In our last post, we looked at how fundamentalism is actually a modernist phenomenon, and not its opposite. As I have continued to read through Billy Abraham’s excellent The Logic of Renewal, he makes these relationships even more explicit. It’s not only that fundamentalism is representative of modernity, but that the most thorough-going modernists can also be fundamentalists. Case in point is Bishop John Shelby Spong, the infamous Episcopal bishop (now retired) known for questioning virtually every distinctive Christian belief and yet – somehow – remaining a bishop. Abraham explains:
“Converted within the boundaries of modern fundamentalism, he has never really recovered from the thinness of its doctrines or the narrowness of its structures. The marks of the former Fundamentalism in his preaching and teaching are obvious. There is the same sense of alienation from tradition, the same angry self-assurance, the same hunger for intellectual and scholarly recognition, the same boundless evangelistic energy for the cause, the same pretentious self-importance, the same note of apocalyptic urgency, and the same faith in simple, sure-fire arguments that will shoot down the opposition in flames.”
Having spent many years among conservative fundamentalists, I find it pretty easy to recognize that streak among progressive fundies as well. As Abraham so aptly names, the same tone, methodology, and simplistic world-view is found in the left-wing fundamentalism of Spong as it is in the right-wing fundamentalism of the Southern Baptist Convention.
Fundamentalism, in other words, is not a matter of the left or the right. It’s a quintessentially modern habit, found in any faith or faith leader co-opted by its norms and modes of discourse.
Where do you see fundamentalism – right and left-wing – in the church today?
Source: William Abraham, The Logic of Renewal (Grand Rapids: Eerdman’s 2003), 40.