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Brian McLaren on Fundamentalism 2

Yesterday: From Brian McLaren’s blog:

When I am presented with a new idea or proposal, my first question is more likely to be …
___A. Is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?
___B. Is it possibly true, valuable, and worth exploring?

If you chose A, you’re probably a fundamentalist, and probably shouldn’t read my new book because it will only get you in trouble. If you do decide to read it, don’t let your fundamentalist friends know. Hide the book in a brown paper bag, and only read it in private.

If you chose B, you’re curious, and I think you’ll enjoy my new book.

Here’s a brief response:

I don’t think that question’s answers separate fundamentalists from the curious. The opening answer is about traditionalism, and in fact characteristic of all of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
Furthermore, the arrangement smacks of radical individualism and denies the foundational role our communities play in our knowledge and social construction of reality. What’s wrong with asking about every new idea what “the Church” or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I’ve already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second, and that is has been brought to the fore by cultural anthropologists like Bruce Malina, who adapts the research of Mary Douglas and others.
I also wonder if this is not a false dichotomy: I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder “what if?” and who are always chasing down their questions. I know plenty on the other side who aren’t in the least curious.
Is Seth Godin a good source for defining fundamentalism?

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posted February 3, 2010 at 4:42 pm

seems to be a statement intended to get people interested in his new book than it is a statement about fundamentalism/ists

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Bob Robinson

posted February 3, 2010 at 4:50 pm
As you know, we are working through Galatians at my church. Your input when you were out here was, and still is, invaluable. As we’ve been studying chapters 1 and 2, I’ve been leading a discussion on how some might decide that Paul is advocating a very individualistic approach to dealing with those who want to “add to the gospel.” The line of thinking: “I am independent of those legalists! How I decide to live out my Christian faith is up to me, and if I feel that the community in which I find myself might disapprove of my freedom in Christ, then they are clearly wrong!” But that would divorce the purpose of gospel living: to live in community with others.
The easy route is to label others as “fundys” and then to live “free in Christ.” The more difficult and more Christ-honoring route is to live in community and to seek to reconcile how you are understanding the implications of the gospel with the way the rest of your community understands it.
As much as I have appreciated Brian McLaren, sometimes he makes these dichotomies that are not tenable.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 4:51 pm

No. Frankly I am dismayed at the rhetorical device used to “box” in fundamentalists as anti-intellectual (I can’t remember what movie I saw which flashed a scene straight out of a Deliverance type family – buck toothed, gap toothed, overall wearing, and barefoot – as the picture representing fundamentalists) – you are either serious and curious or locked into ignorance. If we take the view that fundamentalists adhere to the 5 fundamentals, I am not sure many evangelicals can avoid having the label applied to themselves (acknowledging debate on the meaning of inerrancy – personally like accurate versus literally without error). Doesn’t justice, as has been discussed recently here, also require us to react, if not become proactive, toward “fundamentalists” rather than engage in, what seems at times like a little child’s display, fundie bashing and dismissal. How do we square that with any sense of “justice” – I don’t mean good old American justice, but justice flowing from the Word?

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Carol Noren Johnson

posted February 3, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Interesting. I don’t think he put Fundamentalist in his book titled
“A Generous Orthodoxy: Why I Am a Missional, Evangelical, Post/Protestant, Liberal/Conservative, Mystical/Poetic, Biblical, Charismatic. . . .”

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posted February 3, 2010 at 5:19 pm

Carol – the odd thing is he did – fundamentalist/calvinist

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Bob G

posted February 3, 2010 at 5:28 pm

I agree wholeheartedly. It’s sad, really, when you think of it, that there’s a large and growing movement of Christians who are not settled in what they believe. Everything is open to reinterpretation, all the time (or should I say, “recontextualization”?), and there’s no such thing as truth.
Why bother?

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Bob Pearson

posted February 3, 2010 at 7:17 pm

This “quiz”, does exactly what it was intended to do. The key to this question’s answer choices is: do you have a set of beliefs that are open to being enhanced, modified, improved, completed, made more whole, etc. or are you holding to things that were set in the past and unchangeable even in nuance and must be checked to see if you can even test or dialog about a new idea if it is even slightly off center from your predetermined definition of truth/reality.
The world is changing. People are changing. Our knowledge of and interpretation of ancient writings is changing. And God’s spirit is infusing all of this as we speak. There is definitely something that is TRUTH and some day we might even get closer to really understanding what it is. But today we see only through a glass darkly and must be open to the new parts of truth that God revels to us each day. A curious person pursues this with abandon. Fundamentalists can be curious, but if they must check their beliefs before they explore and cannot enter into a place of willingness to change, then they are only curious to the extent that they can find a way to debunk and challenge and critique any new data. Progress comes from wrestling with data that challenges our truth so we can create a better truth.
And that is the point to constantly make our truth more complete and perfect. With all due respect to those who came before us, we are in a new world that they did not experience, understand or take into account in their efforts to know and pass on their truth from God as they understood it. God is just not finished with humankind just yet.

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Scot McKnight

posted February 3, 2010 at 7:34 pm

Bob, let me beg to differ right back.
I believe that on most issues I encounter I answer both of those questions with “Yes.” Sometimes I answer “Not at all” or “Not very likely” and sometimes “No” and “Yes (and let’s see where it leads us).”
But that set of alternatives, which too often are not exclusive, does not separate fundamentalism from the curious; instead, it separates the person who has a self-conscious set of beliefs from … well, I don’t know who would not be curious at all except the staunchiest of traditionalists.
I’ll give you two examples of folks I don’t think are adequately curious about both sides of issues: Sean Hannity, who seemingly too often has lost his ability to be reasonable, and Michael Moore, who seemingly couldn’t see good ideas from conservatives even when they had them. Most people are like neither.

