April 28, 2004

The Fundamentals and the Fundamentalists

OK, I'm going to dive into this one head first. There are a LOT of people who have no idea what it means to be an historic fundamentalist -- including a lot of fundamentalists. What passes for fundamentalism these days often has more in common with Pharisaical legalism than it does with orthodox Christianity. And the things that many conservative evangelicals believe are, in fact, the fundamentals of the faith.

So what ARE the fundamentals, anyway? Glad you asked. According to the people who wrote the book The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, which was written to combat the rise of liberal theology in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the fundamentals are:

1. The inerrancy of the Scriptures
2. The Deity of Christ
3. The second coming of Jesus Christ
4. The virgin birth
5. The physical resurrection of the body
6. The substitutionary atonement
7. The total depravity of man - original sin

Belief in all of these is all it takes to consider yourself an historic fundamentalist. There are other beliefs, to be sure -- the list doesn't touch on the Calvinism/Arminian controversy, the pre/mid/post trib/mil controversy, and many others. In fact, the authors of The Fundamentals held differing opinions on these issues. They recognized something that modern fundamentalists often do not -- that there is room for disagreement on some issues. That we don't have all the answers.

I believe all seven of these fundamentals. But because of other things I believe or don't believe, many people don't consider me a fundamentalist. I am Southern Baptist -- for many people, that disqualifies me right there. I read versions of the Bible other than the King James -- again, that would disqualify me in many circles. I am, however, an historic fundamentalist, by the very definition that the people who coined the term used.

Fundamentalist has become a term that describes a person who is so set in their opinions that they don't want to be confused by the facts. Anti-intellectualism is the stereotype of the typical fundamentalist. The stereotypical sermon is long on ranting and short on exegesis or exposition. This is the stereotype, not the reality.

The reallity is that there are historic fundamentalists all across the country who are intelligent and articulate. They are making a difference in our nation and our culture. But many of them don't call themselves fundamentalists, because of the perception. In fact, over on the Fundamentalist Forums, we've come up with a new term that describes the more legalistic variety of fundamentalist -- IFBx. Independent Fundamental Baptist Extreme. It seems to fit rather well. Head over there if you'd like to learn a little more.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 10:11 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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April 24, 2004

Christendom vs. Christianity

WARNING: This is REALLY long. I'm trying to figure out how to shorten my posts, with a link to click that gives you the full text, but I'm not that good yet. If I figure it out, I'm hoping that it will make the page look neater.

I wanted to address this issue because of some things that are usually said about Christianity. People bring up things like the Crusades, the Inquisitions, etc. as evidence that Christianity is a bad thing, or corrupt, and should be abandoned. It has always been my contention that Christianity is not responsible for these things -- Christendom, or the attempt to establish Christendom, is the cause. Christians are capable of doing bad things -- NOT because they are Christian, but because they are human.

What is Christendom? If we are going to contrast Christianity and Christendom, that is the first thing we need to clear up. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it this way:


In its wider sense this term is used to describe the part of the world which is inhabited by Christians, as Germany in the Middle Ages was the country inhabited by Germans. The word will be taken in this quantitative sense in the article RELIGIONS in comparing the extent of Christendom with that of Paganism or of Islam. But there is a narrower sense in which Christendom stands for a polity as well as a religion, for a nation as well as for a people. Christendom in this sense was an ideal which inspired and dignified many centuries of history and which has not yet altogether lost its power over the minds of men.

I think that, historically, the narrower definition is more correct. Christendom was an idea; the idea that government and religion should be the same thing, and that those to whom God has entrusted spiritual power should also be the final authority on matters of state. In other words, the very idea of Christendom is contrary to everything that Americans have been taught. And it hasnÂ’t lost its power over the minds of men. Clearly, if you talk to many members of the Religious Right, they are striving for Christendom to take root right here in the United States.

