February 1, 2010

Why I am not a fundamentalist

Filed under: St. Paul — Petros @ 6:37 pm

Christian fundamentalism is a movement in Christianity which in opposition to Christian liberalism insists upon the inerrancy of the Scriptures.  While I have sometimes worked, worshiped and prayed with fundamentalists, and I do consider them in most cases to be true Christians and brothers in the Lord, I do not identify with them.  I am rather pentecostal, evangelical and charismatic in my tendencies, and this can be seen in the schools I’ve attended Northwest College (now University) of the Assemblies of God (pentecostal); Regent College (evangelical); while at University of Cambridge I was associated with Tyndale House (evangelical) and currently I attend a charismatic church (Emmanual Anglican, Richvale).  Thus, the following critiques stand as one clearly outside fundamentalism.  But I hereby offer some points which can explain why I am not a fundamentalist.

(1) I do not agree with the doctrine of inerrancy.  I do not agree that it should the first line of a creed, since we worship God not the Bible.  I do believe that God inspired the biblical writers, that it constitutes reliable and authoritative Scripture.  I believe that it can be read in Church and it should be the “text” of sermons.  I believe it is worthy of lifelong study and have thus devoted myself to understanding its text.

But my hesitancy with the doctrine of inerrancy is this:  (1) the Bible is in human language which is an imperfect vehicle of communication. Thus, an inerrant text is not even a possibility.  (2) The Bible is read by imperfect interpreters, so even if an inerrant text existed, there are no inerrant readers.  So inerrancy is an irrelevant doctrine because it has no practical application.  (3) Even if there was an inerrant autograph, we do not have that the autographs, but rather a manuscript tradition.  So we are not dealing with a text that we even have, but one which we believe to have been magically preserved (King James only people) or one which is reconstructed by flawed scholars (NA27; UBS3) who are themselves not inerrant.  I am no liberal.  On the other hand, I do not believe the doctrine of inerrancy to be a good way to counter liberalism.

(2) A rigid view of the Bible leads to Pharisaical legalism in practice.  Too often the fundamentalist tendency leads to rigid legalism that confuses the Christian faith with a set of rules about drinking, dancing, wearing make-up, and going to movies.  One contemporary issue is the frequent ban of women pastors , based upon a rigid reading of Paul which I think even Paul himself would not be able to accept.

(3) In fundamentalism, a rigid understanding of the Bible often ursurps the role of the Holy Spirit.  As I heard once, there is often a very solid confession amongst many Christians in the holy trinity:  the Father, the Son and the Holy Bible.

Take the ban on women pastors for example, which is based upon 1 Cor 14.34-35 and 1 Tim 2.11-15.  If in the first century Paul was confronted with problems in his churches and he found contemporary culturally sensitive solutions to those problems by following the direction of the Holy Spirit and then implementing certain directives in the church, I say we have today the same freedom today, using Paul’s advice to the Corinthians or to Timothy as a model.  There is thus no excuse us for using the NT as the new nomos (law) when it comes to contemporary practice.  Paul’s own impetus is advancement of the gospel and thus of the Kingdom of God.  When it comes to the role of woman, for example, I think it is appropriate to take all the biblical passages about women into consideration, to pray, and to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit in the community in making a decision which will help the gospel to thrive the best in any given culture.  Our goal as Christians should not be first and foremost promotion of women’s rights.  Nor should it be to follow rigidly rules in the Bible.  Our highest goal and our priority is to promote the Kingdom of God.  Even when you consider Paul’s recommendations in the context of 1 Tim for example, his priority is not that women should behave, but to correct women’s behaviour because of how it is negatively affecting the image of the gospel.

(4) Fundamentalism too easily confuses culture with Christianity.  In Africa I once saw a painting of a pastor teaching sunday school;  while the children wore African-style clothing, the pastor was wearing a suit and tie.  The imposition of Western culture in the African context by fundamentalist missionaries can still be felt today.  This is something that needs to be overcome.  I agree today with those who wish to contextualize Christianity in the African context, to find appropriate African expressions of what it means to be a Christian, over against those who apply a rigid Western understanding of the Christian faith and practice in an African setting.  Fundamentlists are often unable to distinguish legitimate contextualization from syncretism and therefore condemn too readily people who try to find culturally appropriate expressions of the Christian faith.

