Fundamentalism and theological modernism – both wrong?

Jesus is recorded to have remarked that his theological opponents had struck an attitude toward himself and his teachings that was so utterly inadequate that he called it seeing without seeing and hearing without hearing.  It is not unusual that a religious teaching  which makes a life-changing truth available to one mind can appear to another, differently-oriented mind as paradoxical or self-contradictory or crazy or even heretical.  The opponents of Jesus were blind and deaf to teacher and message because they looked and listened not with a spiritual outlook but with an almost positivistic reference to the ‘facts’ they thought they saw in their sacred texts.  This essentially material outlook revealed to them not spiritual results but empirical findings – most importantly, that his unusual mission did not resemble the mission of the Messiah as represented in their inerrant scripture.

Does this same rationalized positivism of texts and times characterize the dominant evangelical hermeneutic of the past century or more?  Maybe that’s what I find so irritating about evangelical commentaries.  Oddly, I find the same sort of inappropriate positivism and rationalism in much of the hermeneutic of theological modernism, and it is equally irritating.

I was helped to a better view of this surprising commonality by an interesting paraphrase of Stanley Hauerwas I saw Thursday in a guest post over on Marc Cortez’ blog  where the discussion goes on into today.

“fundamentalism and theological modernism are simply different sides of the same radical modernist coin. Both embrace the paradigms of Enlightenment empiricism and rationalism too seriously (Hauerwas affirms this) – theological liberalism tries to keep the faith by cutting out all the things that don’t fit into the empirical and/or rational modes, whereas fundamentalism tries to defend them using the tools of empiricism and rationalism to the nth degree. Both end up embracing rationalism and empiricism as the first order basis or “metaphysic” as such, upon which to build a worldview. This is what led the fundamentalist strain in evangelicalism, according to Hauerwas, to make “Sola Scriptura” equal to “Sola Text.”

If Hauerwas has been accurately paraphrased, his opinion is that the inerrancy principle requires a special, guarded form of the so-called literal-grammatical-historical method which amounts to a positivistic empiricism of the text in conjunction with a fanciful rationalization of discrepancies and contradictions – all of which, in the spiritual inadequacy of its positivism, shares an enlightenment-age pedigree with the unbeliever’s hermeneutic of suspicion.

The rejection of Jesus by scribe and elder was accomplished in the very presence of his person and mission by a simultaneous resort to both a hermeneutic of inerrancy and a hermeneutic of suspicion – another indication that these two are sides of “the same coin.”


2 thoughts on “Fundamentalism and theological modernism – both wrong?

  1. John, I’m not sure that this isn’t over my head. I’m going to have to read this a couple of times to ferret out the meaning. I think I’m getting it, though. Another instance of two opposites being very closely aligned when you cut away all the rhetoric.

  2. Sherry, it’s pretty dense and I may have taken away too much getting it down to my self-imposed 500 word total.

    Basic point is whoever handles scripture as infallible data is actually exercising a bastardized form of positivism that has strong family resemblances to naturalism and Jesus- Seminar types of minimalist criticism – but it’s inappropriate for appreciation of a religious teaching.

    Sherry, your comments got me into review mode and I revised everything up to the link, with much improvement, I think, to the post. Thank you so much]

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