“Shouting Answers While Running Away”

MattAndersonMatt Anderson is an old friend of mine. We’ve been discussing, arguing (and sometimes joking) about questions around faith, sexuality, and friendship for many years now. He recently tweeted out this quote from his recent book, The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith:

The fundamentalist Christian stance has sometimes taken shape as an overreaction against a skeptical climate. In the face of intellectual and other challenges, the fundamentalist impulse is to preserve faith at any and all costs. Fundamentalism takes the form of a worry that on some level reason or science will undermine Christianity—which seems to mean ignoring them altogether. In such an environment, “faith” takes the form of holding on to a particular stance as a certainty, such that the possibility of questioning is immediately foreclosed. Such an impulse is often tied to particular views of Scripture or Genesis, but it shouldn’t be. As we have seen play out in culture, the most permissive approaches to Scripture’s teaching about sex sometimes lead to a rigid fundamentalism that endorses a liberal creed. The paradox is that while the fundamentalist’s faith is frequently loud and comes off as very certain, it lacks the prudential confidence to wisely, but truly, face up to the questions that confront it. It is driven by a vague sense of threats that it does not know how to respond to effectively and so ends up being reduced to shouting its answers while running away.

If that whets your appetite, you might be interested in seeing how he tries to address some of the questions Christians face today around same-sex marriage in “The Limits of Dialogue: Q Ideas, Gay Marriage, and Chuck Colson.”

5 thoughts on ““Shouting Answers While Running Away”

  1. Matt strikes me as an interesting bird. He seems to have an irenic side that’s entirely absent from guys like Burk, Strachan, and Teetsel. On the other hand, he still seems to take the “I’m right because I said I am” approach to most questions. Rarely do his meanderings lead anywhere but back to good ol’ Lindsellian anti-intellectual fundamentalism.

    I’m reminded of reading Al Mohler’s contribution to the four views on inerrancy. Nowhere does he engage substantively with his critics. He just keeps repeating the same thing over and over again like an automaton.

    I think that’s why we’re not too far from the point where most evangelical churches will go with Ken Wilson’s third-way approach. It gives us the space to ask hard questions, listen to each other, and set out on an uncertain journey over complex terrain.

    • It’s hard for me to evaluate a claim like that, because I’ve known Matt as a friend for a long time, and that colors how I interpret his writings. In person, I’ve never seen an “I’m right because I said I am” approach. Even when I see something like that in one of his posts, if I raise objections with him, he’s always willing to engage with my disagreements. Given that, I have a very different impression of Matt; and the level of personal interaction I’ve had makes it hard for me to have any impression of how he would come across to readers who knew him only through his writings. Even so, he seems to me much more open to questions about faith than most fundamentalists.

  2. [The fundamentalist Christian stance has sometimes taken shape as an overreaction against a skeptical climate. In the face of intellectual and other challenges, the fundamentalist impulse is to preserve faith at any and all costs. Fundamentalism takes the form of a worry that on some level reason or science will undermine Christianity—which seems to mean ignoring them altogether. In such an environment, “faith” takes the form of holding on to a particular stance as a certainty, such that the possibility of questioning is immediately foreclosed. Such an impulse is often tied to particular views of Scripture or Genesis, but it shouldn’t be.]

    I believe that is the only form it can take, reasonably. If you were allowed the freedom to question or take your own views on your faith you would cease being fundamentalist or orthodox, entirely. Fundamentalism demands absolute, unquestioned consensus because if one part fails the whole thing fails. It is the common issue brought up when you speak of there being potential error in the bible with more orthodox inerrant-believer types (e.g. if any of it is wrong then we can’t trust any of it to be right). Science and the Enlightenment, in general, are anathema to that rigid view of things. I think the book The War of Art explained it best:

    “What exactly is this despair [that drives the individual to embrace fundamentalism]? It is the despair of Freedom. The dislocation and emasculation experienced by the individual cut free from the familiar and comforting structures of the tribe and the clan, the village and the family.

    It is the state of modern life.

