What Can We Learn from Christian Fundamentalists? Mark Noll Responds

Editor’s Note: 9Marks Ministries recently dedicated their recent eJournal issue to discussing Fundamentalism. SharperIron has received permission from them to reprint the articles here for discussion. We will post ten articles over the next two weeks. If you would like the complete eJournal or would like to subscribe to further editions, please go to www.9marks.org.

Mark Noll

nollChristian believers of all types might learn much, both positively and negatively, from the history of Fundamentalism. Negatively, the most important lesson is to avoid the frequent fundamentalist mistake of treating some other practice, belief, habit, or even concept of doctrine as more important than living by God’s free grace in Jesus Christ. But there are also other negative lessons to learn:

  • not to misread the Scriptures with a naively literalistic hermeneutic (e.g., creation science, premillennial dispensationalism);
  • not to be smarter than the Scriptures on behavioral rules (e.g., prohibition);
  • not to ignore tradition and the communion of saints in time (the past) and space (other believers);
  • not to neglect the sacraments; and
  • not to marry Christianity to the American flag.

But there is also much to learn positively, especially the shining Fundamentalist emphasis on Scripture as much more than any other human book. And there are also other positive lessons:

  • to insist on the importance of the substitutionary atonement;
  • to preach so as to be understood by all sorts of people;
  • to perceive that God is the creator of all things and that the supernatural is more real than the natural;
  • to understand the force of good hymns (e.g., “Rescue the Perishing,” “Great is Thy Faithfulness”);
  • to remember the reality of heaven and hell; and
  • to evangelize.

Mark Noll is the Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History at the University of Notre Dame and a co-editor of the recently re-released Religion and American Politics: From the Colonial Period to the Present (Oxford).

March/April 2008, ©9Marks

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