Church Planting, Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Preaching

Why It’s Difficult to Leave Fundamentalism (Part 3 of 3)

Bible and Science

In my two previous posts, I wrote:

“In my experience, fundamentalist churches have two central claims that make it difficult for their members (or ex-members) to consider any view of the Christian faith other than fundamentalism:

  1. ‘We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men.’
  2. ‘The Bible is clear on every subject it addresses, so our church has the one correct teaching.'”

Regarding the second point, “The Bible is clear on every subject it addresses, so our church has the one correct teaching,” an enormous amount of ink has been spilled on the subject. I can’t reproduce hundreds of years of debate here.

Even a casual reading of the Bible raises questions that challenge the claim that the Bible is clear on every subject it addresses.

For example, regarding the role of women in church leadership, the New Testament contains what appear to be two different views in one letter, alone. In 1 Corinthians 11v1-16, women or wives, depending on the translation, are permitted to teach in church as long as they wear a head covering(!). Then in 1 Corinthians 14v34-35, women, or wives, are not permitted to speak at all in church gatherings but are told to submit and learn from their husbands at home.

1 Timothy 2v11-14 repeats the 1 Corinthians 14 prohibition using similar, if not formulaic, language and then explains that a women’s silence is necessary because Adam was formed before Eve and that Eve was deceived by the serpent(!).

So which is it? Can women speak in church or not? One letter within the New Testament seems to assert two different views.

Fundamentalist churches do not tolerate tension and resolve this tension by picking one view and attempting to harmonize their chosen view with the others.

I have read numerous fundamentalist authors who engage in intellectual acrobatics attempting to convince readers that their view is consistent. I have yet to encounter an argument that I find convincing.

What is the Bible?

The Christian Bible is a collection of 66 books (Protestant) or 73 books (Roman Catholic). While views on which books are included and even the dating of biblical books differ, the biblical books were written over a period of perhaps 1,100 years. They were penned by authors influenced by various cultures, religious concepts, scientific views and their own personalities and perceptions.

While admitting that humans held the quill pens and wrote on the scrolls, fundamentalists ignore these human realities and claim that, essentially, God wrote the Bible. Those hostile to Christianity expose the obvious shortcomings of the fundamentalist view, generalize the view as being held by all Christians and then dispose of all religion.

Of course, no reasonable person would expect the various books of the Bible written over a large time period by different authors and different cultures to agree on every subject. Even if God somehow influenced the writing of the Scriptures (as I, personally, choose to accept by faith), this does not necessarily eliminate disagreement among human authors.

(I gave a sermon recently entitled, “What Is the Bible, and How Do We Interpret It?” in which I go into further detail about the implications of this for Christians who love the Bible and take it seriously.) 

For fundamentalists, believing that God is the authority is not enough. They must have an objective, (and handy) source of “absolute truth” in order to combat what they perceive as theological liberalism. Their weapon of choice is the Bible, but the Bible is a difficult weapon to manipulate when others can read it as well.

Once thinking people influenced by fundamentalism realize that the Bible is rich, complex and contains diverse ideas (even while continuing to take the Bible seriously), they have taken another large step toward leaving fundamentalism.

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Church Planting, Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Preaching

Why It’s Difficult to Leave Fundamentalism (Part 2 of 3)

Bible and Science

In my previous post, I wrote that fundamentalist churches have two central claims that make it difficult for their members (or ex-members) to consider any view of the Christian faith other than fundamentalism:

  1. “We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men.”
  2. “The Bible is clear on every subject it addresses, so our pastor/church has the one correct teaching.”

First, “We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men” is a typical refrain in fundamentalist churches. Fundamentalism exists to combat what fundamentalists perceive as liberalism. In order to combat what is perceived as liberal theology, fundamentalists must find an objective standard of “absolute truth” that can withstand the perceived assault of human reason that fundamentalists believe leads down the “slippery slope” to liberalism.

