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Getting back to the Origins: Christian Liberalism and Fundamentalism

August 8, 2014

Today in the Christian world (especially the cyber world), “Fundamentalism” has been a hot-button topic and a insulting label among most Christian believers and non-believers.  It is understandable that this word has become a bad name- how many stories have we heard of manipulative, abusive leaders of fundamentalist churches and movements?  I’ve lost count.  But if you don’t know what I am talking about so far, you could start here and here.

The label “Evangelical” has also become an insult in many circles. Evangelicalism has become such a bad thing in the eyes of some Christians that they are publicly “leaving evangelicalism.

And here I am, the granddaughter of a brilliant fundamentalist evangelical minister and PhD who took a stand against liberalism in a seminary in NJ and paved the way for many evangelical leaders.  Here I am, the daughter of this man’s son, who also is a minister who took a stand against liberalism in his first denomination.  He also was extremely instrumental, along with my mother, in planting my own faith in me.  For me, growing up in the evangelical Christian faith has been hardly anything but a positive experience, from start to finish, and continuing now that I am launched into the world as an adult.  I also now go to a church with “Evangelical” in it’s name, and I love this church and this denomination, mentally and emotionally.  I also am married to an evangelical Christian man who is honestly the most loving, n0n-controlling-but-effectively-leading, humble, intelligent man of integrity I have ever met.  Neither of us are perfect, and we have both grown a lot from our weaknesses and sins, but I would say that evangelicalism has played a role in our improvement.

So what’s the disconnect?  Why have so many other people had a negative experience with fundamentalism and evangelicalism?

Are fundamentalism and evangelicalism the Church’s worst plague? Or are they movements that are, or at least were, good?

I have been thinking about this a lot in the past year or two, and today I think I finally have found a source that helps to bring understanding.  Following is two essays- one by a liberal pastor in the 1920s, the other by a fundmentalist theologian in the 1920s.  What struck me was that the liberal pastor posed a lot of excellent questions and problems to the church- but failed to remember that it is by grace through faith we are saved BY GOD, not by our own good works.  THIS is the Gospel, and the fundamentalist theologian rightly identifies this problem in his essay “Return to Bondage.”  What went wrong with fundamentalism later?  I don’t know exactly.  I am beginning to think that a problem is that conservatives have equated the “inerrancy of Scripture” with the inerrancy of their interpretation, and this has played out as a controlling, overly self-confident leadership in the church.  I am not sure.  But at any rate, if this subject is of interest to you, I highly recommend these two essays.

https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/relevant-morality/

https://www.christianhistoryinstitute.org/magazine/article/return-to-bondage/

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