Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Fundamentalism and the Bible-- part 2

Actually, the idea, even the term, "inerrancy," played a role in the choices I made respecting my theological education.  I began seminary in Kansas City at an American Baptist seminary. American Baptist are Southern Baptists more "liberal kin."  This was quite to my liking.  I would have been satisfied to continue there until I graduated, except we (well, Irene, but I did help) got pregnant, and I knew I had to go to work.  I took a pastorate in the high plains of eastern Colorado.  I finished seminary at a Roman Catholic seminary, which has long since closed its doors due to flagging enrollment, in Denver, Colorado.

How I ended up with the Catholics is a bit of a surprising story.  When I got to Denver, I intended to enroll in a Protestant seminary.  However, at least the one I visited was quite fundamentalist.  When it came down to it, they wanted me to sign a fundamentalist statement of faith to be allowed to attend.  This I could not do-- at least not if I was going to maintain my integrity.  I told the professor ( a well-known church historian and author) I couldn't do it.  He said, a bit on the QT, "Have you tried the Catholics?"  

I told him I couldn't go to a Catholic seminary because I was not Catholic.  His response was that I was not the first to have this problem and that the Catholics would help me and work with me to fulfill my ordination requirements. So off I went to visit the Catholics, where, I did indeed, finish my last year of seminary, satisfying my denominational prerequisites for ordination.

Anderson (1990) states that inerrantists are rebelling against the choices and complexities of daily living and are "in hot pursuit of a civilization with no uncertainties."  The logic runs like this:  if there is even one error in the Bible, you might as well throw the whole thing out the window.  It is all or nothing.  That's why they fight so hard to uphold ideas like a literal six (seven) day creation (seven days because even God gets tired).  The notion of a mythic text frightens them.  It diminishes even the most overtly literal statements from the New Testament epistles.  All or nothing.  Everything is true or nothing is true.

We might talk of an overriding Christian myth.  This is not to say that there is only mythic content in the Bible (and by mythic I refer to to legends and legendary sagas as well).  It is just that in the formation of a truly Christian theology, mythic and non-mythic intertwine to arrive at a didactic purpose-- to teach us lessons about God and the spiritual realm.  A good example of the mythic influencing the plain teaching of the Bible deals with Paul's injunction for women to be submissive in his Epistle to the Romans.  It is clear teaching, but note that it is based on the creation myth-- a story that most people see as more symbolic than literal.  But the fundamentalist cannot separate the two in their mind and so can't see the low position afforded women in much of the New Testament as being cultural and certainty not of lasting consequence.  In fact, in other New Testament texts, the equality of women is upheld.

But, our fundamentalist friends cannot accept that.  You cannot rob Peter to pay Paul.  Instead of recognizing conflicting traditions in the Biblical text, they say all parts are equally true.  This "flat Bible" approach leaves them frequently conflicted and unreasonable.

This series will continue....


  1. James, Great blog you've set up here. I'm planning to order your book and look forward to your posts here, also. Thanks!

    Katy www.fallible.com

  2. Dr. A~

    Your hard work has paid off! Everything looks good and I hope you are doing well. I look forward to getting a copy of your book... maybe a signed copy? Take Care- Megan Evans Schulte