To me, Christendom is characterized by forced conversions, inter-denominational fighting, political power-plays by church leaders, and heads of state trying to usurp the authority of the Church to cement their own positions. All you have to do is study the history of the Middle Ages to see this drama play out. If Rome didn’t like what your King was doing, they had the power of interdiction – they could deny you sacraments, effectively denying you access to the grace of God. The Pope supported insurgents in countries whose ruler opposed Rome and the Church, starting war in the process. The conflict between England and Spain was fueled in this way – Catholic Spain trying to put a Catholic ruler back on the throne in England, while Protestant England fought for its spiritual life. Of course, had Henry VIII not wanted a divorce, the Reformation might have taken a LOT longer to get to England. A big reason that Wycliffe’s attempt at reform in England didn’t work was that the political situation wasn’t right. The Spanish Inquisition was caused by this concept of Christendom. So were the Crusades (ALL of them, not just the ones against the Muslims). International disputes, fought in the name of Christianity, were the result of rulers striving for this ideal government. They failed to realize that man cannot bring the kingdom of God into existence – only God can do that.

A lot of people think that we in America can usher in the Kingdom of God by voting in good politicians (what an oxymoron THAT is). We forget that when Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the first attempt at creating Christendom, one of the first things he did was force all his troops to convert. This isnÂ’t an option now. The world is vastly different now than it was in the fourth century, or the seventeenth. And the United States, for all our posturing, was not created to be a Christian nation. It was founded on basic Christian ideas, but it was founded to give comfort, refuge, and representation to all. Our government is not designed to create a Church-State. We should not want it to.

Now that we have established a definition of Christendom, we can compare that to Christianity. Christianity is a faith system. It is the system of belief of those people who follow the commandments of Jesus Christ as found in the New Testament, and who read and believe the things written by ChristÂ’s apostles.

In the first chapter of Acts, we read a description of what ChristÂ’s disciples asked Him, almost immediately after His resurrection. They wanted to know if NOW was the time to overthrow the Romans. After everything they had seen, and all He had taught them, they still had no clue. They didnÂ’t grasp the fact that political power is secondary to spiritual victory. They only saw the immediate need. They wanted to establish Christendom.

Christ told them that that was in His Father’s hands. Then He told them what their job was – what our job is. “You will be my witnesses, to Jerusalem, and to Judea, and to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world.” In the Gospels, the commission is more detailed. They were commanded to go, preach, teach, disciple, baptize – nowhere does it say govern. The power that was given at Pentecost is the power to bear witness to Jesus Christ, the risen Saviour. That is the power that we have to change the world. If we do our job, God will take care of the Kingdom.

The problem is, weÂ’re trying to do GodÂ’s job, and expect Him to do our job. ThatÂ’s not the way it works.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 01:02 AM | No Comments | Add Comment
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April 20, 2004

Truth Claims and Christianity -- Are We Too Exclusive?

The opening salvo was fired on April 16, on Al Mohler's blog. I try to read this one every so often, since I'm hoping to go to Southern for Seminary this year. The actual fuss started because of a book -- When Religion Becomes Evil: Five Warning Signs by Charles Kimball. Dr. Mohler took exception to a few of the things that Kimball asserted in his book, which indicated that Christianity was far too dogmatic in it's claims to absolute Truth, especially our claim that Jesus Christ is the only Saviour, the only way to get to God and have any hope of Heaven.

Jollyblogger was the first place I read about this, since I had missed Mohler's blog that day. He's got a good number of quotes from that blog, so I won't quote them again here. He also makes the point that the claim that Christ is the Messiah, the olny way to Heaven, is the very foundation of Christianity. Without that, what point is there? There are certainly other faiths that require less devotion, whose rules are less stringent, whose pathway is broader and smoother. If pluralism is true, if there are a multitude of pathways to God, then Christianity is the toughest road to get there.

Today, Walloworld took up the discussion. I love the candy bar analogy that he uses, and he brings up a great point -- the people who are saying "Be more inclusive, don't be so dogmatic" are in reality saying "Hey, you're wrong, we're right. Be more like us! Be more tolerant, and less inclusive -- just like us!". They are ignoring their own claims to absolute truth -- what they believe is the Truth, and we should all follow them!

