Fundamentalism: Whence? Where? Whither? Part 2

NickOfTime

Fundamentalism and History

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It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind: it is the partial and uneducated survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians. How many were there, for instance, in Christian churches in the eighteenth century who doubted the infallible inspiration of all Scripture? A few, perhaps, but very few. No, the Fundamentalist may be wrong. I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with a Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is [sic] on the Fundamentalist side.
—Kirsopp Lake
1

The above words were not written by a Fundamentalist or even a friend of Fundamentalism. The quotation comes from a theological liberal who was writing at the height of the Fundamentalist controversy. As such, it represents rather a startling admission. Not many liberals were willing to concede as much.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the quotation has become a favorite of those who have identified with Fundamentalism. David Beale appeals to it in his attempt to define Fundamentalism. Both Fred Moritz and Mark Sidwell refer to it in their defenses of separatism. Robert Reymond (a systematic theologian who was trained at Bob Jones University) includes it in his discussion of divine revelation. It even shows up in a sermon by Wayne Bley on the website of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.2

Fundamentalists are flattered to think of themselves as neither more nor less than representatives of historic Christian doctrine. They take comfort and courage in believing that they have neither added to nor subtracted from the deposit of faith, but that they simply proclaim and defend exactly the same message as the apostles did. This kind of reassurance feeds a craving for identity and significance.

It is also rather badly misguided, notwithstanding Lake’s observations. Of particular interest is Lake’s use of the word partial. Fundamentalism, said Lake, is the “partial … survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians.” In other words, Fundamentalist theology is represented in the Christian theology of antiquity, but not all of the older Christian theology has been preserved in fundamentalism.

Was Lake correct in his assertion that fundamentalism has preserved only some of the early Christian faith? To answer this question we need only look at the three chief symbols: the Apostles’ Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. If we make allowances for one or two controversial locutions (particularly filioque and the descent into hell), the remainder of these creeds confess the early Christian consensus about the biblical answer to the most important disputed questions in the early history of Christianity. In short, they are brief summaries of fundamental doctrines.3

How ironic that most contemporary Fundamentalists—even many Fundamentalist pastors—have hardly even read them, let alone studied them. This is not because Fundamentalists are adverse to creeds and confessions! No, Fundamentalists write doctrinal statements like Washington prints money. The Fundamentalist neglect of these particular creeds, however, is revealing. Fundamentalism is not so much an attempt to preserve historic Christianity as it is an attempt to leapfrog theological development and to repristinate the church by appealing directly to the New Testament while ignoring many intervening centuries of doctrinal struggle and articulation.

To be fair, Fundamentalist theology does continue to reflect the results of Nicea and Chalcedon, just as it evidences influence from Wittenberg and Geneva. The problem lies in the Fundamentalist appropriation of those influences, and it is threefold. First, Fundamentalists often naively assume that their ideas simply arise from the text of Scripture, without mediation. There is little sense of the struggle that was necessary in order for their doctrines even to be articulated, let alone to be preserved. Most Fundamentalists actually think that church history must include an unbroken line of true Christians whose beliefs and articulations were pretty much identical to those of today’s Fundamentalists.

Second, and consequently, Fundamentalists tend to have little sense of indebtedness to the Christian past. They do not value the richness and fullness of Christian faith and practice. Both their forms and their formulations tend to be invented ad hoc. For most fundamentalists, church history between the apostles and the revivals of the nineteenth century is a near blank, something like the undrawn areas on old maps that used to be labeled, “This way be dragons.” Except in a handful of educational institutions, most fundamentalist leaders have little or no awareness of history.4

Third, Fundamentalists have displayed a tendency to focus upon the affirmation of an ever-shrinking list of core doctrines (and, to be sure, those doctrines deserve focus) at the expense of neglecting both doctrinal detail and doctrinal breadth. Because they are cut off from the Christian past, fundamentalists have little sense of the extent to which they have truncated the whole counsel of God. While they rightly insist upon the necessity of confessing certain fundamentals, they have little patience for careful doctrinal exploration and articulation, even when the doctrines under consideration are fundamental. They profess to love the Bible as an object, but even in the better neighborhoods of fundamentalism it is not difficult to find people who despise the attempt to understand biblical teaching in any depth.5

Fundamentalists are all about defending the faith. Too often, however, all that they are willing to defend is a truncated faith of slogans and clichés. Even the most important areas of doctrine are reduced to rather pat formulae. Non-fundamental areas of the faith may be left completely unexplored.

