Fanciful Fundamentalism

Perhaps the biggest fallacy of fundamentalism is in its narrow-mindedness. It believes itself to be inerrant in its ways and worldview to the point of drowning out voices of reason and anything it has deemed to contradictory to its own version of Biblical interpretation, that’s right, its own personal Bible. Subsequently, cognitive dissonance in relation to biblical and relevant historical studies has dealt a deathblow to the freedom of inquiry and exploration. The attitude toward the “inerrant Word of God” is often characterized by terminology such as:

The Bible, “it is what it is” (meaning, its understanding of its Authorized English version).

And therefore “word studies are needless and will confuse the clear meaning,” or  

“God was very clear about what he said” or

“word studies can lead to private interpretations,” or

“doing word studies can make the text say anything anyone wants”  or

“if you can’t trust every word on every page then you can trust none of it.”

The point being, the Bible is always “plain” and “clear” when you are in the right sect of fundamentalism.

Jesus, for example, who was he? Easy right? No study needed, just read the Gospel of John for what it “plainly and clearly” says. Anything outside of this, is merely confusing the issue and obviously “antichrist.” After all Jesus “plainly” is:

God (John 10:30-33).

Equal to God (John 5:18; 10:30).

Creator (John 1: 1, 14).

Before Abraham (John 8:58 and Ex. 3:14).

Gets Thomas to declare his divinity (John 20:28).

And that’s just in one book! There are a plethora of other passages that also “clearly and adequately” teach the divinity and thus Trinitarian primacy such as Titus 2:13 and 2 Peter 1:1, making “Jesus as God” statements. Hebrews 1:8 makes the “Son” God. In this view, Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon etc. don’t matter, they were merely behind the times and eventually agreed (after much treachery, turmoil and tyranny) on what the Bible had “clearly” taught all along.

Then there are also the seemingly logical conclusions that if one were reading the Bible “properly,” or “as it says” would have to conclude:

“Only the death of God could be sufficient to pay the penalty for human sin” (1 John 2:2).

“Only God could pay the infinite penalty he did not owe for sinners who could not pay.”

“Only God could take on himself the sins of the world, die, resurrect himself, thus accomplishing victory over sin and death” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

In this line of reasoning, it matters not what historical developments transpired to translate, interpret and at times corrupt texts. Historical contexts of the second temple era are also seen to be meaningless for interpretation and offer pointless evidence of etymology, phraseological or idiomatic language. If historical sketches and language study were important, that would open biblical interpretation to elitism, and the Bible is “obviously” a timeless book meant to be interpreted correctly by all. Original language is merely a device for liberals to distort what the Bible “really” says. 

Although this fanciful view imagines itself to esteem and hold the Bible in highest regard, there are few ways in which the Bible could be more unfairly and unjustly distorted. This view idolizes and places at the center of the universe the present, the person and place of the one who under the “guidance of the spirit,” reads it for what it “plainly says.” It is a worldview, and not a good one.
There are statements that can be made on which scholars of many theological persuasions and denominations can agree, and are unilaterally accepted based on research. These same statements are however, rejected by many fundamentalists as though they were of “private interpretation.” If it is not a fundamentalist viewpoint, it is “private interpretation.”

For instance, “God” or “god”- as many are accustomed to believe - is not a proper name one does or does not possess. When people ask, “is/was Jesus God”, they think they know what the word “God” means and how it pertains to their view of Jesus. What they are really asking is if Jesus fits into their ideology of “god” and everything that paradigm represents. This is very misleading to say the least. It is far more accurate to believe in the God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth. “God” is a title in the same way “hero” communicates certain attributes and qualities of an individual in our culture. The inference of Jesus to “god” is - in the pure Hebraic sense - everything the Hebrew word “elohim” represents (which we of course know from passages like John 10:35’s citation of Psalm 82 and Hebrews 1’s citation of Psalm 45). This application has no intrinsic Trinitarian, divine or Yahwistic merits in and of itself, as if John was writing of Jesus’ ontological or metaphysical relationship with his father. There is no problem in calling Jesus “god”, “lord”, “master”, “sir” or any of the other words that translators have chosen to translate the Gr. kurios, and theos. They are titles.

