A few days ago I heard ex-nun Karen Armstrong speak at Greenbelt Festival on the subject of Fundamentalism and the Battle For God.
No big surprise – | already read her excellent book “The Battle For God”. But it was great to see her in public (and take her photo). Karen made the statement that fundamentalism is basically a “militant form of piety” and a “violent revolt against secular modernity”.
Fundamentalism, she argued, is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even secular humanism. It is not orthodox, she said, but rather it is a “new doctrine”, characterized by the two ingredients of independence and innovation. Behind fundamentalism is the fear of annihilation and fundamentalism becomes more extreme when attacked.
She also referred to a time when she was speaking on a panel regarding the church and a loud obnoxious fundamentalist stood up and was yelling out rudely. He was asked to be quiet and (I think) leave the auditorium. As he left, the moderator noted that his dismissal was unfortunate, since he also, was a part of the conversation on how the church is emerging in this age.
Interesting stuff. She seemed regretful that they had dismissed this guy.
It made me think about the emerging church and its relation with fundamentalism. If Karen Armstrong is correct, even the emerging church has fundamentalists. And if her definition of fundamentalism as a reaction against secular modernity [Will Samson noted that “modernism” would have been a better word] is correct, then the two worlds might be quite close. Perhaps what Don Carson was reacting to in his critique of the emerging church was the fundamentalist side when he identified the main characteristic of emerging church as “protest”.
This is how I see it. Inside the emerging church, which is a vastly complex movement, there are probably 3 distinct responses to secular humanism and our current postmodern age:
1. A fundamentalist rejection and protest (isolationism, exclusivity)
2. An unthinking acceptance (syncretism, accommodation)
3. A prophetic response (contextual, missional)
Obviously, its the last one that appeals to me, and the one that I applaud and support. But I have to admit the other streams are also there at the table, just as they are in the traditional church, and probably all the way through church history. Certainly Jesus encountered all three groups.
Related to this is a speech I heard the day before. Father Richard Rohr, a Franciscian Monk, told us that older believers in Christ should be mature, and being mature has to do with giving up control to God. Old people should not be mean spirited like the Pharisees but instead show their maturity by becoming childlike. We can operate out of fear or love. Love is better. And perfect love drives out all fear.
I like that . . . operate out of love rather than fear. Perfect love.
Hold fast to the truth . . yes . . . but be constrained by Christ’s love.