Comparing Fundamentalist faith and practice to the faith and practice of historic Christianity is like comparing a hamburger to a filet mignon. The two obviously have something in common, but it would be misleading to say that everything in the steak is also in the hamburger.

Kirsopp Lake said that Fundamentalism is the “partial … survival of a theology which was once universally held by all Christians.” To the extent that he is correct, Fundamentalists should probably be a little less enthralled with his description. And I think that he is right.

Fundamentalists have preserved and defended something less than the whole counsel of God. Two other questions must be addressed before a conversation about fundamentalism can go forward. The first question is, Did fundamentalists also add anything that was not a component of historic Christianity? In the next essay, I shall give reasons for answering this question in the affirmative. The second question is, How did we get to this point? The answer to that question is going to take a bit longer.

1 Kirsopp Lake, The Religion of Yesterday and To-morrow (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925), 61-62.

2 David O. Beale, In Pursuit of Purity: American Fundamentalism Since 1850 (Greenville, S.C.: Unusual Publications, 1986), 3-4; Fred Moritz, Contending for the Faith (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 2000), 158; Mark Sidwell, The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation (Greenville, S.C.: Bob Jones University Press, 1998); Robert L. Reymond, A New Systematic Theology of the Christian Faith (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1998), 16; Wayne Bley, “Vigilance for Religious Liberty,” sermon at http://www.fbfi.org/content/view/78/24/ accessed on 19 August 2009.

3 Some Fundamentalists object quite strenuously to the phrase, “baptism for the remission of sins.” They need to remember, however, that the creed is merely echoing the language of Scripture (specifically, Acts 2:38). Whatever these words mean in Scripture is what they mean in the creed.

4 I once made a favorable comment in writing about the second-century church father, Ignatius. A fundamentalist leader sent me a rather vexed reply reminding me that Ignatius (by which he meant Ignatius Loyola) was a committed Catholic and the founder of the Jesuit order. The author of the letter had no idea that he was confusing a character from the second century with a character from the sixteenth.

5 Such attitudes are not universal within fundamentalism. My own undergraduate and seminary education was pursued in fundamentalist institutions that valued both doctrinal breadth and theological detail, including conversation with other faith traditions.  This kind of thoughtfulness can be found in the better Fundamentalist educational institutions and among some of the better churches and pastors. These are not, however, characteristic of Fundamentalism as a whole.

Alone With None But Thee, My God

Attributed to Columba (521-597)

Alone with none but thee, my God,
I journey on my way.
What need I fear when thou art near,
O King of night and day?
More safe am I within thy hand
than if a host should round me stand.

My destined time is known to thee,
and death will keep his hour;
did warriors strong around me throng,
they could not stay his power:
no walls of stone can man defend
when thou thy messenger dost send.

My life I yield to thy decree,
and bow to thy control
in peaceful calm, for from thine arm
no power can wrest my soul.
Could earthly omens e’er appal
a man that heeds the heavenly call?

The child of God can fear no ill,
his chosen dread no foe;
we leave our fate with thee, and wait
thy bidding when to go.
‘Tis not from chance our comfort springs.
thou art our trust, O King of kings.


This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.

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There are 34 Comments

Charlie's picture

This article by Bauder sounds remarkably familiar to some points Joseph and I were making in a different thread (though aimed a bit differently). They were not received well, and I have a hard time believing that this article will be well received either. Then again, a spoonful of Bauder often makes the medicine go down.

