Series Topic : Fundamentalist Myths
This post is the fourth in a continuing series that examines the origins of commonly held positions promoted within modern evangelical American Christianity.
- The links page for this series of posts can be found here: https://edgeofmindandbeyond.wordpress.com/category/fundamentalist-myths/
Comments, corrections and clarifications are welcomed, as always.
Beliefs vs. Myths
Throughout my lifetime some persistent themes have circulated in the conservative evangelical and fundamentalist Christian groups that have become almost mandatory beliefs of “true believers”. Some of these ideas I now consider to be myths or misunderstandings, since they seem to advocate support for agendas other than advancing the Kingdom of God.
Here are some examples (continuing the list from the previous post)…
9. The protestant Bible is truth, since it was dictated by God, who does not lie, through inspiration to the human authors. The Bible represents the “Word of God” and sets the standard of absolute truth. All relevant truth is found in the Bible. Anything that does not agree with the Bible is not truth.
- When pressed for clarification of these assertions, most well informed protestant evangelicals will admit that these positions are not taken in an absolutely literal sense in all aspects of life and reality. They will acknowledge that the truth of the Bible is applicable within the scope of “all things pertaining to (eternal) life (salvation) and godliness (right living, holiness, sanctification)”. However in matters of science, technology, medicine, politics, business and economics, not everything is spelled out in detail, but the Bible leaves room for human judgments and wisdom.
- Some less informed or more fundamentalist Christians will assert these points as absolutely and literally true. Thus, they conclude that any sphere of knowledge not contained or referenced within their Bible is either suspect or false. This is the basis for skepticism about some medical procedures, medicines and drug therapies, psychology and psychiatry, philosophy, and sometimes the basis of science itself.
- There at least three different Bibles used by the three major branches of Christianity, each based on some set of texts that are considered to be canonical by that group. Also, not all the holy texts used by the Jews of Jesus’ day were included in the Protestant Old Testament. So even the portions of the canon inherited from Judaism are not entirely founded on the same set of documents used by the Jews themselves. This raises a very fundamental question: whose version of the scriptural holy texts are we to use as the record of God’s revelation to man?
- At a more basic level, the “Word of God” (logos) is not merely a written text, but more generally, the expression of God’s intent as manifested in the physical world, reflecting that it is already manifested in the spiritual realm.Thisis borne out by many passages in the Old Testament,andis stated explicitly in the first five verses in the Gospel of John,inwhichJesusis referred to as the Word of God. Since Jesus (in bodily form) was the physical manifestationofGod’sintentionsformankind, this view seems reasonable.
- For me, this makes much more sense than trying to apply an inferred meaning (taken from obscure passages written to an ancient people for specific situations) in the context of modern life. On the contrary, extracting a universal principle from a few selected passages makes fertile ground for many deviant beliefs, based on differing interpretations.
- When the text of our current Bible is taken as the verbatim and all-inclusive words of God for all people in all times, there are logical and theological inconsistencies created which are difficult to resolve.
- When only the current (Protestant) text is treated as the final authority of God, all possibility of God’s continuing revelation and creativity are denied. This would seem to put God into a much smaller box than is capable of containing His infinity. This arbitrary limitation on God seems much more likely to be the result of religious leaders trying to overreach their legitimate domain in order to maintain their own position of authority and influence over other believers. (Refer to the words that Jesus used to address the religious leaders of His day to see why this is a bad idea.)
10. Modern Protestant Christian beliefs are those which have always been held as the pillars of truth throughout the history of the Church (at least by “true believers”).
- Unfortunately, this is probably not the case. Many of the beliefs that are now considered the “fundamentals of the faith” might not have been agreed upon by early believers and church leaders for several centuries. On the contrary, the “acceptable” beliefs authorized by church doctrines have been morphing or evolving steadily over much of the last 18 centuries.
- The doctrines that modern (American) Protestant Evangelical Christians now regard as fundamental beliefs seem to have been largely based on a set of books titled “The Fundamentals of the Christian Faith”. These books contained 90 apologetic and polemic essays about topics that were considered to be foundational for Protestant orthodoxy, generally from a reformed theology perspective. Within these writings, there were a range of views and beliefs, so this was not necessarily a consensus document created by a conference of all those who considered themselves “fundamentalist Christians”. Rather, it was a solicited collection of writings (from a broad range of Protestant denominations) that supported the most commonly held views of these groups. However, these views might have also have been selected as those most representative of the beliefs of the wealthy individuals who provided funding for the collection, editing, and wide distribution of these books (for free) throughout the English-speaking Protestant community. It seems possible that the “fundamental” beliefs were widely adopted in some measure due to the saturation distribution of these books, perhaps as much as a formally documented common set of preexisting beliefs.
11. The rapture (snatching away of true believers who are in danger of persecution or execution) has always been a part of traditional Christian orthodoxy.
- Actually, this point has been debated for centuries, but the modern premillennial view seems to have originated in the United States, and only came into popular acceptance within the last century.
- Note that the primary passage that is used for the basis of this belief is a passage in 1 Thessalonians 4:17; “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” (NASB) However, there is no other passage in the New Testament that makes this explicit claim. Other passages taken as support for this belief are less specific, and could be interpreted as general encouragement to maintain faith and hope in the face of adversity. One more caution – the letters to the Thessalonians are not universally accepted by biblical scholars as having actually been written by the apostle Paul himself, due to internal inconsistencies in the original language. It is possible that this letter was written by someone else who represented the letter as being the words of Paul.
- Many early Christians, and most likely the disciples of Jesus (including the apostles), thought that they were already living in the end times, or the apocalyptic age. Many believed that that return of Christ would occur before the end of their physical lives.
- Many, many times in the past, often in times of great persecution or distress across the earth, apocalyptic beliefs resurge as believers look for a relief from the misery and suffering of their lives. Many preachers have seized on this hope of salvation as a message to encourage believers to maintain hope, or sometimes to encourage faithful participation in church life and personal holiness. Note that there have been cycles in the emphasis and popularity of end times prophecy for many centuries. In retrospect, a renewed emphasis from the pulpit sometimes seems to be motivated by a desire for increased church attendance or contributions (or to sell books) more than any new prophetic development. Let the listener beware of both fear-mongering and false assurances from those pushing the current apocalyptic message.