Friday, November 12, 2010

If It Looks Like Fundamentalism to You, It Might Be a Sign You've Drifted a Little

David Fitch has a post entitled "Is the New Calvinism a New Fundamentalism?" in which he defines fundamentalism in a quirky manner.

He offers no doctrinal definition and no historical definition. So it is not a matter of defending the fundamentals of the faith - virgin birth, bodily resurrection etc. - and it is detached from the historical context of the defection of the majority of 19th century North American Protestantism from the orthodox Christian faith and the resistance by conservatives like J. G. Machen or J. I. Packer to this trend. Instead, Fitch offers a completely relativistic definition as follows:

a.) Insularity. There’s a mentality of insiders over against those who don’t believe.

b.)Distrust towards culture as a place where God is at work.

c.) An “us against them” mentality. Because of the previous two characteristics, fundamentalists typically reject open dialogue. Engagement with culture takes the shape of winning arguments and confrontation. As the insularity builds, there is less and less wiggle room to associate with other Christians who disagree. As a result, a certain form of arrogance tends to infect fundamentalism.

These are the marks of classic fundamentalism.
Notice that this definition is worded in such a way that it can mean one thing in 1920, something else in 1950 and something radically different in 2010. It all depends on where the culture is at a given moment. Is it the year 250 AD? Then basically the whole Christian Church is fundamentalist. Is it 313 AD? The number of fundamentalists has shrunk to a few monks in the Egyptian desert. What changed? The culture or the Church?

Fitch then deploys this relativistic definition to complain that the New Calvinism is less accommodated to the culture than is his sort-of-but-not-quite emergent church position. I guess the only response I have to this assertion is to say "So what?" Who defined the center as where David Fitch happens to stand on November 12, 2010? If the New Calvinism is more hostile to contemporary Western culture than the Emergent Church is, who really cares? Of course it is. So is the Pope. What is this but a simple case of solemnly proclaiming oneself to be "more culturally relevant than thou?"

The point of employing such a loaded and pejorative term, (which the New Calvinists would not apply to themselves without qualifications and careful definition) is mainly rhetorical rather than substantive. Whoever has the weakest case theologically and biblically is always tempted to dismiss the opposition with labels and this is a sign of weakness.

Of course, there is a place for labels as a kind of shorthand as long as we know what they signify in a given context and as long as people are willing to define them. But in this case, the definition is so vague and relativistic that it turns the label into a nearly meaningless emoticon. It just means something like "out of step with whatever I think are the centrally important trends of our day."

So what it comes down to is that the New Calvinism does not genuflect before the altar of the "Church of What's Happening Now." Again, I ask, so what?

1 comment:

Peter W. Dunn said...

The definition of "orthodoxy" and "heterodoxy" is: Orthodoxy is my doxy; heterodoxy is your doxy. The definition of "fundamentalist"? Anyone whom I find disagreeable who is more rigid than me or who is to my right.