Fundementalists, Antithesis and Common Grace
While I have been blogging on Harry Potter, there has been a rather interesting discussion going on over at Reformation 21. This has been between Rick Phillips and Carl Trueman on fundementalism and it's merits and dangers. I'm not planning on commenting a lot, I just want to provide some quotes that maybe will encourage you to read the entire discussion. As I think about it I may have more to say later.
It starts with Rev. Phillips' move to Greenville and his decision of which school to enroll his children. The final decision was Bob Jones elementary, an arm of Bob Jones university. Rev. Phillips writes:
But the fourth reason is the one I really want to talk about. The fundamentalists get the idea of antithesis. . . . I find in general that the fundamentalists get the idea that the Bible really is the Word of God and that our only salvation is in the blood of Christ. There is no talk about postmodern hermeneutics among the fundamentalists. They believe the Bible is the Word of God because it says so, and so do I. They believe that men, women, and children are sinners who must believe in the cross in order to be saved. There is no talk of alternative theories of the atonement with them. They understand that the church must stand out against the world, that holiness is our calling, and that Christians are to witness to the lost. Amen, amen, and amen. They get the Christian antithesis, that light has shined in the darkness and that we are to walk in the light and shine the light into the darkness.
Frankly, because of the big idea of antithesis, I am more comfortable with the fundamentalists than I am with the broad evangelicals. More and more, broad evangelicals do not get the idea of antithesis, and for this reason even when they have a pretty good formal doctrinal statement, they seldom really stand up for it.
Rev. Phillips goes on in other posts to discuss price as a factor in the decision and the reformed leanings of Bob Jones. But the discussion is taken up in earnest by Dr. Trueman. Dr. Trueman makes four points about antithesis, all of which are interesting, but the last two are the most significant. From the third:
3. An overwhelming emphasis on antithesis creates a situation where others are only ever critiqued, not learned from, while we remain blissfully above correction. That's cultic and it's Gnosticism, and the Reformed world currently contains a couple of scary examples of exactly this kind of thinking and church life. . . . It can in fact be used in such a way as to justify a form of Gnostic empiricism and in effect to say 'everyone else has tradition, we just have the truth' is a problem. It could be better translated as `We have a tradition like everyone else, but we're not going to write it down so that it cannot be critiqued by you or anybody else.'
And from the fourth:
4. Charity of spirit (not compromise of doctrine) is a Christian virtue. This involves the ability to relate to those who are different, to treat with respect as made in the image of God those from whom we differ. An overwhelming emphasis on the intellectual/cultural antithesis does not, in my experience, foster the kind of appreciation for others, the self-deprecating humour, and the ability to see the absurdities of one's own positions, which enable this. . . . My point is simply that the antithesis can be abused in the name of Christ to subvert these very Christian imperatives, not that it always does so.
Rev. Phillips responded to Dr. Trueman and makes points worth considering. I want to move on though to comments from Sean Michael Lucas who joined in with two posts (part 1 and part 2) on his blog. In part 1, Dr. Lucas notes:
[M]y primary identity is a believer of Jesus and I'm called to love other believers in Jesus regardless of their spiritual maturity or theological perspective (even, shudder, Arminians). I live out this identity as a Presbyterian, committed to the wholeness of the Reformed faith as the best explanation of the Bible and eager for others to embrace the same perspective that I hold. I affirm catholicity while holding personally to the Reformed faith.
In part 2 Dr. Lucas discusses the concepts of antithesis and common grace and how these have created two streams in the reformed tradition. He refers to this split as the "Kuyperian legacy" in honor of Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper. He discusses both the positive and negative tendencies of both. Dr. Lucas says there is no way to meld the two together and admits to having fundementalist/antithesis leanings. I think there is a lot of value in reading and thinking about this. Regardless of where you stand, I think we should all heed Dr. Lucas' conclusion:
Finally, above all, we need to exercise the judgment of charity toward each other. By recognizing the dangers in our position, we are freed to recognize the value of the other--I can affirm my brothers and sisters who in common grace run coffee houses and line their churches with their art in order to engage in conversations with others. They bring something to the body of Christ that I don't bring; they are "jazz" to my "three-chords and a chorus" (1 Cor 12:12-27). I need those who emphasis common grace; and they, frankly, need me.
Update: Rev. Phillips has posted some additional thoughts based on Dr. Lucas' thoughts