Friday, July 29, 2005

Words Mean Things

The ability to leave readers with the impression that you have just said something important, even if they don't know what you meant, sometimes seems to pass for a good argument. An example of such argumentation is available at Reformation 21, the new blog for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals.

I suspect that this blog will provide plenty of great insight into the Scriptures. I'm confident that it will stake out a strong stand on some crucial issues. Expect it to be the kind of quality group effort that could put us amateur bloggers out of business. I'm predisposed to anticipate good things because the Alliance Council is as theologically solid an interdenominational fellowship as we are likely to find in this 21st century.

Unfortunately, Carl Trueman's article, "Is Fundamentalism the New Sex?" misses the mark. Some might prate (and they'd be right) about his proclamation that Led Zeppelin is at the pinnacle of Western music or the weakness of his central analogy. After all, sex to the Victorians may have been an obsession and a taboo, but at least they knew something about it; the same cannot be said of the media in relationship to modern fundamentalisms [plural intended].

Trueman's main point is that Christian fundamentalism (as he defines it) focuses too much either on the ancient past or the immediate present. Fundamentalists interpret the Bible with no respect for the "context of the marriage union of Christ and the church"—in other words, fundamentalists ignored what Christians have believed throughout church history.

My arguments with Trueman are two. First, he doesn't hold himself to his own standard. Consider his definition of Christian fundamentalism as "that attitude of mind which believes that the Bible must always be interpreted with no reference whatsoever to what the church throughout the centuries has considered it to teach." Perhaps I'm ignorant (I've been called worse), but where did that definition come from? To my knowledge it is wholly without historical reference, which is ironic in an article that is about respecting history. Trueman is right to identify and repudiate a defective understanding of Scripture, but to strictly identify this defect with Christian fundamentalism is a reach. It cultivates an imprecision that weakens his argument for the sake of a convenient albeit picturesque analogy.

Trueman's second imprecision is that he insufficiently defines his target. Who are these people who cavalierly spurn historical theology? He says,
[Fundamentalists] take it as basic that they should from the outset exalt themselves, their own moment in history, and their own radically limited horizons, to the status of ultimate criteria in interpretation and theological formulation.
I can't imagine that he is referring to all who resist denominationalism and believe in the autonomy of the local church. But if Baptists are not the targets, who are they? Maybe he is propagating the stereotype of Southern redneck Christians. If they're in his crosshairs, though, good luck getting the dart to stick. I suspect they might not be reading Reformation 21. Regardless, there is more to Christian fundamentalism than wielders of 20–pound King James Bibles. Our definitions ought to intersect with reality.


Unk said...

"Our definitions ought to intersect with reality."

An admirable way of saying 'whatever'

"Expect it to be the kind of quality group effort that could put us amateur bloggers out of business."

That's the thing about blogs though. The more official it seems, the less it seems like a blog, because it lacks personality. Perhaps I'm wrong on this, I know good multiple blogs. But I go back usually for a certain person.

Michael C said...

That is disappointing. I would expect better from the Alliance. That blog hasn't been around long enough for Trueman to have run out of serious things to write on.

Ben said...

My apologies for misspelling the author's name. It's corrected now.

unk, you're probably right about the uniqueness, at least of many blogs. Yours, for instance, has a consistent and unique voice that stands out and keeps people coming back (I suspect), even if others don't "get it."

michael c,

I think you summarize the real point. Trueman's observations are interesting and not altogether off-target, but quite tangential for the e-zine's charter issue—even apart from the odd definition.