(5) Fundamentalism tends to be extremely sectarian and divisive.  Once one is so sure of their own position on a biblical text, they can easily dismiss others as non-Christian or heretical.  As a charismatic Anglican or a pentecostal, I personally would not say that fundamentalists are not Christian brothers or sisters, but they might too easily say that I am of the devil because I speak in tongues; and this is some what contradictory because the Bible which they hold in such high esteem says, “Do not forbid speaking in tongues.”  But this is because sometimes in fundamentalism, we will find the next point.  Yet the point is not that they have a inerrant text:  fundamentalist often act as though they have an inerrant hermeneutic.

(6) In fundamentlism, a priori systematic theology often usurps the Bible as the final authority.  This is especially true of the doctrine of Dispensationalism as first invented by Darby.  The teaching that speaking in tongues is no longer valid comes from Dispensationalism.  The dispensation for the gifts died out with the age of the apostles and thus, all speaking tongues or prophecies, even healings and miracles, are invalid today.  Thus, my experiences with speaking in tongues, miracles and prophecy, as a charismatic/pentecostal Christian, have all been either demonically inspired or psychologically induced.





  1. I suppose there are many ways to define “inerrancy.” Scripture is inerrant to the extent that it is inspired by God. But taken literally in all cases? We shall see.

    Paul and the cross

    Comment by clericus17fp0glx — February 1, 2010 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  2. I think these points are a little reductionistic to be of much help.

    For instance, we could legitimately fault you for having an a priori commitment in your position on women pastors that usurps the final authority of the Bible. Also, I don’t think “fundamentalism” is so easily defined by the type you’ve painted here. I know plenty of people who claim to be fundamentalists who couldn’t be described by points 2, 4, or 6 (Mark Dever and his ilk, for example). Neither does your rejection of inerrancy really pay attention to the most cogent articulations of it by Timothy Ward, Kevin Vanhoozer, et al (or the Bible itself, especially considering the claim about human language).

    I understand where you’re coming from, but I think there’s room to refine/rethink some of these points.

    Comment by TRW — February 2, 2010 @ 11:42 am | Reply

  3. Clericus:
    The question of the literal understanding of scripture is really a hermeneutical quesiton: how should the Bible be understood and what is its function.

    Inerrancy, by contrast, regards the question of the nature of Scripture itself. Scripture can be inspired by God without being “inerrant”. That is all manner of positive terms may exist to make describe Scripture in positive fashion, consistent with the Bible, terms that do not violate its nature which can be observed empirically: I can think of the following: authoritative; profitable; inspired; useful (cf. 2 Tim 3.16).


    Thanks for your response.

    “little reductionistic”: I admit this. It was intended as personal summary of my own reasons for not being a fundamentalist and not as a list of reasons that nobody should be a fundamentalist.

    I don’t really have an a priori commitment on women pastors, to be honest. But treating the Pauline text as nomos is absurd. The Catholic view based upon the lack of precedence in the tradition seems more tenable to me.

    It is entirely possible that there are those who’ve written books or blogs that are better and cogent than what I’ve written here. But perhaps a counter argument would actually be more interesting, i.e., actually saying how one or other of these thinkers would challenge what I’ve written here.

    I agree that there is room to refine/rethink, and look forward to seeing any counter arguments you might be willing to put forward.

    Comment by P. W. Dunn — February 2, 2010 @ 12:04 pm | Reply

  4. On inerrancy, I’d check out Timothy Ward, “Words of Life,” pp. 130-140. It’s succinct and solid. What you conceive Scripture to be really dictates whether inerrancy is absurd for you or not.

    This latter truth will also dictate how you understand the Pauline texts. To say that they’re not normative for today is – I would maintain – to bring an a priori commitment to the text, operating with a trajectory hermeneutic. The burden is on those who would argue for an egalitarian position as you seem to, precisely because the weight of the history of interpretation is so great against them. I’m not Catholic, but I’m all about taking the historical understanding of a text into account! If we disregard Paul’s teaching there, why not elsewhere? What’s the ‘canon,’ so to speak?

    I’m not interested in arguing about whether women can be pastors or not, there are plenty of books that do this better than I. As an aside, it’s interesting that denominations where this has developed have all drifted towards liberalism.


