Fundamentalists Without a Fundament

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What on earth might a deracinated evangelical be?

The simplest way to answer that question would be to point to any evangelical who looked up deracinated to see if it might be latent form of hate speech -- that's deracinated.

The hallmark of an evangelical used to be confidence -- confidence in the Bible, confidence in the message that Scripture entrusted to us, confidence in the reality of the new birth, and confidence in Jesus. Today all such confidence is denounced as triumphalism, or at best is worried over as a suspicious and unbecoming display of epistemic pride. This is because contemporary evangelicalism has the epistemic jimjams.

Faith overcomes the world. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. Faith is single-minded, never wavering. Faith is more precious than gold which perishes. Faith is the work of Jesus, poured into our hearts. Faith is where we stand after we have been pulled out of the miry clay. Faith travels everywhere with its two best friends, hope and love, and they never quarrel. Faith rocks.

This realm of joyful confidence is the natural habitat of the evangelical, and so when an evangelical becomes ill-at-ease in that habitat, that's deracinated. When an evangelical is alienated from the truisms he was given in his childhood (which were true, remember), that's deracinated. When an evangelical weaves down the middle of the highway, it makes the state troopers of orthodoxy want to make him blow into the little plastic tube.

It all began innocently enough. From the beginning, evangelicals did not want to display the fractiousness of the fundamentalists, but they wanted to do this without giving up their faith in all the same foundational doctrines. They were fundamentalists with a happy face. They were fundamentalists with an emphasis on catholicity -- and who could be against catholicity? Only bigots, right? But this is where the fatal mistake was made -- catholicity is a positive virtue, and coming up with a negatively-stated counterfeit was for the devil the work of a moment. This knock-off catholicity is a lowest-common denominator approach to truth. What is the bare minimum of what we can believe and still be in the evangelical club? Not surprisingly, the size of the truth that is held in common has been dwindling over the decades. But we were told to increase and multiply, not to do fractions.

We used to be fundamentalists with a cheerful disposition. Now we are fundamentalists without a fundament.

Just look at what is now up for grabs among those who still (for some reason) identify as evangelicals -- biblical inerrancy, the doctrine of the final judgment, same-sex marriage...not to mention the raging controversy in some quarters about the possible ordination of Bella Abzug's nightgown. We are even falling short of the comparatively low bar set by Kipling -- we don't even believe in the gods of the copybook headings anymore.

Catholicity is firmly convinced in its own mind, across the board, and yet includes within its framework of worldview understanding a right grasp of the importance of charity, and the distinction to be made between matters of first importance and things that are not as important. Catholicity does have a sense of proportion. But the lowest common denominator approach, despite its best efforts, has no sense of proportion at all -- as witnessed by all the essential things that have been jettisoned in the name of it.

No creed but Christ, no law but love. Sounds great. Who is this Christ guy? What did He do? Why did He do it? Does it matter very much that He did it? Why does it matter? Please answer all these questions, and any others that come up in the course of our discussion, in as non-creedal a way as possible. If possible, answer the questions without making any affirmations, which could be taken by some as triumphalistic and off-putting. This is admittedly hard to do, because no creed but Christ is a creed, but nobody is paying us for being consistent.

And as for love, what's that? Rob Bell says that love wins (which sounds triumphalistic, come to think of it), but does that mean that winning is love? The apostle said that love is the fulfillment of the law, but that approach sounds suspiciously like it might have to result in some Bible study. That makes it sound as though love is defined by its content, and that might get in the way of our pursuit of funding for this new center for the empowerment of deaf alcoholics. And that last phrase shows how difficult it is to be a satirist in these troubled times of ours. The present author, as the Victorians used to say, once walked by an actual Center for the Empowerment of Deaf Alcoholics. That's where "no law but love" gets you.

So here is another illustration of what deracinated evangelicalism looks like. If any evangelical church starts to describe itself as a "faith community," it is more likely to be a "shared unbelief community," quietly assembling for their outward bound pilgrimage to nowhere.

Douglas Wilson is the Senior Minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho. Follow him on Twitter @douglaswils.

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