Everyone has blinders to their own beliefs. None of us recognize our shortcomings automatically; that is why debate is a good thing. Christianity's truth claims, our exclusive "ownership" of the one Way to Heaven, isn't a shortcoming -- it's our strength. As Paul says, without the ressurection of Christ, our preaching and our hope is in vain. Without the Truth that Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Light (not just A way, A truth, or A light), we are nothing more than a bunch of clanging cymbals. When we give up our Truth, when we back down, we lose. And when we stop proclaiming that Truth, unashamedly, everyone loses. Without the Truth of the Gospel, we are just another philosophy that is full of "sound and fury, signifying nothing" (one of my favorite Shakespearian quotes).

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 06:09 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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April 06, 2004

Jesus, Paul, and Peter Jennings

I watched all but about the last fifteen minutes or so of this special last night. I went into it looking for things that I didn't like about it, to be perfectly honest. I have to admit, it was much more even-handed than I thought it would be.

One of the main things that I think they got pretty close was the misconception among the Jews of the time about what the Kingdom of God actually was. The Bible talks about even the disciples expecting political reform from Jesus -- even after the resurrection.


So when they had come together, they asked him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority.But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
(Act 1:6-8 ESV)


They were STILL waiting for the political reform. This was a common misconception of the day, and the program dealt with it rather well, I thought. They DID, of course, venture into the typical 'How reliable are the Gospels', 'Did Jesus claim to be the Messiah?', 'When were the Gospels written?' terrain, and the answers they gave reflected the more liberal scholarship that the show still focused on -- even though there were more moderate and conservative scholars on the program this time.

I was nervous as they started talking about the Resurrection of Christ. This is the one thing that programs like this usually head straight toward the liberal end of the spectrum. John Dominic Crossan didn't let me down here, with his insistance that Christ wasn't even burried, much less raised from the dead. His opinion was in the minority, though, with most of the interviewees firmly sitting on the fence -- "something had to have happened, but I don't know what".

Something DID happen. Something that transformed eleven firghtened men, who were hiding for their lives, waiting for someone to come and haul them off the jail or worse, into an international missionary team that helped transform the world. Within 100 years of Christ's death, the news had spread throughout the known world. Within 300 years, the Empire that had tried so long to silence the Christian voices had made Christianity it's official religion. These men saw Christ, alive.

The biggest problem I had was with the whole Paul vs. the apostles debate. YES, Paul argued with Peter and James. Both men ended up taking Paul's side in the arguement, though (Acts 15). Were there occasional disagreements? Absolutely. These are human beings we are talking about. They had different ideas about what direction the church should go in. And THEY couldn't just sit down with a Bible and look up verses -- they were WRITING the Bible. Ultimately, both sides agreed, though -- we have a common tradition of orthodoxy back very early in church history.

And of course, the old 'Gnostic Gospels' arguement was trotted out again. WHEN are people going to realize that we are rehashing debates that took place almost 100 years ago? The fad died out in about 1910 or so, and it will again, when people realize the poor historiography that is involved. Late date anything that you don't like, early date whatever you do, hope nobody notices. The Gospel of Thomas is authoritative, even though nobody ever mentions its use, but the four canonical Gospels are suspect, even though we have evidence of their use as Scripture from before 170AD. The Gnostic writings represent 'true Christianity', because that is what WE want Christianity to be.

I think this is the biggest problem I have with the 'historical Jesus' searches. Everyone ends up finding, to quote the old song, "their own, personal, Jesus". We have a little box, and that is what our idea of Jesus fits into -- no matter what other 'facts' we find. We can, as the Jesus Seminar does and Thomas Jefferson did, pick and choose what statements we want to believe Jesus made -- let's get rid of everything except the social activism stuff, especially anything that says Jesus about being the son of God. When we start on that road, it's very easy to make Christianity to be anything we want it to be.