For fundamentalists, the Bible is the only suitable objective standard of absolute truth. Being Protestant, the fundamentalist tradition rejected the authority of the Pope in the Reformation. By nature, fundamentalism rejects human reason as a source of truth. Therefore the Bible serves as the only suitable standard of authority by which to judge all other truth claims.

(By the way, for Christians, God is the authority. Whatever authority the Bible has comes vicariously from 1) God’s authority and 2) the extent to which the Bible accurately reveals God.)

So, fundamentalists believe that they teach unfiltered, absolute truth directly from the Bible, while it is obvious to them that all other supposed Christians have distorted the message of the Bible with the “traditions of men.”

Fundamentalists do not see that they have a church tradition, just as every other church springs from a tradition. In fact, the claim to teach directly from the Bible comes from the fundamentalist tradition of rejecting philosophy and science and claiming to teach directly from the Bible.:)

Like all of us, fundamentalists filter the Bible through their own system. Fundamentalist pastors do not have a direct hotline to absolute truth any more than any other human being. The only difference is, fundamentalist pastors believe that they do.

In answer to the claim, “We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men:”

  • Fundamentalism is a tradition just like any other church tradition.
  • Fundamentalist pastors view the Bible through a lens of their own imperfect human perception just like every other pastor does. (Even if the Bible is or contains absolute truth, the pastor interprets it imperfectly like everyone else.)

Once thinking people influenced by fundamentalism experience these realizations, they have already taken a large step toward leaving fundamentalism.

I’ll post part 3 in the few days…

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Church Planting, Leadership, One Church, Pastors, Preaching

Why It’s Difficult to Leave Fundamentalism (Part 1 of 3)

Bible and Science

Since moving to Phoenix to plant One Church, I’ve been exposed to more conservative evangelical megachurch theology than I have been in other locations. One of the many influences on conservative evangelical megachurch theology is the fundamentalist tradition.

I’ve met quite a few thoughtful Christians of all ages who are searching for a church different from the one they grew up in. Some of them either grew up in a fundamentalist tradition or arrived in a fundamentalist church as an adult.

For some, Christ first became real to them as an adult in a fundamentalist church, which makes it more difficult for them to consider that their fundamentalist pastor may not have been accurate in all of his claims.

Of course, it is probably the social pressure found in fundamentalism that creates the most difficulty for persons questioning fundamentalist teachings. If they question or leave, they will be ostracized by their friends and mentors and viewed with suspicion, or worse yet… as a liberal.:)

In my experience, fundamentalist churches have two central claims that make it difficult for their members (or even ex-members) to consider any view of the Christian faith other than fundamentalism:

  1. “We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men.”
  2. “The Bible is clear on every subject it addresses, so our church has the one correct teaching.”

I’ll post more in the next few days…

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Church Planting, My Sermons, One Church, Preaching, Sermons and Sermon Series Ideas

?S: Questions and Doubts About Faith Results

?S Graphic 960

Our second sermon series after launching weekly worship at One Church was entitled ?S: Questions and Doubts About Faith. You can listen to the sermon series here.

On our first two Sundays, I collected questions from the congregation with the instructions, “If you could ask God one question, what would it be?”

Then every week I gave a sermon addressing one of the top five most asked questions. The sermon titles were:

  • What is the Bible and How Do I Interpret It?
  • How Can I Believe that God Exists, and How Does God’s Existence Affect My Life?
  • Can Those Who Have Never Heard the Name of Jesus or Those of Other Religions or No Religion Be Saved?
  • What Does the Bible Really Teach about Heaven and Hell?
  • Why Does God Allow Suffering, Especially the Suffering of Children?

During the course of the series, we lost approximately ten attendees (under 10% of our congregation). We gained, however, enough new attendees during the series that One Church has grown slightly.

Therefore, every attendee we lost was replaced by someone new.

Incidentally, we have lost approximately eight attendees simply because one of our One Groups (small groups) is studying a book authored by Rob Bell.

I learned not to fear addressing controversial topics. Some people will leave because a certain book was not banned from the church.

However, for every person who leaves, someone else looking for a church that is a safe place to express their questions and doubts will arrive and stay.

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