What Can We Learn from Christian Fundamentalists? Paige Patterson 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.

Paige Patterson

PattersonThe name “Fundamentalist” essentially came out of controversies that erupted across America in the face of the ascendency of the historical-critical method in theological studies and the theory of evolution in the sciences. Fundamentalists themselves come from various denominations with different levels of educational achievement and with a variety of spirits and attitudes. There are things to be learned from Fundamentalists—both positively and negatively.

Negatively, a believer always loses the high ground in a discussion when his spirit appears vindictive even if his thesis happens to be correct. Second, untested hypotheses may prove ultimately to be correct, but their resiliency is in question until faced with a fair and honest evaluation. Finally, from the failure of some fundamentalists, Christians should learn that at best we know very little. As a result, a profound humility is always in order. Not all Fundamentalists were guilty of violating these perspectives, but violation has been common enough that there is some truth in the accusations.

Positively, however, Fundamentalists were right first about the fact that in any enterprise there are always “fundamentals” that are foundational to meaning and success. Football coaches frequently are heard to say “we have to get back to the fundamentals.” In so doing, they are simply recognizing that the team blocking, tackling, and running best will probably win. The same is true in theology. Second, verbal abuse and ridicule not withstanding, the Fundamentalists remained faithful to their convictions. This resolution of mind and heart is worthy of imitation. Finally, Fundamentalists were crystal clear about epistemology. This is to say that unless God had spoken a sure and certain word, in the end it is impossible to have any clear knowledge of the spiritual world.

Paige Patterson is the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and, most recently, a contributor to Daniel Akin’s A Theology for the Church (B&H).

March/April 2008, ©9Marks

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