We have batted around the continuities and discontinuities between contemporary evangelicalism (of the N. American and British varieties) and 20th century fundamentalism, and I am afraid we never get very far. Perhaps it’s the nature of this particular conversation, but I remain interested in the subject. Teaching in an institution of Christian higher education with historical ties to fundamentalist Christianity means the general tendencies are never far off. So I was intrigued to see a post by Geoffrey Holsclaw on the dynamic between recent postmodern revisions to Christianity and their relationship to the very fundamentalist forms of thought and commitments they try and overcome.
Holsclaw suggests that at least three forms of thought which claim to move beyond fundamentalism under the guise of postmodern re-alignments are simply inversions of fundamentalism all over again: inerrancy to pure errancy, biblical primitivism to rabbinic primitivism, and conservative anti-intellectualism to liberal anti-intellectualism. Read the entire post here, but let me highlight for discussion his comments on anti-intellectualism (he has the emergent church crowd in mind):
I’ve become more and more concerned at a creeping anti-intellectualism among some of the loudest voices who rest on rhetorical questions, anecdotal evidence, and communal experiences over philosophical and theological articulation and argument. This, I believe, follows from the previous inversions because your don’t have to really say anything or land anywhere because we are all merely in an endless conversation. Essentially, everything is a rhetorical display without any real substance. I have been a part of numerous conversations that only go so deep before an implied anti-intellectualism takes over. If one probes too deeply all of a sudden you are part of the establishment, you are on a heretic hunt, or you are defending an ideology which we are trying to overcome with our radical questioning. Well, that can only go so far. When a certain form of radical questioning takes the well worn paths of protestant liberalism, or mirror forms of Hegelianism, it does not good to just assert that “we” aren’t doing that old thing, you have to actually show how things are different, you have to defend and articulate what is going on. This is the role of an ‘organic theologian’, to both articulate within a community what is happening, and express to larger communities why it makes sense. To only do the former without the latter is to perpetuate a fundamentalism on the other side of the equation. Hence my claim of an inverted anti-intellectualism.
Does this ring true to anyone?
I worry about a similar phenomenon – which might have its roots in the same soil – exhibited when some of my students seem unwilling to probe beyond quickly accessible, pragmatic solutions to theological issues. They don’t default to rhetoric so much as to the quick assumption that “all that really matters is how you live out your faith.” Everything devolves into what “works” and what doesn’t “work”.
Well yes, how you “live out your faith” is critical, but doctrine directs how you “live out your faith” both in mission and worship (even if implicitly which is often the case). Doctrine directs the church’s fitting participation in the drama of redemption. It’s one thing to say that worship generates theology, and another to follow this into the crucial next step of affirming how doctrine directs the church’s worship and mission. Both steps are necessary, but the later is lopped off in a fearfully large number of discussions.