian and a pacifist and have been so for over 50 years. I do accept the Bible as “God Breathed”. Most fundamentalists are as far to one side of the pendulum as you are to the other side. I have not found it difficult to accept the old testament as well as the new testament. They are different dispensations. We no longer offer sacrifices for our sins as Christ is our Passover lamb. However, prior to Christ there was a place for such sacrifices. Shalom

  4. Well done article, Ted, with a number of valuable points. Many responses come to mind. One is wondering how efforts such as this, my own (a former Evangelical myself, as you know), and many others’ can get more broadly in front of “post-fundamentalists”. The issues involve a great many people… it is no longer a small phenomenon. The term that catches much of it, which I like to borrow from Kathy Escobar, is “faith shift” (vs. “loss of faith”).

    An example of pulling against inertia to educate people and aid their struggles to mature and better utilize spirituality as inspired through Jesus and the Bible: Several years ago two large, exciting events were sponsored as “Big Tent Christianity”. One near the East Coast, one near the West Coast (Phoenix, Az). I went to the latter (I believe 5 years ago, maybe 6). It filled the sizable facility with around 300 participants. People were excited, encouraged. And this largely because it was a congenial conversation of open Evangelicals (“Emerging”, “Red Letter” and similar folks) with those of us more progressive still, including many mainline pastors and leaders. There was optimistic talk of further gatherings. But key leaders had other obligations keeping them from ongoing organizing and the momentum died (as far as I know, though various relationships probably carried on, keeping some of the “spirit” alive).

    So other than a number of blogs and some excellent books, I’m not sure much of the important education work, such as you lay out above, is being actively pursued. (BTW, I agree re. Borg’s books, the one you mentioned being excellent.) I’m working on new structures and methods to deal with this lack of education, and if you or others reading have suggestions, I’m all ears!
    (I see an important lacking in a general understanding of claims and dynamics of religion and spirituality, relative to personal psychology, as part of what needs correcting. This applies to non-Christian religionists and secularists or atheists as much as Christians.)

    • I appreciate your thoughts, Howard. I would think our respective journeys share some of the same pathways.

      I’m not aware of any strong initiatives to do the kind of educating you refer to. My experience is a bit discouraging—it seems that Bible-believers think I’m too liberal to be of interest and “post-fundemantalists” think I’m too conservative to be of interest.

      The challenge, I suppose, is to help “post-fundamentalists” to see why it would be life-giving for them to return to the Bible—out of love, though, not out of duty.

      I would expect your own story of returning to Christian faith would be instructive. Why did you make that move?

      • Frank Breznyak

        Excuse my ignorance, I’m new to this blog. I’m curious to know if post fundamentalists believe in such things as sin and salvation, heaven and hell.
        Do you believe that fundamentalists and evangelicals cannot be pacifists, or are they incompatible? It appears that Ted might have Mennonite roots? Growing up in Pennsylvania, one of my neighbors was a Mennonite pastor and I believe a bishop. He appeared to believe in a literal interpretation of the Bible, at least that was my observation attending their vacation Bible school and later Eastern Mennonite College. Have Mennonites changed that much in the past 40-50 years?

      • Thanks, Ted. Yes our paths are similar in several important respects. And the shared experience in Eugene and Orchard Community Church is significant, though brief.

        I DO happen to think my personal story and that of many others is instructive, as you say… and hopefully helpful. So thanks for the opening to do what I think you won’t mind here: Since it IS written up, along with general spiritual growth ideas, people can find it at Amazon as a Kindle ebook (general search for “Spiritual Growth: Live the Questions, Love the Journey). Just about 91 pages and somewhat story format (though also meaty, I think). And my blog also has some of my story and I refer to it sometimes in posts.

        Our observations on various people’s openness are similar. I do know that there is also a pretty large block of “formers” (fundy/evangelical) who do seek out new input…. One can find them at many blogs around the net, and I do sometimes interact with them there, and occasionally in person. So paradigms are indeed fairly fluid now, maybe more than 20 or 30 years ago. That’s my sense. And I see it as a good thing.

    • I appreciate your taking the time to comment, Frank. I’ll try to give a couple of quick responses to your questions about Mennonites.

      The main thing I have in mind with the term “post-fundamentalist” is people who used to be fundamentalists and no longer consider themselves to be. So I’m not thinking of any particular beliefs beyond simply the rejection of a former set of beliefs.

      At the same time, for the kind of people I specifically have in mind with most of what I write in this post, I am also thinking of post-fundamentalists who still have some interest in faith and often participate (if mainly on the margins) of faith communities. These kind of post-fundamentalists would most likely be trying to construct some loose sense of Christian faith that does not include “sin and salvation, heaven and hell” at least in the sense they were taught as fundamentalists.