My Blog: http://dearreaderblog.com

Cor meum tibi offero Domine prompte et sincere. ~ John Calvin

Bob Hayton's picture

It's refreshing to find fundamentalist leaders like Bauder, who don't shy away from offering a fundamentalist self-critique. I think he nails a few big issues for fundamentalism. This is not to say other groups are flawless. Here's hoping that the fundamentalism worth saving accepts these articles from Bauder and is willing to reform. That would be a great day for fundamentalism as a whole, and evangelicalism as well.

Striving for the unity of the faith, for the glory of God ~ Eph. 4:3, 13; Rom. 15:5-7 I blog at Fundamentally Reformed. Follow me on Twitter.

Matthew Olmstead's picture

Charlie,

Can you find the other thread? It would be interesting for comparison.

Father of three, husband of one, servant of the Lord Jesus Christ. I blog at mattolmstead.com.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It's hard to boil down how I feel about this installment.

  1. I have seen a whole lot of the kind of Fundamentalism Kevin describes here.
  2. I have seen only slightly less of the kind he only footnotes (footnote #5).
  3. I'm not among those who are inclined to idealize the past. It's easy to do that when a) there is a strong current in the zeitgeist to do so and b) you really love history.
  4. History was the most interesting and valuable coursework I experienced during seminary, largely because, as Kevin points out here, it had been so neglected.
  5. There is definitely a school of thought that so strongly emphasizes historical theology and the impossibility of objectivity in approaching Scripture that the result is a passionate commitment to avoid certainty about just about anything (as well as immed. rejection of anything perceived--rightly or wrongly--to be "new"). You just can't ever know what the Book means unless you've read a roof high stack of books and even then, what you arrive at--when suitably enlightened--is a smaller and smaller list of things you are willing to assert dogmatically.

    I do not think Kevin is quite saying what Joseph has been saying here, for example (and to a lesser degree, Charlie), though there is overlap.

    So to sum up, I remain somewhat skeptical toward Kevin's emphasis here but I'm listening with interest. There must be a way to address our history deficit without banishing the idea that the meaning of Scripture is accessible to all believers who read them.

Pastor Joe Roof's picture

Part of the Apostles Creed states :
"I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting."

I can't begin to tell you how many times someone has told me that this is a bad creed because it promotes Roman Catholicism because of the statement "the holy catholic church." Dr. Bauder is right.

Rev Karl's picture

Pastor Joe Roof wrote:
Part of the Apostles Creed states :
"I believe in the Holy Ghost;
the holy catholic church;
the communion of saints;
the forgiveness of sins;
the resurrection of the body;
and the life everlasting."

I can't begin to tell you how many times someone has told me that this is a bad creed because it promotes Roman Catholicism because of the statement "the holy catholic church." Dr. Bauder is right.

My family attended a church a few years back that recited the creed every Sunday. They re-worded that line to "the holy universal church" to update the language to easily understood modern usage.

mounty's picture

Rev Karl wrote:

My family attended a church a few years back that recited the creed every Sunday. They re-worded that line to "the holy universal church" to update the language to easily understood modern usage.

Would that be the New Apostles' Creed, then? Wink

SHoward's picture

The English version of the creed is a translation anyway, and the word "catholic" is synonymous with "universal" . The word change for the sake of clarity is just fine, IMHO. Surely, we are allowed to update antiquated language in a creed, right?

Paul Matzko's picture

Dr. Bauder wrote:
Second, and consequently, Fundamentalists tend to have little sense of indebtedness to the Christian past. They do not value the richness and fullness of Christian faith and practice. Both their forms and their formulations tend to be invented ad hoc. For most fundamentalists, church history between the apostles and the revivals of the nineteenth century is a near blank, something like the undrawn areas on old maps that used to be labeled, “This way be dragons.”