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Josh Rowley

posted February 3, 2010 at 7:41 pm

Bob G:
Why do you put “reinterpretation” and “recontextualization” in opposition to “truth”? Do “reinterpretation” and “recontextualization” deny “truth”? Or do they work with “truth,” making it comprehensible and life-giving in different contexts? It seem to me that people can only reinterpret or recontextualize that which they believe exists.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 7:54 pm

Finally someone speaks the truth about Pawn Hannity.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 7:57 pm

I’ve been an avid reader of McLaren since A Generous Orthodoxy, and still have a great deal of respect for his writing and ideas. I’m Not a fundamentalist. Far from it. Still, I think this question unfairly characterizes fundamentalism, and also unfairly sweeps a lot of other people under the umbrella of fundamentalism, as Scot observes.
What I think he’s really trying to say is – if your tendency is to answer yes to A and, if your “yes” to A causes you to automatically say “no” to B, then don’t waste your time reading my book. That is a worthwhile point to make; I wish he had put it a different way.

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Clay Knick

posted February 3, 2010 at 8:33 pm

Brian seems to be advocating a fundamentalism of his own.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 11:39 pm

I recommend a book on Fundamentalism, by Karen Armstrong, called “The BAttle for God” in which she traces the hisotical development of not only Christian, but also Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism.

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posted February 3, 2010 at 11:44 pm

Fundamentalism is not right or left, there can be Marxist fundamentalism, or Hindu Fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is an attitude fear seeking to assur itself through gaining control of the uncertain and unpredictiable world.

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posted February 4, 2010 at 12:57 am

Scot- I’m glad you brought this question out into the open. I’m also glad that it looks like you approached this question from a neutral standpoint by only sticking to the issue of fundamentalism itself. By doing so we can actually talk about fundamentalism/curiosity and not have it turn into what seems like a “cool trend” in the Christian world to constantly demonize McLaren, regardless of what he says. I do think it would be helpful to understand what he wrote in the context of the criticism he receives from many. It surely didn’t help that it was written without any further explanation but I do think it would be jumping to conclusions to think it summarizes his entire view of fundamentalist thought. As a previous commenter suggested, I think he is just saying that for those that only seek more ammunition to discredit him – there really is no point for them to read his new book. I really don’t think he was trying to give a comprehensive look at fundamentalist thought. Thanks again Scot for using this opportunity as a chance to have a great discussion about another important topic.

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posted February 4, 2010 at 8:55 am

I think Scot is wrong to say that option A is “characteristic of all of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism” (presuming he means non-fundamentalists in each case).
Think of the way Raymond Brown did New Testament scholarship. He was clearly doing it from a Catholic perspective, and Tradition had a place at the scholarly table. And at the end, he would ask whether his findings could be integrated into an RC perspective. But there was no sense that he shut down the investigation in an a priori kind of way.
To say option A is the characteristic way to do RC scholarship is to caricature Roman Catholicism and many of its most prominent thinkers in the 20th century.

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posted February 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm

Wait, isn’t this quiz tongue in cheek? Why take it so seriously. I think we can at least trust Brian to be thoughtful if nothing else. Scot, why not give him the benefit of the doubt here?

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posted February 4, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I think there is a misunderstanding here. Scot is not accusing Roman Catholics of fundamentalism- he is saying that it is historically characterized by traditionalism. This fact is attested to by your own comment:
“…at the end, he would ask whether his findings could be integrated into an RC perspective.” That is what traditionalism is: integrating what you think with what other Christians have believed at all time, places and circumstances. To say that Roman Catholic theology is informed by tradition (and in some cases dictated by it) is not a caricature of Roman Catholicism- it is a historical claim that is well supported. And, as far as I can understand him, Scot is saying that this is not a bad thing. Why else would he ask, “What’s wrong with asking about every new idea what ‘the Church’ or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I’ve already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second…”
When he uses the word “all” I don’t think he means “all of Roman Catholicism,” but rather “all Christianity rather than the very narrow belief that it is just Protestant Evangelical Fundamentalists that allow tradition and the believing community to inform their own thinking or personal beliefs.

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posted February 4, 2010 at 3:42 pm

I’m sorry:
That post was for MarkP at #16.

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posted February 4, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Thanks, Joshua. My point was just that I don’t think anyone who read Raymond Brown, for example, would say, “his first question was ‘is it acceptable to my religious/ideological community or belief system?'”, which is the answer Scot said was “characteristic of all of Roman Catholicisim”, etc. I was probably reading Scot more carefully than he intended — my response flowed pretty much from this being the “first question”.
The question of the place of dissent in RC thought is a hot topic now, in RC circles as well as elsewhere. Just the other day, the Pope said, “it is important to recognize dissent for what it is, and not to mistake it for a mature contribution to a balanced and wide-ranging debate.” Many, inside and outside the RC church, would dissent from this view!

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Dr B

posted February 4, 2010 at 9:18 pm

I thought the questions came across as quite arrogant. “If you are as open-minded a truth-seeker as me, you’ll love my new book.” McLaren seems unaware of the possibility of finding truth within the community.

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posted February 12, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Check out Brian McLaren in The Ordinary Radicals blog:

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