      My main point here is mainly about thinking of ways to encourage post-fundamentalists’ efforts to retain or return to some kind of Christian faith that seems attractive (i.e., that is not fundamentalist).

      I do definitely think fundamentalists and evangelicals can be pacifists. My own commitment to pacifism happened when I was a self-identified evangelical and at the time (mid-1970s) seemed like a logical expression of my evangelical faith. As time went on and I learned more, I came to see more problems with evangelical approach—partly that it seemed that some of the key elements of evangelical approach were in tension with pacifism (such as the view of authority I discuss in my post).

      I have been a member of a Mennonite congregation since 1981 and am an ordained Mennonite minister. I was a convert, though; I didn’t grow up Mennonite. There is a large variety of Mennonites—some still very much evangelicals and even fundamentalists and some quite liberal.

      In my view, Mennonites have indeed changed in the past 40 years—largely due to acculturating more with the wider American culture. For some, that has meant a move to be more closely linked with American evangelicalism; for others, to be more closely linked with mainstream Protestants or Catholics. There is less of a distinctively Mennonite sensibility among all brands of Mennonites, I think.

  5. Tina F Kehler

    Thank you for articulating the experiences of those of us who have moved from a fundamentalist understanding of the Bible to “narrativist” interpretation. As I made the painful paradigm shift, I remained faithful through the struggle, but I didn’t know what to do with the Bible. In the end, I basically threw up my hands about the “difficult” passages, and said “I don’t know.” But I also didn’t know how to teach it differently to my children. I didn’t want them to have the same baggage about the Bible that I had. In the Mennonite Church Canada churches, our young people are quite biblically illiterate. Perhaps it was a reaction to the “authoritative” hermeneutics with which we ourselves had been inculcated.
    It was through reading Donald Kraybill’s book “Upside Down Kingdom” that I began to see the Bible as “story,” that the Bible is about the story of God breaking into this world and how humanity has tried to relate to God. The life, death and resurrection of Jesus was the climax of the story — the top of the narrative arc. It wasn’t the end of the story. We as the Church continue to live out this story in a new and radical way.
    Thank you for affirming the idea of the Bible as “meaningful” rather than “authoritative.” Through my years of struggle with scripture, I have believed that the Bible is still full of meaning and it has been a source of life. I have found such profound spiritual changes through Lectio Divina praying — meditating over scripture and over time allowing it to soak into my heart and soul. Many times memorized scripture comes to mind to bring me comfort and assurance of God’s love and mercy.
    Scripture still has the power to change. Thank you for affirming it.

  6. This is a very helpful overview. I think “meaningful” as the alternative to authoritative is too weak, however. Why not use what you say in the accompanying statement: “the actual experience of the Bible as life-giving and encouraging.”

  7. I had the privilege of being a student in the Living School, an extension of the work of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. I had already left behind the work of trying to hammer a literal reading of scripture that fit into the God of my experience, but the wisdom of Fr. Richard Rohr, Cynthia Bourgeault, James Finely and Ilia Deleo stretched my boundaries (new wineskins) and shifted my soul in ways I didn’t expect. I would have to say that it wasn’t all “education”; the work of the soul informs my reading of sacred texts and enables me to question the church. “May each of us be so fortunate as to be overtaken by God in the midst of little things. May we each be so blessed as to be finished off by God, swooping down from above or welling up from beneath, to extinguish the illusion of separateness that perpetuates our fears…”. James Finley

  8. Thanks again Ted, for sharing your biblical and theological wisdom by reframing a biblical approach that is life-giving and truthful. I just spent last week at the Bartimeaus Institute including 3 mornings super inspired by Ched Myers teaching on “Discipleship in the Wilderness with Jesus facing three Archetypal Temptations Then and Now” as a Bible study of Matthew 4:1-11. Ched beautifully and brilliantly shows how profoundly steeped in Hebrew scriptures Jesus was and how the OT is badly misinterpreted. As you well know, Wes Howard Brook has also shown this in his two books Come Out My People and Empire Baptized. Both Ched and Wes are superb biblical scholars, that I suspect would inspire most recovering fundamentalists and Evangelicals — and Protestants and Anabaptists too!

    While I resonate strongly with your approach, I do want offer a challenge about the problem of authority, even though we rightly reject it in the way you challenge it. First, as wise spiritual guides and mystics help us know, we possess an inner authority when we live from our false self into our True Self. Second, in the gospels, over and over people saw and heard Jesus as “one with authority” not as those who presumed to wield authority by virtue or role and rules. I have come to know authority as profoundly important but it grows out of a living integrity and wisdom rather than office of control and punishment. Weldon

    • Thanks, Weldon. I always appreciate your thoughts. I think you make a very good point about “authority.” In my interest in anarchism, I have been thinking about authority in similar ways. A key tenet of anarchism, as I understand it, is our natural proclivity for self-organization (often squelched and distorted in our culture). I think of self-organization along the same lines as what you called “inner authority.” So, anarchism is not “no-authority” but inner, non-coercive authority based on integrity and wisdom.