Dr. Bauder,

I look forward to reading your diagnosis for why fundamentalists have been so lacking in historical consciousness. I suspect that the answer involves the nineteenth century development of dispensationalism (be a good opportunity to work in some Ernest Sandeen). Of course, the topic deserves a caveat about the confessional wing of fundamentalism; guys like Gresham Machen and Cornelius Van Til had quite a robust understanding of church history.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

First, of all, I think Charlie is speaking about the discussion which took place under the article I wrote when he says...

Charlie wrote:
This article by Bauder sounds remarkably familiar to some points Joseph and I were making in a different thread (though aimed a bit differently). They were not received well, and I have a hard time believing that this article will be well received either. Then again, a spoonful of Bauder often makes the medicine go down.

I may be missing something, but I believe that Dr. Bauder's point is both different and vastly more perspicuous than the statements made there by Charlie and Joseph. Also, Charlie, please note that Bauder himself is a traditional dispensationalist, while you were apparently making the argument that dispensationalism is a theological impossibility for those enlightened by history and academia.

What really hit me from this article was this tragic statement:

"While they rightly insist upon the necessity of confessing certain fundamentals, they have little patience for careful doctrinal exploration and articulation, even when the doctrines under consideration are fundamental. They profess to love the Bible as an object, but even in the better neighborhoods of fundamentalism it is not difficult to find people who despise the attempt to understand biblical teaching in any depth."

This hits way too close to home. With all glory to God, I rejoice that, like Bauder, my "seminary education was pursued in fundamentalist institutions that valued both doctrinal breadth and theological detail."

Fundamentalism is betrayed by every sermon which rips verses from their context and turns verbs into statements and nouns into commands -- to say nothing of some of the grosser offenses (such as allegorization, or worse) which are made from behind the pulpit -- and it past time for Fundamentalist leaders to call out such abuses. May the Lord spare us from any more of that kind of "non-Biblical" fundamentalism.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Todd Wood's picture

"To be fair, Fundamentalist theology does continue to reflect the results of Nicea and Chalcedon, just as it evidences influence from Wittenberg and Geneva."

In the I-15 Intermountain Corridor, new scholars are seeking with all their power to tear off these interpretive historical lenses and completely replace.

Not me, though.

I carry around my Cambridge KJV Bible with the full preface. Smile

I don't know how one can carry around a KJV in the Intermountain I-15 Corridor and be completely divorced from the Bible's history, scholarship, etc.

If Kevin Bauder comes to Salt Lake City next year, I would love to bring him up to Idaho Falls for a town hall gathering. I have just the man, I would love for him to counter in a publicized town hall conversation . . . LDS lawyer and scholar - Blake Ostler.

Steve Newman's picture

I'm not going to pretend to have been as well read on the subjects as the author. Let's think about where fundamentalists get their "anti-historical" bent:

1. Were fundamentalists looking for a theology that could not be hijacked by liberalism? Many had to come out of mainline or evangelical denominations that had been stolen out from under them by liberals (review the ministry of R.V. Clearwaters). I believe a good portion of the "local church" or "local church only" emphasis has this defensive motive. Not to mention the KJVO position.
2. Dispensationalism to me is a superior Biblical theology, but represents a rejection of a number of historical positions. I believe there are practical historical considerations that draw one away from dispensationalism. When we look at the writings of earlier historical church writers, they use a high degree of allegory that has a real appeal to many preachers and listeners. Dispensation preaching can seem "dull" in comparison with more speculative and freewheeling use of allegory. Let's not forget that dispensationalism and fundamentalism are movements headed by preachers and pastors more than theologians (though I admit that preachers should also be theologically correct).
3. With a few notable exceptions, it seems to me that the science and study of theology has been in decline for quite some time. As modern theologians have become, shall we say, more "imaginative" at times in order to try and gain a mind share or market share, the quality of theological thought is brought downward. We seem to get theologically dumber with some of the things being written in the last generation.
4. The de-emphasis of theology in order to cooperate with others in evangelical circles in the past generation may have robbed us of better thought from people who could have been more outstanding contributors. Also, the emphasis on "practical issues" caused the focus to go away from the truth or falsehood, right or wrong, good or evil that has caused evangelicalism to sink further into the morass of relativism.