I think Paul's teaching about women was a little misrepresented. As usual, they focused on what Paul wouldn't let women do, and not on the specific things women were supposed to do. We tend to do this a lot, even with our gifts and skills. Someone who can sing beautifully will sit and wish they could teach. Teachers want to be able to play instruments. Instrumentalists want to be able to preach. And on and on. We're never satisfied with what God has given us to do -- we always want the other guy's ministry. Paul NEVER said, as was stated in the program, that women were supposed to sit down and shut up. They were given specific roles in the church -- roles that men couldn't do. Lydia and Priscilla are two perfect examples of women who were instrumental in founding the church, who Paul relied on to a great degree. They NEVER are mentioned in discussions about Paul's supposed chauvanism.

They ignored Paul's theology because they don't think the Bible has any relevance to today's world, or even much beyond his own time. They water down his message and Christ's teachings so there is no call for repentance and no fear of judgement. Simply love everyone -- that's what Jesus said. They forget that Jesus was quick to let people know what they were doing wrong. Even the adulterous woman was commanded "Go, and sin no more". Jesus called her a sinner!

All in all, though, it was an interesting program. I learned a bit, and got angry a bit -- but not as much as I thought I would.

Just a few observations:
I was mysitifed about the people they talked to in the Vatican. "What do you know about St. Paul?" I was waiting for someone to say "Well, it's a nice city, but I like Minneapolis better". Where did they GET these people???

I'd heard the soundtrack was upsetting people, but I kinda liked it. Hey, they played dcTalk!

Is it just me, or does John Shelby Spong look a LOT like the Emperor in the Star Wars movies. I think I'd be concerned if my spiritual advisor looked like a Dark Lord of the Sith, but that's just me.

Wow. That was a lot of writing. If you're still reading this, thank you for sticking with me.

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 08:09 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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April 03, 2004

Obligatory Left Behind Blog

Everybody and their TV network is talking about Glorious Appearing, the last in the Left Behind series. So why not me?

I've read the series, up to Desecration. My in-laws are buying the series for me in paperback, so I'm going to be a bit behind as far as plot line goes. Although, if you think about it, we know how the story ends.

That is, we do IF you have studied your pre-trib, pre-mil eschatology. If you haven't, those two links are a starting point.

The problem with eschatology is that there is no one position that we can call, with 100% accuracy, orthodox. The dominant view in the United States right now is pre-tribulation, pre-millenial -- that is, Christ will rapture His Bride (the Church) before the Great Tribulation (the trib in pre-trib) starts, which is before the Millenial regin of Christ (the mil in pre-mil). That is the view that the books support. The Rapture signals the start of seven years of misery on Earth (the Trib). At the end of seven years, Christ and the Church come back and whoop up on the forces of Evil, and rule the Earth for 1,000 years (the Millenium).

So from the start, people familiar with this eschatological scenario have known what was coming next. That's why the series has been a REALLY easy read for me. I could sit and say "OK, that's judgement #1, so next we have THIS happening", all through the books. No suspense. The characterization was a bit dull -- I have a real problem with Rayford as the leader of these people. I don't think he's qualified. Every time he starts barking instructions, I wonder "Who died and left this schmuck in charge?"

I also have a hard time getting theology from a work of fiction. This book is pure speculation, and should be treated as such. It's a fun read, it's an easy read, but I can think of a LOT of other resources to go to if you want to study end-time prophecies.

I can understand the big part of Evangelicaldom that feels left out by Left Behind. These are the mid-tribbers, the post-tribbers, the post-mils, the amils, and all the pan-mils. If you're confused by these terms, this is a pretty good reference to start out with. They're not usually sympathetic to Christians over there, notwithstanding their name, but they offer some good basic info on this subject. Pan-millenialism is the belief that it'll all pan out in the end, that whenever it happens, it'll happen, and that we have more important things to do than sit on our mountain and wait for Christ to come back. I tend toward that position, though I usually say I'm mid-trib if someone asks me.

I snuck a look at Glorious Appearing in the bookstore tonight. It ends rather ominously, with a quotation reminding us that Satan comes back at the end of the 1,000 years. I smell another book or two (HOPEFULLY they don't plan on writing about the whole Millenial Reign!).

Posted by: Warren Kelly at 08:22 PM | No Comments | Add Comment
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