Fundamentalism and the Gentleness of Wisdom

One of the most unfortunate character traits of today’s stereotypical fundamentalist is the propensity to fight.

Now don’t get me wrong. I cling tightly to the fundamental teachings of the Christian faith–the deity of Christ, the infallibility of God’s Word, salvation by faith. But the unpleasant odor of contention has crept into the movement as a whole, and frankly, it stinks. What began as a measured response to the German Rationalism of the late 1800s became a full-forced pendulum swing to the other side. Reason (or what rationalism claimed for reason) was the traitor and fundamentalism shot it in the head and put faith on the throne–an ideological coup de tat.

Unfortunately, the dynamic duo of faith and reason were separated and sola fida was twisted to mean something much different than what Luther meant. Without reasonable exegesis of the Scriptures, faith alone becomes a very fluid concept. Sometimes men believe the truth, sometimes men believe a lie; but always they believe. And with reason in a bloody mess, this is all that matters. (Ironically enough, reason often gets resussitated just enough to prove a point, never enough for a full discussion.)

What does this have to do with contentiousness? Quite alot. If you believe what you believe simply because you believe it, and reason is not working hand in hand with faith, there is no room for discussion. Discussion, you see, involves reason. And reason is the traitor. So dialogue is often considered tantamount to treason. This was a very common sentiment at Pensacola Christian College, a self-proclaimed haven of fundamentalism. During one of our senior Bible seminars, Dr. Greg Mutsch explained that the problem with liberals is that they just wanted to “dialogue” about everything instead of just believing. (After all, look what happens when you put the cross {t} and reason together {treason}.) To them, discussion equals unbelief; which is an odd approach to take considering most of the fundamental doctrines of the faith were cemented by councils of the early church in which many men with many different opinions would come and debate their understanding of Scripture until they hammered out a creed.

Some will argue that an unwillingness to dialogue is important when dealing with the fundamental doctrines of the faith; more often than not, though, what gets argued about in fundamentalist circles is not the virgin birth or the deity of Christ. Too often its about issues of practice, not doctrine.

Consider for a moment two or three Christian churches in your area that hold fast the fundamentals of the faith. Set aside drums, denomination and The Purpose Driven Life–simply consider the five key doctrines put forth by those that started the fundamentalist movement: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of His miracles. Now think of a self-proclaimed fundamentalist church in the same area. Is there fellowship and cooperation? Or are there feuds and separation?

A few verses come to mind. James 3:13-18: “Who among you is wise and understanding? Let him show by his good behavior his deeds in the gentleness of wisdom. But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart, do not be arrogant and so lie against the truth. This wisdom is not that which comes down from above, but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

A wise man will demonstrate that wisdom in gentleness by his good behavior. And consider the context; verses one through twelve deal with the dangers of the tongue. The implication here is that while it is easy to destroy with the tongue, a wise man will gently reveal his wisdom by his actions, sans tongue.

Also notice the juxtaposed motives for not demonstrating gentle, quit wisdom–bitter jealousy and selfish ambition. I challenge every professing fundamentalist to examine all motives the next time the bell rings and the fight is on. So often our professed righteous indignation is just thinly veiled pride; we’re flipping over the money changer’s table so we can be the hero. But every man or woman greatly used by God fears the spotlight, because being the hero means you get the credit for something God did. If you love the thunder of applause, you’d better take off those boxing gloves and leave the battle to the Lord. (It’s His anyway.)

“For where jealousy and self-ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing.” I wish that this could be printed and handed out at every business meeting.

You may be balking at this, imagining a milquetoast Christian silent in the face of heresy. Not at all. Verse seventeen makes clear our priority–“wisdom from above is first pure.” There can be no truth without purity, and it is the pure, undefiled Word of God that exemplifies holy wisdom. But let us not forget the rest of the list: “peacable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy, unwavering, without hypocrisy.” Fundamentalism’s strength is its purity, but at what cost? It’s weakness comprises the remaining list items. And notice that the scurrilous traitor reason is on there as well, so lets not be too hasty to pull the trigger.

Please realize that I’m speaking in broad strokes about some dangerous traits the fundamentalist movement as a whole has taken. Not every fundamentalist is anti-reason and liberalism itself is a formidable foe (an essay for another day). But this knee-jerk reaction to rationalism by fundamentalism has torn some important tendons, and as a fledgling fundamentalist who holds dearly to God’s Word, I’m urging fundamentalists to admit the injury and bandage the knee. It’s the only way healing can occur.