Rob Fall's picture

I think there is another reason for "Fundamentalism" rejecting "historic" theology. I can easily see them view such an appeal as smacking of the RCC's and EOC's looking to Tradition and the Church Fathers for authoritative guidance when they can't find a Scripture to bend to their needs.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Dr. Bauder states:

"First, Fundamentalists often naively assume that their ideas simply arise from the text of Scripture, without mediation. There is little sense of the struggle that was necessary in order for their doctrines even to be articulated, let alone to be preserved. Most Fundamentalists actually think that church history must include an unbroken line of true Christians whose beliefs and articulations were pretty much identical to those of today’s Fundamentalists."

Certainly, to disregard history is the height of arrogance (Job 12:2). It evidences the same folly as one "evangelist" I once heard who said you should never read a commentary -- just read your Bible. Of course, like many errors, each of these extreme positions contains a grain of truth and sounds very pious. What both miss, however, is the necessity of using accumulated knowledge and learning from the work of others -- whether in the form of a written commentary or in the form of a lesson from history.

To me, this is the simple solution to the question with which some seem to be struggling. We learn from history, even though history is not authoritative in the sense in which it is viewed, for instance, in the Roman Catholic system. Likewise, we would not use a commentary to correct the Scriptures. The question is all about how you use either one, and whether you place them in subjection to the self-authenticating Word of God.

Also, I must be missing something, because I struggle to see the connection between being a dispensationalist and being a rejector of history. Perhaps some quarters of dispensationalism have been weak in history, but this has not been my own experience or the background of the dispensationalists who have been my teachers. It seems like more of a convenient "red herring" to use against dispensationalism than anything else.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

This may have already been mentioned (I'm having to move kind of fast here), but I think one reason for the neglect of history is a strain of anti-intellectualism which--if it wasn't already there in American culture--was certainly fueled by where theological Liberalism was coming from... the academics.
As they looked at the seminaries and mission boards and denominational organizations and saw them sinking into unbelief, who was leading the departure? The ivory tower folks. So it's natural that an antipathy toward things scholarly would tend to arise in that climate... and, human nature being what it is, there would be a strong tendency to overreact.
Many see the study of history long past as an academic exercise.

Also want to amend a statement I made earlier...

Aaron Blumer wrote:
5. There is definitely a school of thought that so strongly emphasizes historical theology and the impossibility of objectivity in approaching Scripture that the result is a passionate commitment to avoid certainty about just about anything (as well as immed. rejection of anything perceived--rightly or wrongly--to be "new"). You just can't ever know what the Book means unless you've read a roof high stack of books and even then, what you arrive at--when suitably enlightened--is a smaller and smaller list of things you are willing to assert dogmatically.
I want to amend that point and add "(as well as immed. rejection of anything perceived--rightly or wrongly--to be "new"... unless it comes from someone perceived--rightly or wrongly--to be a great scholar, such as N.T. Wright)"

Jay's picture

Todd Wood wrote:
Rob, let us recapture theosis and pericherosis. I wish Fundamentalism was right in the center of this discussion.

Quote:
In Christian theology, particularly in Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy and Eastern Catholic theology, theosis (written also: theiosis, theopoiesis, theōsis; Greek: Θέωσις, meaning divinization, deification, or making divine) is the process of transformation of a believer who is putting into practise (called praxis) the spiritual teachings of Jesus Christ and His gospel.

I couldn't find a definition of Perichoresis, Todd. Is that misspelled?

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Todd Wood's picture

Hey, if you google, "perichosis", does "Heart Issues for LDS" appear on the first page, Susan? Smile

Two things are absolutely fundamental to the heart of my Christianity:

(1) The Trinitarian perichoresis of God (all through John's Gospel - Jesus in the Father, the Father in Jesus, etc.)

