Fundamentalists Are Too Modern

The great irony of fundamentalism is its delusional belief it is something that conserves or protects the “old” ways or hearkens back to the early church (or some pristine time after the Reformation).  Nothing could be further from the truth.  But this is why part of the DNA of fundamentalism is a nostalgia for what they believe were once the, “good old days” or the way we “used” to worship, preach, and believe the Bible.

And of course, this spills over into many other areas of life.  One reason I believe so many fundamentalists and evangelicals (81% of white evangelicals to be exact, many of whom I suspect were probably more fundamentalist than evangelical) voted for Donald Trump is they were immediately drawn to a slogan like “Make America Great Again.”  On a very deep level they identified with this idea that if we could only go back to those “fundamental” ideas and beliefs, the way things “use to be,” God would smile on us again and all would be well in the world (or at least our white, middle-class, American, male, western world—the only world that matters, right?).

Fundamentalism, however, is not truly an attempt to reach back, or hold on to something given but lost now, it is a product of modernity and very, very modern (‘modernity’ and ‘modern’ are two different things, one being conceptual and the other being chronologically descriptive—but related for obvious reasons).  In academia, in both religious and secular institutions this is rather well known.  Even in many evangelical academic institutions and seminaries, this is well known.  I’m not asserting anything novel here.  However, outside academia, many evangelicals and fundamentalists in the pew, or lay-people, have no idea how much the ways they view the Bible, theology, hermeneutics, and many other areas has been informed by modernity instead of the other way around—nor are some aware their beliefs are relatively recent and never espoused by the early church such as a belief in a “rapture.”

The early Church was oriented toward and defined by mysticism, metaphor, analogy, allegory, and the poetic.  Or, mostly the opposite of a modern orientation or one defined by the ethos of modernity, which is oriented toward mapping (science), control, and so-called “objective” facts.

Again, fundamentalism (and much of evangelicalism) is too modern .

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3 thoughts on “Fundamentalists Are Too Modern

  1. This reminds me of when a seminary professor wondered aloud why his millennial daughter, who grew up under his evangelical teaching, craved liturgy and insisted on getting married in a big church with stained-glass windows. She rejected the fundamentalist “reaching back” in order to reach even farther back. Personally, I’ve found it helpful to try to maintain a tension between new ideas and modern applications of old ideas.

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  2. Love this, my only complaint is that it was too short – would love to read more. As a Catholic working in an evangelical institution, I can see this very clearly, but I’d love to know more about what underpins it, aside from what looks like a need for certainty, being told what to do, and a real discomfort with complexity.

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