Will G. Witt takes a stab at General Convention and it’s aftermath. Hat tip to Dr. Leander Harding.

2. A “Fundamentalist” Takeover

If political analogies prove inadequate to assess the current crisis, so does the assessment of “Fundamentalism.” There is much about the current situation that echoes the Fundamentalist/Liberal crisis in American Protestantism of the 1920’s and 30’s or the Modernist crisis of the early twentieth century in the Roman Catholic Church. But in its original context, Fundamentalism had a specific meaning. Fundamentalists were a group of American Protestants who resisted the use of biblical historical criticism and affirmed a group of positions identified in a series of books entitled The Fundamentals (1909). Similarly, among Roman Catholics, the Oath Against Modernism represented an attempt to maintain the edifice of Tridentine Catholicism against theological innovation during the early twentieth century. But the categories of Protestant Fundamentalism and Tridentine Catholicism hardly apply in the current context. Anglican Christians endorsed the tools of biblical criticism in the nineteenth century, decades prior to the rise of Protestant Fundamentalism, without simultaneously endorsing the theology of Liberal Protestantism. One thinks of the tradition of scholars like B. F. Westcott and F. J. A. Hort, the Lux Mundi school of Anglo-Catholics, of Sir Edwin Hoskyns and Noel Davies, Archbishop Michael Ramsey, C. F. D. Moule, and contemporary biblical scholars like Bishop N. T. Wright and Christopher Seitz.(18) While all were highly critical of the main thrust of Liberal Protestant theology, none could be classified as Fundamentalists. In the Roman Catholic Church, critically orthodox scholars like Hans urs von Balthasar, Henri de Lubac, and Yves Congar were held in suspicion before Vatican II, but they were hardly Modernists, and, after Vatican II, found themselves at odds with many of the changes they were said to have initiated. There are of course, contemporary Protestants who rightly identify themselves as Fundamentalists (for example, Jerry Falwell or Tim LaHaye, the author of the popular Left Behind novels), but in the current conversation, “Fundamentalism” operates not as a descriptive term, but only as a term of opprobrium.

The current use has some resemblance to an earlier one that associated Fundamentalism with a kind of ultra-orthodox defensiveness, made evident by suspicion of such examples of modern biblical scholarship as the Revised Standard Version translation of the Bible, or in opposition to cultural practices such as drinking alcohol, dancing, smoking, movie attendance, or playing cards. In a previous generation, the Evangelical scholar E. J. Carnell assessed this version of Protestant Fundamentalism as a “cultic orthodoxy,” in distinction to the more critical and open orthodoxy of what was then called Neo-Evangelicalism.(19) But if all Christian orthodoxy is “Fundamentalism,” then the accusation of Fundamentalism is redundant. It is simply a way of saying that one’s opponent upholds an orthodoxy of which one disapproves.

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