Fundamentalism: Fundamentally Unbiblical

The title of this post says it all: Fundamentalism is fundamentally unbiblical.

Now, before you ask, I obviously don’t mean that Christian fundamentalists do not quote the Bible in support of their views, beliefs and practices. They do. Of course, they consistently condemn others for “picking and choosing” and yet that is what they themselves are doing, but that’s not the subject of today’s post. Just about anyone who wishes to can be “biblical” in the sense of finding verses that support their views, and hoping no one notices the ones they aren’t quoting. (In fact, fundamentalists have found a solution to this problem. They call it “interpreting Scripture by Scripture. It means that if the Bible says something you agree with, you can dismiss any places that seem to disagree with those verses you like, since they can’t possibly mean what they seem to mean, since Scripture cannot contradict Scripture. Oh, my…)

I’m not even accusing them of being unbiblical in the sense that they are at odds with parts of the Bible. They are. But parts of the Bible itself are at odds with parts of the Bible, and some of what I think certainly is too, and it would be hypocritical to criticize them for being unbiblical in this sense.
So in what way is Christian fundamentalism fundamentally unbiblical? In short, they deny that the Bible is what it is. To claim that the Bible is simple when it is complex, to claim that it is clear when it is not, to claim that it is uniform when it is diverse, to claim that it is monolithic when it is pluriform, to claim that it is flawless when it is characterized throughout by the limitations and failings of its human authors – what could possibly be more unbiblical than this?

Elsewhere around the blogosphere, Faithful Progressive points out the irony that right-wing “Christians” show through their attitudes that they accept scientifically-dubious social and economic Darwinism, while fighting against the scientifically sound theory of evolution. The World’s Fair shares links to podcasts about Darwin and creationism. John Wilkins and Olivia Judson agree on getting rid of Darwinism. Iyov highlights the Green Bible. And there are a couple of interesting new blogs worth noting: Crowded Handbasket is for those of us who are officially unorthodox, while Theological Scribbles addresses everything from hamburgers to 1 Enoch from a Charismatic perspective.
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  • Anonymous

    If one reads the Pentateuch, it has all the appearances of being written by someone centuries after Moses. That is not to say that Moses could not have written it that way. He could have the gift of prophecy to know that there would be kings of Israel, to take one example. But when the Pentateuch speaks of kings of Israel, it speaks of them as if the readers know about there being kings. It seems clear that the author wrote with the appearance of it being written after the time of Saul. It is therefore unfaithful to the intent of the author to say that it was written at some earlier time. This reminds me of the “omphalos” interpretation of the evidence for the age of the earth. The “intelligent designer” could have made the earth to have the appearance of great age, even though it is “actually” young. The author of the Pentateuch could have written it to have the appearance of having been written after Saul, even though it was “actually” written hundreds of years earlier.Tom S.

  • BSM

    If that’s true how could have Moses written of his own death?Deuteronomy 34: “So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD.”I vote someone other than Moses, many years later. ~BCP

  • Anonymous

    I have heard that there is one interpretation of the last chapter of Deuteronomy which says that Moses had a revelation of his own death, and wrote the chapter with that knowledge.It is impossible to refute an “omphalos” hypothesis.Although I understand that a great many of those who hold to a Mosaic authorship for the Pentateuch will make an exception for the last chapter of Deuteronomy, and say that Moses’ secretary (often identified with Joshua) completed the work. To me, this seems like a “slippery slope”: If we can use reason to infer something about this passage, why not for the whole Pentateuch?Tom S.

  • James F. McGrath

    It can boggle the mind just how odd the “Moses wrote the Pentateuch” line of reasoning is. First, it has Moses write a prophecy about himself (allegedly extremely humble) that says “never since has a prophet arisen like Moses”! If one introduces editorial work, then as Tom pointed out, this means that the possibility is admitted that those “nasty liberals” are right to talk about sources and redaction.The biggest irony, though, is that fundamentalist Protestants defend Mosaic authorship even though there is no claim to it in the text itself (it refers to Moses writing, and thus as author, but does so in the third person, suggesting that someone else at least put the “finishing touches” on it). Fundamentalist Protestants defending church tradition – how ironic! :)

  • BSM

    James -Yes I did a Google search on this one and am surprised to find so many apologetic defenses of this. I put this one to bed in the early 90s after I read Friedman's "Who Wrote the Bible?"Correct me if anything has changed but I was under the impression that most biblical scholars think the first five books are thought to be the work of four anonymous authors. The books are abbreviated as J, E, D & P – with R (the redactor) collating the previous. There's a relatively neutral rundown HERE.~BCP

  • Luke

    this is wonderfully worded post! you have a new reader to your blog! i’ll be quoting this post in my 8-21 post, so please check my blog then!

  • James F. McGrath

    Welcome, Luke! I’ll keep an eye on your blog!

  • Stephen Barkley

    Thanks for the thoughtful post. I got here via Scot McKnight’s Weekly Meanderings post.I first began to comprehend the range of diversity within scripture when I read Ezra 10 alongside Ruth. Are the Moabites good or bad?I understand the different contexts, but I’m also pretty sure religious folk in the Maccabean era would be pitting one against the other.Could it be that God is glorified in diversity? Maybe any one person’s opinion is too limited to express him.

  • James F. McGrath

    I’m actually going to be starting a series in my Sunday School class on Christians’ disagreements and the ways in which it is a positive thing…

  • James F. McGrath

    I’ve posted a follow up, responding to a question asked in a discussion of this post on another blog.