Tuesday, January 10

Rick Warren and The Fundamentals of the Faith

[Update 2: Jollyblogger has posted more extensive comments on the same interview. ]

In Tim Challies A La Carte entry for today, he quotes Rick Warren from this interview, where Warren makes this statement:
Now the word "fundamentalist" actually comes from a document in the 1920s called the Five Fundamentals of the Faith. And it is a very legalistic, narrow view of Christianity...
What are the Five Fundamentals?
I grew up in churches that belonged to a loose fundamentalist organization, so I'm familiar with the fundamentals. Here's a list of the fundamentals as I learned them:
  1. The literal inerrancy of the autographs of scripture. (The word autographs means the original writings of the authors of scripture, so manuscript copies and translations are not included in what is inerrent according to the fundamentals.)
  2. The virgin birth and deity of Christ.
  3. The substitutionary view of the atonement .
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  5. The imminent return of Christ. (Originally there was not a specific eschatological view in mind here, since the founders of the fundamentalist movement were from various denominations and held various views of the end times.)

Depending on where you look, you'll get a slightly different list. This one is from an article posted by the First Presbyterian Church in the City of New York:
  1. The inerrancy of the Bible.
  2. The virgin birth of Christ.
  3. Christ's substitutionary atonement.
  4. Christ's bodily resurrection.
  5. The authenticity of Christ's miracles.

[Update 1: If my recollection is correct, and it might not be, there was a sort of unwritten sixth fundamental: Nonparticipation as a church body with groups that don't adhere to the five fundamentals. Warren doesn't seem to be referring to an unwritten sixth fundamental, but rather to the five.]

Is Rick Warren right?
Fundamentalist Christianity has taken on more "narrowness" since the movement started, and most groups that call themselves fundamentalist today have added fundamentals to the list, at least in practice, if not on paper. For instance, many are King James Version only, so they don't see inerrancy as something found only in the autographs of scripture, but also as something found in the text of the King James Version of the Bible. Another frequently added doctrinal fundamental is a dispensational premillenial view of eschatology. Many groups have also added matters of practice, in addition to matters of doctrine, to their list of fundamentals.

However, I don't see either of these lists of original fundamentals as particularly legalistic and narrow, and I'd happily sign my name to either of them. In the same interview from which the above quote comes, Warren says that in doctrinal matters,
it's what Augustine said: "In the essentials, unity; in the non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity."
I'd see these five fundamentals as essentials. If affirming them as fundamentals is narrow, it's the necessary narrowness of unity around essentials.*

To be fair to Rick Warren, in reading the whole text of the transcript, I'm not completely certain he meant to say that the original five fundamentals were legalistic and narrow. Here's the whole paragraph:
Now the word "fundamentalist" actually comes from a document in the 1920s called the Five Fundamentals of the Faith. And it is a very legalistic, narrow view of Christianity, and when I say there are very few fundamentalists, I mean in the sense that they are all actually called fundamentalist churches, and those would be quite small. There are no large ones.
It may that he's just pointing out fundamentalism's roots, and then moving on to this present time, pointing out that there are not that many churches that actually call themselves fundamentalist churches, and those that do are, by and large, legalistic and narrow. If Warren's charge of narrow legalism is made toward what fundamentalism has become rather than the five fundamentals themselves, then he's not completely off base.

If, however, he meant to say that the five fundamentals, as set out in the original books were narrow and legalistic, then I think he's full of beans, and I use that term in its technical sense.**

What say ye? Are the original fundamentals of the faith legalistic and narrow?

*The five fundamentals were not meant to be a summary of all essential Christian doctrines; but rather, they were particular doctrines that the framers of the five fundamentals considered to be under attack at the time the fundamentals were set down. As such, they would be an incomplete and unbalanced list of essentials.

[**Yet another update: Since some of you seem to be unaware of the absolutely correct technical definition of being full of beans, I'll define it for you: Being full of beans is speaking a lot about something one knows very little.]

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