Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"In Praise of Fundamentalism" by Angus Mathie

The following post was written by my dad, Angus Mathie, in response to the Seth Godin quote I referred to a few days ago...
In Praise of Fundamentalism.

I write this piece with a very clear desire not to offend anyone intentionally and with, I believe, a reasonable understanding of the background to the Author’s point of view. I do not take pleasure at all in acts, behaviours and opinions past and present which, in my opinion, bring grave discredit to the Name of Christ. Although in recent days more attention has been focused on the “religious right” in the USA, I am also aware of the imperfect past of religion in Europe. Also, the term fundamentalist is used in print and broadcast media in a pejorative and highly inaccurate way because we think in boxes and it has conveniently been linked with militancy.

My basic concern is that words become distorted in meaning through inaccurate use. Also, we are using terms for each other as Christians, which mirrors the world’s use of words to club each other, especially if we differ. I am not being pedantic but making a plea that we not only realize the true meaning of words that we use but also as part of our general desire to listen and learn, we accurately dissect and critically examine what is being said and done in the Name of Christ. Deal with the issue yet love the individual.

Let me throw some definitions at you to help you to see what I am saying. Each one is from The Collins English Dictionary, Sixth Edition 2003, ISBN 0-00-710982-2:

Fundamentalism: Noun.
1: Christianity (esp. among certain Protestant sects) the belief that every word of the Bible is divinely inspired and therefore true.
3. Strict adherence to the fundamental principles of any set of beliefs. Fundamentalist – Noun, adjective. [p658]

Evangelical: Christianity. Adjective.
1. of, based upon, or following from the Gospels.
2. denoting or relating to any of certain Protestant sects or parties, which emphasize the importance of personal conversion and faith in atonement through the death of Christ as a means of salvation.
4. an upholder of evangelical doctrines or a member of an evangelical sect or party … [p567].

In closing let me make a few statements, which deal with the above and also some misuses of the terms:
  • Since the age of 15, I have considered myself an evangelical fundamentalist Christian in accord with the definitions above. I would rather give my life than renounce any part.
  • I believe that, All Scripture is inspired (God-breathed) and is profitable .. [2 Timothy 3: 16]
  • In accordance with Holy Spirit provision I am a Gospel Preacher and Bible Teacher. I strive constantly and diligently to discover and present accurately the Word of God.
  • Although an old fogey, I read widely and listen carefully to people of varied backgrounds and points of view.
  • I have no desire in any way to harm another.
Even in Churches similar to the one I belong to, I recognize vastly differing points of view. I am used to descriptions of one wing as strict or conservative and the other as open or liberal. I try to learn from all though I may not agree with what is done or said. My only plea is that when I am marched off to the gallows as an evangelical fundamentalist Christian my fellow believers do not assist in the process.
I thank my dad for taking the time to respond in this way and welcome his contribution.

I think we need to be very careful with the use of words and I will try to adhere to a more accurate use of terms.

Let me throw in some points here...

Firstly, I have benefitted from an unbringing in the independent evangelical church tradition... and now worship within the Salvation Army tradition. To this end I do consider myself to be an evangelical too.

I do not consider myself to be an Evangelical Christian (capital "E") because that has cultural rammifications and symbolism that I do not identify with nor aspire to. I believe, according to my reading of Ephesians 4 that the church should be apostolic, prophetic, evangelical, pastoral and based on sound teaching. I see the captial "E" Evangelical church as focussing on the evangelical, pastoral and teaching to the detriment of the apostolic and prophetic. This is why I would consider myself to be post-Evangelical too... because I see the need to move beyond the boundaries that the captial "E" Evangelical church has defined.

Secondly, I have always believed that "if you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything" - this is important to me as a holistic person... not just with regards to my faith. We all have things that we consider to be fundamentals. Its not wrong to hold these as true... as long as we are prepared to look to the new and challenge them. Paul speaks of testing the spirits. Curious people need to test the spirits to ensure they are of God and of benefit before accepting them. This is the essence of wisdom.

Fundamentalism is wrong when it is closed... where no discussion is held... when no more thought is given to the subject. Fundamentalism is right when we stick to our guns once we have effectively challenged the "new thing" and found it either wanting or altered our perspective because we have found the "new thing" to be of value. I will not accept everything blindly. I will test it... chew it over... meditate on it and I will grow as a result of this.

I believe there is a difference between fundamentalism (small "f") and capital "F" Fundamentalism - the former being a fancy word for "standing for something" and the latter being an imperialistic cultural and political movement in line with Capital "E" Evangelicalism... that seeks to define what should and shouldn't be believed. I have no issue with the former - I have things that I will stand for - but have major problems with the latter.

Lastly... I got considerable benefit from Brian McLaren's great book - a generous orthodoxy - where he unpacks all the wonderous uniqueness and value of the whole Christian church... I think the Body of Christ, as a whole, has tremendous vitality and each "body part" has unique things to offer - a hand for action or a foot for travel, for example.

However, I do not think any one part of this Body has the right to speak for the body or consider itself more important than the remaining body parts. I think for too long one body part has sought to define the body in an exclusive, fixed and rigid manner - capital "FE's" Fundamentalist Evangelicals - and I think there is a backlash against this arrogance.

So when I speak in terms of fundamentalists or Evangelicals in a negative way... its the capital FE's that I am referring to. However, I do believe the body of Christ needs all aspects of the body... including the capital FE's.

I also do not wish to have the arrogance to tar everyone with the same brush... people are different. Just as we need to watch our phraseology... we need to be careful not to fall into the same trap as the people we are being critical of.

I welcome my dad's contribution for putting an alternative slant on this and challenging me on the use of terminology. He has made me think... and I welcome the discussion.


Existential Punk said...

Thanks Angus, for your reminders and thoughts! Much appreciated.

i am more along the lines of Thomas's thoughts on Evangelical vs. evangelical. It's the people who are so closed-minded that they say, "G-D said it, so that settles it" that concerns me. So much of our interpretations of Scripture are subjective and human.

Again, Angus, thanks!

Warm Regards,


Angus Mathie said...

Dear EP, I know what you mean.

I think we need to concentrate on what helps us in God's Word. There is so much to build us up and encourage us in a spirit of mutual love and support. I share your concern over dogmatic statements creating division.

Best Wishes my friend.

Johnny said...

I've just been visiting The Salvation Army in Canada's new site.

Interesting that the "E"-word is not included in their mision & values page.

The Canadian page says "The Salvation Army is an international Christian church. Its message is based on the Bible; its ministry is motivated by love for God and the needs of humanity"

The international page says "The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an EVANGELICAL (caps added by me) part of the universal Christian Church.

Its message is based on the Bible. Its ministry is motivated by the love of God. Its mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination."

I may be reading too much into this subtle difference, but it's interesting all the same.

Glad to have read your thoughts, Angus.


Angus Mathie said...


I think that is a wonderful statement and gives me a new motto. If you don't mind I can express it this way: "(My) message is based on the Bible. (My) ministry is motivated by the love of God. (My) mission is to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and to meet human needs in His name without discrimination."

My hope and prayer is that with God's energy I will live up to that, especially the last sentence. If you find the answer about the use of the E- word, perhaps you can let us know.

Thank you my friend, Angus.


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