Another example I have often encountered pertains to the title “son of God.” There are entire books devoted to the exploration of this title alone, such as one I have just about finished by Adela and John Collins, “King and Messiah as Son of God: Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figure in Biblical and Related Literature.” As the title aptly communicates, this is no small subject, and yet some fundamentalists will stand on a soap box of “clear biblical truth” and demand this title without question denotes divinity, in the sense of “being Yahweh” or at very least the member of a tri-personal deity (nothing short of full Trinitarian divinity will suffice).
Although zealously opinionated, consistency is not often the strong point. I have heard more than one who, believing themselves to be champions and great apologists of “Orthodoxy” refer to Jesus and God as being the same “person.” No, read your creeds (because it’s not in the Bible, even the authorized version), God – of Orthodoxy - is three separate, but very distinct persons, and yet one: “Neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Essence” (Athanasian Creed). Their “Orthodoxy” is a highly redacted one and more than not leans toward Modalism.

Son of God was not a title reserved for Jesus alone. One need only an elementary knowledge of OT Bible to know this is not the case. This fact is not reliant on views of high or low Christologies, liberal, conservative, Trinitarian scholarship or otherwise, but rather on what it actually means in the cultural context.

It was not firstly a theological title. Jesus, in following centuries became to be thought of 
“not merely ‘son of God’, but God's only Son (μουογευής), a term rescued from the Gnostics by Irenaeus, ‘begotten not made’, one of the central thrusts made at Nicaea against Arius; ‘begotten before all ages’, an assertion of the eternal generation of the Son which became a regular feature of the post-Nicene creeds. These credal formulations have stamped a clear and lasting impression on Christian thought of subsequent generations up to and including the present day. So much so that it is generally taken for granted, axiomatic, part of the basic definition of what Christianity is, that to confess Jesus as ‘the Son of God’ is to confess his deity, and very easily assumed that to say 'Jesus is the Son of God' means and always has meant that Jesus is the pre-existent, second person of the Trinity, who ‘for us men and our salvation became incarnate’…Son of God was a phrase widely used in the ancient world...Even those whose cultural horizons were more limited to the literature and traditions of Judaism would be aware that ‘son of God’ could be used in several ways: angels or heavenly beings – ‘the sons of God’ being members of the heavenly council under Yahweh the supreme God(Gen. 6.2,4; Deut. 32.8; Job 1.6-12; 2.1-6; 38.7; Ps. 29.1; 89.6; Dan.3.25) regularly of Israel or Israelites- ‘Israel is my first-born son’ (Ex. 4.22; Jer. 31.9; Hos. 11.1; see also e.g. Deut. 14.1; Isa. 43.6; Hos. 1.10); the king, so called only a handful of times in the OT- II Sam.7.14 (taken up in I Chron. 17.13; 22.10; 28.6), Ps.2.7 and 89.26f?” D.G. Dunn, Christology in the Making, pg. 12-15.  
The objective and preoccupation of the NT writers is to show that Jesus is the anointed, chosen, christ, messiah (all titles used for others besides Jesus) of God as foretold by the prophets who comes “in the name of the Lord”, and it is he alone through whom God “brings salvation” and into whose hand has been given “all things” (as Psalm 110 is the most frequently quoted passage in the NT pertaining to Jesus). Jesus’ own words to his father were, “and eternal life is this: to know you, the one true God, and him whom you sent, Jesus the Messiah” (John 17).

These statements are not my idiosyncratic opinions, but rather based on the scholarship of hundreds of dedicated and knowledgeable individuals who have spent their lives trying to gain a fuller and deeper understanding of the texts that have meant so much to the majority of humanity for the last two thousand years.
Unfortunately, when dealing with fundamentalists, when an inconvenient “scholarly” fact is shown, instead of making an examination, it is merely brushed aside as being “liberal” scholarship. Rather than putting forth effort into investigating more than the traditional rhetoric and church doctrine, upholding the party line is preferred.

Those who envision themselves to uphold the fundamentals would do well to examine whence those are derived. Circular argumentation and dogma-laden eisegesis does not cut it. NT Professor J. R. Kirk of Fuller made this statement in a blog post
“we sometimes see divinity where the text doesn’t require it because that is the theology we bring with us to the text.” 
What fundamentalism refuses to admit is the hermeneutic forced upon the text by its worldview.

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