(2) And our oneness with the Triune God (the stunning prayer of Jesus in John 17) - theosis

Perichoresis and theosis are the very eye of the hurricane debate in the I-15 Corridor. And both of these topics are foundational to which way Christianity(ies) is going to move in America . . . more towards paganism or more towards biblical theology and the early church fathers.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

what the Google results would be- I thought maybe it would also be the name of a rare disease... You know what makes Google searches so interesting? It's how many people can't spell what they are blogging about...

Rob Fall's picture

Todd Wood wrote:
Rob, let us recapture theosis and pericherosis. I wish Fundamentalism was right in the center of this discussion.
Sorry, Todd, I only have a BA and flunked NT Greek too boot (I did however have an AA for a third minor). If I understand the definitions given between your post and this one, you comment is nonsequitorial to my comment. Further, on principle alone, I would reject the Eastern and Western Catholic definitions of theosis or at least their prescribed methods for. achieving it. Though, I do understand (to be short on the topic) the idea of putting off the old man and putting on the new.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Todd Wood's picture

I agree with your comment #13. And I agree with your disagreement over the "prescribed methods" mentioned in #22. But I want to know why Fundamentalists don't write more, talk more, sing more, preach more about the mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son and secondly our being partakers of the divine nature. I would love to know all the angles on how the early church and patristic fathers discussed these two heart issues.

I never hardly thought about this through my growing up in fundamentalism and even through seminary, but now the fundamentals swirling around the Trinitarian God and oneness with Him are everything to me.

Absolutely, my life and breath.

Paul J. Scharf's picture

Although his fundamentalist credentials could be debated, I would submit that Dr. Woodrow Kroll is one possible popular role model for those who desire to maintain Sola Scriptura while still enjoying the fullness of historical and theological scholarship. With a European Th.D., he certainly "reflect(s) the results of Nicea and Chalcedon...(and)...evidences influence from Wittenberg and Geneva."

And yet, while I am not sure that Kroll has called himself a dispensationalist in my hearing, he certainly is one -- whether this is in spite of or because of his broader theological training.

Kroll, in essence, bridges the gap, showing that it is possible for a traditional Bible teacher to make good use of a classical theological education steeped in European scholarship and history -- all while maintaining a dispensational premillennial perspective, no less.

The point? I believe that Bauder is exposing the excesses and errors within the fundamentalist movement -- not things that are inherent to the concept of Biblical fundamentalism, as he implies in footnote no. 5. They are also certainly not inherent to dispensationalism. Kroll is one living example of the idea that it is possible to "have both" the Bible and history (scholarship). There are many others as well, including some of my own professors.

Church Ministries Representative, serving in the Midwest, for The Friends of Israel Gospel Ministry 

Rob Fall's picture

Todd Wood wrote:
I agree with your comment #13. And I agree with your disagreement over the "prescribed methods" mentioned in #22. But I want to know why Fundamentalists don't write more, talk more, sing more, preach more about the mutual indwelling of the Father and the Son and secondly our being partakers of the divine nature. I would love to know all the angles on how the early church and patristic fathers discussed these two heart issues.

I never hardly thought about this through my growing up in fundamentalism and even through seminary, but now the fundamentals swirling around the Trinitarian God and oneness with Him are everything to me.

Absolutely, my life and breath.

Have you checked out some of the older (say pre-Cosby/Sankey) hymns and songs? As to your other comments, I would hazard what you describe sounds a bit like the Keswick experience.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Ed Vasicek's picture

I liked the first article better. I think the strength of Fundamentalism is the emphasis upon returning to the Scriptures (both Testaments) rather than weighting tradition. As explained in my article on Sola Scriptura, we certainly can examine and find help in other authorities beside Scripture, but Scripture is the final authority.