    Comment by TRW — February 2, 2010 @ 9:18 pm | Reply

  5. I don’t have Ward’s book unfortunately.

    “If we disregard Paul’s teaching there, why not elsewhere? What’s the ‘canon,’ so to speak?” The important issue of hermeneutics here is discussed in an essay by Gordon D. Fee in Gospel and Spirit: Issues in New Testament Hermeneutics, esp. ch. 4. The issue at hand really is that Paul solves a problem in the Ephesian church (in 1 Tim)by limiting the role of women in teaching, precisely because they were going beyond what was proper and participating in false teaching. Why this should become the new nomos for church practice is beyond me. A fundamentalist may consider that necessary, just as it might also be necessary for women to wear a funny hat so as to be obedient to Paul’s view that women should pray with their heads covered. And yet, most churches in the West today rightly set such positions aside because cultural norms and roles of women have changed. We use common sense, cultural norms of propriety, biblical principles and the guidance of the Holy Spirit to make such decisions. I think that the same considerations should be taken into account when determining the roles of both men and of women in the church.

    The issue of women pastors I find to be thorny one because I am not certain it makes churches better in all cases. Nevertheless, all that should be taken into consideration and the guidance of the Holy Spirit sought, but Paul’s letters, while canonical, should not be made into the new Torah. Otherwise Paul’s own employment of women in his churches would fall under condemnation too. Particularly, the Philippian church had strong women leadership since, first, there was a lack of men at the founding of the church; second, there were some important women, such as Lydia, who was there since its founding. But Paul’s concern, I believe, was the advancement of the gospel, which made him rejoice, and not whether some rule about women and ministry was being followed to the letter. If he set a rule for the Ephesian church in 1 Tim, it was so that the gospel would not fall into disrepute.

    Comment by P. W. Dunn — February 2, 2010 @ 10:06 pm | Reply

  6. I guess for me, Paul’s appeal to the created order makes Fee’s argument less persuasive. Especially seeing as how Paul does it elsewhere (like 1 Cor 11).

    There are solid people on either end of this debate, for sure. I’m just not convinced by egalitarian exegesis (never really have been, even when I could have been considered a ‘feminist’ in my college days).

    Here’s a very frank essay by a very conservative evangelical on the complementarian side on what positions of ministry are available to women. For the most part, I think he’s right: http://www.swbts.edu/resources//SWBTS/Resources/FacultyDocuments/Hamilton/4_12_05.pdf

    Comment by Tyler Wittman — February 3, 2010 @ 3:55 pm | Reply

  7. Tyler: thanks for this interaction. You are stimulating to me to think and respond. I want to stress again that I am only egalitarian in the sense that men and women are equal heirs of the promise, and that in Christ there is neither male nor female. But I remain adamant that Paul, who was critical of an inflexible application of the Torah would have been horrified by the legalistic interpretation of the Pauline letters. I find it an absurd, un-Pauline contradiction. How could Paul who under certain circumstances ate with gentiles unkosher meat mind if under certain circumstances a highly qualified woman would teach a man. Paul’s was all things to all men, for the sake of the gospel. That he would correct a wayward church with false-teaching women, as he does in 1 Tim 2.11-15, sure. But that he would expect all Christians from henceforth to obey what he says to the Ephesians? Hardly. Hard cases make for bad law. So he appeals to creation order? So what? Elsewhere he says that there is neither male nor female in Christ–i.e., being in Christ has higher priority than creation. The problem with the fundamentalists view of the Bible is that the Christian is set free from the Old Testament Torah to be shackled anew with the New Torah, Paul’s letters.

    But I am against affirmative action which promotes women to do jobs for which they are not necessarily best qualified, whether it be a soldier, a fireman, a pastor or a university professor. Here in Canada they fret that there are not enough women politicians, for crying out loud. If women were especially suited for these professions, there would be no need for affirmative action. That being said, I believe also that if a woman is gifted and qualified to do a task, who are we to stand in the way, based on a pharisaical interpretation of Paul’s letters? Two of my doctoral supervisors were women (Dr. Morna Hooker, Dr. Carline Bammel), who were damn sight better scholars than I am. One of the best preachers and teachers that I know is a missionary professor who has done much to advance the cause of the Kingdom of God in French Africa. According to the rules of many fundamentalists, she would be allowed to teach nor preach to people who are far less knowledgeable and talented than she. Why? Because Paul says so. Yet what male professor would answer the call to go to learn French, leave father and mother, and step into a war zone to teach in one of the most troubled spots in the world? This for me is not about crass egalitarianism that we see in our culture today, but about recognizing the gifts that God gives to people and deploying them for the good of the Kingdom of God. In Acts, Peter could not stand in the way of the Gentiles receiving water baptism, because he recognized that God had given them the gift of the Spirit already. If God gives amazing gifts to women, who am I to use Paul’s letters as the new Torah and to stand in their way?

