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:
- ‘We teach the Bible, while other churches just teach the traditions of men.’
- ‘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.