  9. Frank Breznyak

    Thank you for your explanation Ted.

  10. Wayne Yoder

    The basic problem in this piece is the lack of recognition that both literalist-fundamentalism and critical ways of reading the Bible are two sides of the same coin. Do you really believe the text is accessible to just anyone without the necessary mediation of the Church? Solo scriptura! How can a community exist without authority? Of course, liberal practice would say that any authority appears “authoritarian.” There is hardly any practice more political than reading scripture in community context. We’re now at the juncture that Kierkegaard was: “Fundamentally a reformation which did away with the Bible would now be just as valid as Luther’s doing away with the Pope. … Christendom has long been in need of a hero who, in fear and trembling, had the courage to forbid people to read the Bible. That is something quite as necessary as preaching against Christianity.” What a mess of fragmentation we Christians are in!

    • Thanks for taking the time to offer a comment, Wayne.

      I totally agree that fundamentalist and critical readings are two sides of a coin. That’s what I had in mind when I wrote about Protestant fundamentalism being modern, even though I didn’t discuss here how critical readings are also modern.

      I definitely don’t think the only alternative to the fundamentalist focus on authority is “a community…without authority.” The challenge for healthy Christian communities is to practice authentic authority without being authoritarian.

      I’m trying to say that biblical authority takes the place of attention to the actual content of the Bible for fundamentalists. This thought implies that there is a kind of authority at work when appropriate attention is paid to biblical content. We need work at explaining what that means. But it has to do with what you suggest, the practical politics of reading scripture together.

      The agenda of my post above all else is to encourage post-fundamentalists to read the Bible. I don’t know if you are recognizing this or not.

  11. Wayne Yoder

    So, Ted, throughout this conversation (“above all else to encourage post-fundamentalists to read the Bible”) there’s this assumption, as held by many, that “the general reader can now be offered a new view of the Bible as a work of great literary force and authority…” Here then is the view that a misreading can be determined on the basis of the text. In this very encouragement of persons to read the Bible we are likely to understand the necessity of the Bible being a book of a particular people that is lost. Both liberals and conservatives find it hard to give up on universality, i.e. Christendom. Divorce the text of Scripture from the particular practices of the Church and hermeneutics becomes the preoccupation of theology, among other things. No, I wouldn’t advice post-fundamentalists to read the Bible but, from my experience, I tell them, lapsed-Christians and other kinds of strange moralists/religionists of today to be in the church to be trained, mentored and shaped followers of Jesus Christ. Thanks for your ear.

  12. innereslicht

    I dissent on two crucial points.

    First I don’t believe that “factual truth” is unimportant. Nobody would say this in physics or astronomy, and it’s the same with theology. “Great literature” may be “encouraging” and may lift the soul, but it is no substitute for the knowledge of the facts. (“Rationality” is not a mere private mindset, but the particular direction of the mind for to find out the facts.)

    Secondly I think that literalism’s great advantage was that everyone had likewise approach to the “truths” of the Bible. Post-fundamentalism – the idea that truth is not in litteris but at some murky place behind them – this makes room for preachers to impose their personal whims on the public. In the worst case a predisposed preacher (like Karl Barth) takes a stand and is accepted as absolute authority, in other cases preachers concur and it’s a matter of rhetorical tricks and strategies who pulls the public to his side. In any case this tends to make the preachers too mighty and the reading grandma too unimportant.

  13. The most recent comment reminded me of a point I’d not made earlier re. literalism and its cousin, historicity. One of the big problems in how Christian faith is seen and treated is the traditional view of Christian origins… the formation and earliest days (about 30 – 70 AD) of Christianity. We only have a few letters, largely localized and theological (vs. purposeful history), by Paul, until 70 or after.

    What we get in Acts sounds, to many, like careful reporting, historical – as it often pretends to be. But it gives a very partial and very slanted (toward Pauline theology) picture. When its info is combined with the clearly literary and also theologically-oriented stories of the Gospels we end up with a whole bunch of misconceptions about the founding and early growth of “The Church”. It makes it sound much more miraculous (full of miracles) and almost seamlessly smooth than a careful reading of Paul and early extra-canonical lit demonstrates. And the indications of much greater problems than are typically acknowledged is right there “between the lines” in Acts as well… especially when compared closely with Paul’s letters on overlapping topics and time frames, etc. “Myths of origin” are important and powerful!

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