    Then again, today the women who get the most upset about their place in the church are the last people that I want to be my priest or pastor. Sometimes I think it would be better if people entered ministry reluctantly, practically forced by God or the community to do it. That was the way of ancient church–men were compelled to serve. Anyone angry about not being able to take the position of pastor or bishop was already disqualified. But our culture teaches young women to be ambitious and angry, while Christ teaches us to take the lowest position possible.

    Comment by P. W. Dunn — February 3, 2010 @ 7:28 pm | Reply

  8. Peter, I would most certainly be an egalitarian if I could be convinced by the exegesis of Scripture. As some boorish German once said, my conscience is bound!

    Paul’s appeal to the created order’s distinction between man and woman is essential for his articulation of the different functions each of these genders play with respect to the other. He also emphasizes that they are one in Christ. The two statements are not at odds with one another, but fill one another out. They are equal, but they have different roles to play in the divine drama. The issue is not one of patriarchy, but one of submissive humility before the other and a God-ordained complementary interplay of roles that is established from the beginning in the created order.

    For example, in Colossians 3, Paul grounds the identity of everyone in Christ (3:11), before proceeding to show that this complementarity of the sexes is part of living in the sphere of Christ (3:18-19). This is because he uses Gen 1-2 allusions all throughout the letter, culminating in the redeemed putting on the new self, being “renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator” (3:10). Union in Christ is the fulfillment of the imago Dei. Part of this unveiled imago Dei is the eschatological fulfillment of Gen 1:27. We cannot simply dismiss the appeal to the created order. Paul saw fit to employ it in different letters to different churches to address the difference between the sexes. The NT doesn’t trump the OT, it fulfills it.

    Comment by TRW — February 8, 2010 @ 10:58 pm | Reply

  9. Thanks Tyler. I am pretty sure that I don’t disagree with complimentarianism as you have suggested here. The question is really hermeneutical. Should Paul’s letters be used as “law” or as ad hoc letters? In 1 Tim, Paul appealed to creation as a means of correcting a problem of false teaching being propagated by women. He found a culturally appropriate solution, guided by the Holy Spirit, to a specific problem in the Ephesian church circa AD 60. This means that rather than applying Paul’s letters willy nilly of context and situation, we also take into consideration other factors such as: (1) the cultural context and what people can accept; (2) how we might best advance the gospel in a given situation; (3) the God-given talents of the human resources available to the church; (4) the special anointing of the Holy Spirit to an individual to perform a task; (5) the guidance of the Holy Spirit in the community. In the case of women’s leadership in the church, I don’t believe that we are dealing with a moral issue, but one of appropriate church practice. It is not immoral therefore to have a woman pastor or a woman priest preside communion. In some contexts, however, it seems absurd that a woman do certain tasks–but in those cultures men have much more fixed roles as well. Please take into consideration this post too: https://petrostelos.wordpress.com/2010/02/04/women-in-ministry-and-gifts/

    Comment by P. W. Dunn — February 9, 2010 @ 5:17 am | Reply

  10. […] only men be the senior pastor or priest of a church, and the article made great sense to me.  Tyler Wittman has argued for biblical complimentarianism in response to my post explaining why I am not a […]

    Pingback by Why men should be priests and pastors « πετροστελος — February 9, 2010 @ 5:39 am | Reply

  11. […] inerrancy, John Stott, neoevangelicals, Thirty-nine articles, Wycliffe College My post, “Why I am not an fundamentalist“, caused consternation to one of the bloggers at Palabre; I happily took it down from there […]

    Pingback by John Stott on Inerrancy « πετροστελος — February 11, 2010 @ 3:21 pm | Reply

  12. […] that this way of thinking is basically a “fundamentalist” approach to the Scripture (see this post) in that it attempts to create a new law for Christians; that if the Christian followed that law, […]

    Pingback by Is debt sin? « The Righteous Investor — February 23, 2010 @ 7:52 pm | Reply

  13. I believe God sovereignly gave us the keys through scripture. That means that the clues and metaphorical truths are there in scripture.
    But you may have to look closely, or even underneath some of the outer layers of meaning or rendition. Scripture means basically what the author(s)
    meant who were human. But this is not absolutely true. God’s intent may go outside the scope of authorial meaning. Thus inerrancy is not technically true in the absolute sense. But it is true in the holistic sense by which the scripture “cannot be broken.”