But I have a real hard time with the logic that says, for example, second and third century church leaders somehow were better Biblicists than us. I believe the groping began as soon as the apostles were off the scene and the church was no longer led by Christians from a Jewish background. Antiquity does not imply superiority.

The creeds really are mixed. Bauder's note about [one ] "baptism for the remission of sins" is unsatisfying. This was clearly a partial quotation from Acts 2:38, and misleading ripped out of its context. Peter did not mean that our sins are forgiven simply by baptism, and nowhere is the word "one" used in Acts 2:38. The decision we must make is this: "Was the church already off regarding the basic doctrine of salvation at the time of the Nicene Creed?" I say "YES!"

The study of church history and the history of doctrine is important. Whereas we must not weigh too heavily the thinking of early church leaders, we do need to examine it. In some instances, they accurately tackled some awesome doctrines (the Trinity, the hypostatic union), but we appreciate their work because we can demonstrate that their conclusions summarize the sum total of the Scriptural teaching on those subjects. But, once they move beyond such clearly Scripturally demonstrable conclusions, we must treat them as we would modern theologians -- mixed bags.

I am not saying that today's Christian minds would necessarily do better in those contexts with those backgrounds. But I am saying that I don't think they would do any worse, either. It is fair to say that they were dedicated to the point of death, but persecution also makes for weird viewpoints.

I do think it has been a strength of fundamentalism to put the emphasis upon the Scriptures and obtaining their original first-century meaning. This makes fundamentalism MORE than a preservation movement, but also a renewal movement. To be ignorant of church history and the major doctrinal disputes and differences between the various forms of Christianity, however, is a bad deal.

We also must address the crossroads issue: do we believe that those who embrace salvation by sacraments are really saved? If not, then they do not have the Spirit of God within them. And thus we are seeking the counsel of perhaps not the ungodly, but at least the unregenerate. I am not saying that all the church fathers were lost; but we have not adequately addressed this issue: if we say that in 2009, a traditional catholic (and I know there are many evangelical catholics are our day, a new phenomenon) who is trusting in baptism, confession, the grace conferred by communion, prayers to the saints, etc., is lost, then why does this not apply to the past?

"The Midrash Detective"

Todd Wood's picture

Ed, continually I and others have been hit with the label that we are "creedal Christians". Which in reaction, it causes fundamentalists and evangelicals to throw off the creeds. "No, we just follow our Bibles!" We are immersed in the aggressive propoganda that complete apostasy occurred right after the apostles, to make it appear that everything Nicene and pre-Nicene is corrupt or of little value. Which is not true, even as you have stated.

Truly, brother, the scriptures are our only safe ground and sure authority. I would not in any way want to diminish that solid fundamental. The searching and studying of Scriptures is the vital spiritual discipline for restoration and renewal. Each week that I am studying a book of the Bible, I am learning new out of the old. Biblical theology is fresh, exciting, and full of adventure. In the Johannine literature, I am immersed in the Trinitiarian dance of the three-personed God and our theosis, and I am blown away. I am continually renewed in the examination of each sentence given by our Lord Jesus Christ in his farewell discourse. I desperately hang on on each one of his words.

But meanwhile, religious scholarship in America, is completely reinterpreting and refashioning our precious early Christian history, from Athanasius to Polycarp, etc., and then going right into all kinds of accusations concerning the historical documents of the N.T. It makes me mad. Paganism is mounting and very ravenous to take away my/your/our heritage. So this is where I have found historical theology a helpful, apologetics tool for my own strengthening edification and others. And I wish I had more access to specialized fundamentalist scholarship in these areas.

Todd Wood's picture

The Tradition of the Christian faith is under seige in the Western hemisphere. But perhaps, as we are being stripped of our past, we will in the future as a holy remnant, with our Bible in our hands and hearts, pioneer afresh the historic Faith.

Rob Fall's picture

Another problem in dealing with the Church Fathers is the lack of enough Latin and Greek among today's readers for them to critically read the CFs.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

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