    The fundamentalist (or, more accurately, the beleaguered individual who comes to embrace fundamentalism) cannot stand freedom. He can’t find his way into the future, so he retreats to the past. He returns in imagination to the glory days of his race and seeks to reconstitute both them and himself in their purer, more virtuous light. He gets back to the basics.To Fundamentals.”

    What Matt is asking for here is an impossibility. If he got his wish, it would severely compromise the faith of his peers built on an unchanging view of the world where the old ways are good and all other ways are evil.

    • I concur entirely. The linchpin of evangelicalism is a refusal to modify one’s position based on newly observed phenomena or new information. According to Van Til’s presuppositionalist philosophy, they believe that the fall had such a radical effect on the natural order so as to render all natural reasoning inherently suspect. Even so, they believe that the Spirit can enlighten the mind of the believer such that, when he reads his inerrant Bible, the truths of the universe become apparent to him in the form of a “biblical worldview.”

      Denny Burk, who is the main evangelical scholar on marriage and sexuality, recently published a piece in their “academic” journal, JETS. On page 112 of the article, Burk summarily dismisses the SF thesis by simply concluding (without citation or any other support) that same-sex attraction *is* reducible to a desire for gay sex. His biblical worldview just tells him that this is so. If you disagree, it’s because you don’t have a biblical worldview. I spent a number of wasted years in evangelicalism (PCA). This is par for the course. Any efforts to engage outside research or findings is done for protective purposes only. There is never any intent to change anything in view of those engagements. After all, evangelicals have already discovered the full bucket of truth and have no need for further knowledge.

      Matt is a bit better than Denny, as he seems to give some effort at understanding what those of us who lack a biblical worldview are actually thinking. But he never really appears to modify his views in light of those engagements. I was a bit surprised by his apparent criticisms of Strachan a few months back, but I had a hard time making sense of the critique. In the end, it struck me as more of a criticism of style than substance.

      But, as Molly Worthen notes in her recent book, for evangelicals, “inerrancy” doesn’t really refer to the text of Scripture itself; rather, it refers to the inerrancy of fundamentalist interpretations of the Bible. Harold Bloom made much the same observation, demonstrating the implicit consistencies between evangelicalism and Mormonism. In that sense, the evangelical “biblical worldview” functions in much the same way that various extra-biblical sources function within Mormonism. So, on occasion, the biblical worldview can lead to rather non-biblical stances. For example, the Bible consistently treats marriage and sexual desire as aspects of our post-fall condition, and holds up singleness and celibacy as more characteristic of our post-parousia existence. Paul states this pretty clearly in I Corinthians 7, and the singleness of Jesus surely points to an eschatological rupturing of our bondage to the procreative order. Even so, evangelicals continue to hold up the nuclear family as the Christian ideal, treat heterosexual desire as a natural pre-fall good, and systematically marginalize all who refuse to participate in the nuclear family model. Tim Bayly is the retired executive director of CBMW and another leading evangelical “thinker” on marriage and sexuality. Tim recently wrote: “Sex is a calling from God and is foundational to Christian discipleship, so the man who says he’s a celibate effeminate is a rebel against God.” It’s hard to square this with Paul in I Corinthians 7. But that’s where the “biblical worldview” trumps the Bible.

      Yes, I think evangelicalism is cracking up, and something of a fight over branding rights has ensued. Does the term “evangelical” refer to the broader revivalistic ethos that’s been with us since Edwards and Whitefield? Or does it refer to the specific movement that formed under Carl Henry and Harold Lindsell in the 1940s. It strikes me that the former will win out, if only because the latter is passing away. In some ways, that speaks to the wisdom of Joseph Smith. By making his gnostic departures from orthodox Christianity more explicit (which Henry and Lindsell elected not to do), Smith’s project succeeded where Henry’s and Lindsell’s failed. There can be no doubt that evangelicalism is nothing short of a neo-gnostic cult. Why Henry and Lindsell ignored Smith’s success and opted for a less explicit way of pursuing their pseudo-heresy is anyone’s guess.

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