Fundamentalist Suspicion about Others


They say things come in threes—I’m not sure who the they is or sure that they have any idea what they are talking about—and the word “fundamentalist” has popped up in three recent blog posts that caught my attention. Two of them evidenced the kind of passing negative shot toward fundamentalism that seems very common, and one went so far as to identify me as a fundamentalist who, in spite of that fact, still says some good things.

The one that I’d like to bring to your attention is the passing shot that Carl Trueman fired. The shot was aimed at Franky Shaeffer and the bullet was to associate his disposition with fundamentalism. Here’s the comment:

Schaeffer may pride himself on having escaped from fundamentalism but it would appear that he has only escaped its doctrinal content; the form is still there: he still thinks those with whom he disagrees must be either wicked, weak-minded or in willful denial.

Now, it probably doesn’t come as a surprise that comments like this bother me. The obvious reason is that they trade on a stereotype from which I would like to distance myself. Although Trueman would put me in the fundamentalist category (in contrast to those who would like to exclude me from it), I would like to think that I don’t think those with whom I disagree are necessarily “wicked, weak-minded or in willful denial.” Some of the people with whom I disagree are like this, but not all. Maybe that makes me a quasi-fundamentalist.

The less obvious reason that Trueman’s comment bugs me is that, like many stereotypes, has some elements of truth to it. I’ve seen and encountered this disposition that he harpoons. In fact, I’d probably add another nuance to his statement to make it “wicked, weak-minded, in willful denial or not walking in the Spirit.” For some, it’s not just a matter of defect in your opponent’s views, but of superior spiritual sensitivity in your own thinking. I remember reading one Caiaphas-like statement from one pastor blogger that captures the mindset: “Generally, those who are trying to walk with the Lord accept my thinking, and those who are not, don’t.”

Of course, the reality is that this is not really a fundamentalist mindset—it appears almost daily within political discourse and nonstop on talk radio. Human arrogance is the root of such unreasonableness. Recognizing that keeps us from abandoning the idea that there are fundamentals which cannot be allowed to die as if they are mere disagreements about interpretation. It also should drive us to make sure our dogmatism is based on the importance and clarity of those fundamentals rather than certainty about our own superiority.

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