    This makes the Bible and related writings like a mystery. Both magical and worth investigating. And scripture is like the rest of life. There are clues in life which point to God. Scripture has it narrowed down to certain subjects though.

    As a whole amen to the above.

    Comment by Sola Yeshua — September 5, 2011 @ 4:19 pm | Reply

  14. Reading over number (6) regarding Darby’s Dispensationalism, you are not saying that your prayer tongues etc. are demonically induced, are you? Just want to make sure. Hah! Like me you put yourself in his shoes and then the reader is not sure exactly what you mean.

    Okay, you are saying who is this guy. No one, just a voice in the ethers….I have indirect relationship to some of your subjects you write about. Troll, yes well maybe. Dangerous no. Say go away, I’ll do so. Otherwise I may read on…

    Comment by Sola Yeshua — September 6, 2011 @ 12:28 pm | Reply

    • It is as you say, the argument of dispensationalism that would characterize speaking tongues thus. My own view it is a way for me to relate to God in the Spirit on a non-cerebral level.

      I don’t mind the comments.

      Comment by Petros — September 6, 2011 @ 2:05 pm

  15. The inerrancy of scripture can be attributed to the impetus of inspiration of the Word of God, behind all actual writings en whole in canon of OT and NT, these being harbored as a subcategory of all scriptural writings. Although not pristine and totally accurate as manifest in language, even originally being without the necessary vowel points, the combined intent and inspiration which resulted in oral tradition and written Word is wholly accurate BY INTENT.

    Thus every jot and tittle which correlates to true intent of the Living God is pristine and to the letter, true. What we have is less than true, but the intent is true.
    And sorting through the fundamentals we find mainstream Christianity quite outside of intent.

    For instance your statement that the Father, Son and Text, should really be Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is false. These are not equal entities, since the Spirit of God is a derived aspect of God, and the Son was rather, formed by God.

    Please read a more semitic exegetical consideration, by your fellow Anglican, David Reed concerning the Prologue of John.


    Although I do not consider the Word to be THE TORAH, it is rather what fundamental commands inhabit Torah. In the Beginning the first Word was “light” and this “light” is correlated to the spiritual “light” tabernacled in the Christ. THE WORD as conceived by John as title does refer to Christ, especially in Revelations.
    But fundamentally, the Word of God is what He says. When He says “Jesus” in Jn 1:14 Jesus becomes manifest as indwelling flesh. What he is indwelt with was “the light” and this “light” is the light of all mankind. The “light” or radiant Shekinah was the glory upon the face of Moses, too bright to be seen. It was first known in the mikshan tents of the nomads, then in the Pillar of Cloud, over the Ark and then in the Holy of Holies. Then indwelling the Christ, tabernacled in flesh. The Living Presence of God, the Paraclete indwelling the first 3000 and 5000. And now the Spirit of YHWH Elohim is known among the saints, making them one with Jesus as he is one with his God. Alighting him in more glory at his baptism, and alighting believers in the upper room as a “flame alighting.” Trickled down, and even more so today. But and yet the fundamental unity of all who love Jesus.

    Thus the Logos is not en whole the Christ, rather the significant Word of God is what He says and the intent behind it. This intent of God’s will is pristine down to the very jot and tittle. It cannot be broken, as Jesus himself said.

    Fundamentalism is founded primarily upon the fundamentals. I am less interested in gender equality than reviving the initial Commands of God from Moses.
    This is Torah, but rather this is the intent behind Torah. All Jewish considerations as to the Targums and extensions of Law and sublaws should all stem back up to the fundamentals. Then we can see how the sub-issues of God’s Law can apply to various aspects of life. Gender consideration has to conform, as well as all Theology. What the fundamental Commands were, in the beginning of Moses’ tenure, were the Ten and the Shema. Jesus modified these with his own second Command in Mk 12, to love your neighbor. Thus your brother from the same mother is a Fundamentalist.

    Comment by George Dunn — December 31, 2014 @ 9:27 am | Reply

  16. I should have said, what Moses started with was the Ten, and what he ended with, was the Shema.

    Comment by George Dunn — December 31, 2014 @ 9:36 am | Reply

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