Adventist Media Response and Conversation

Monday, September 10, 2007

Adventism and Fundamentalism

This last Saturday I attended Pacific Northwest Adventist Forum presented by Dave Thomas, D. Min. Professor of Theology Dean, School of Theology Walla Walla College. This was a very good presentation on a sensitive subject that no doubt would cause Adventist fundamentalist to bristle. Hopefully at some point the forum will have their website up and running and a tape or mp3 of the presentation available. I did offer previously to interview a speaker prior to his presentation but they may do that on their website and so turned down my offer. That was many months ago but as a friend told me maybe I am not safe. Here is some of the information from the Forum presentation.

Fundamentalism definition by Dave Thomas:

Fundamentalism is a reaction against rapid change. It is driven more by fear than it is by faith.

Religious faith provides context for peoples lives. Once you establish a reality of ultimate faith you can’t change it or you rob people of their sense of place and purpose and they won’t abide such changes. Every generation looks at their children and sees them as rapidly declining; it has been the view of the older generation of the younger for thousands of years. Fundamentalism is attempting to prevent change.

Fundamentalists like to carefully define a body of truth. Second they ascribe that body of truth as directly from God. Which is why verbal inspiration is so popular among many fundamentalists. Like the Koran which is only correct when read in Arabic any other language is a lesser word of God. Once they have the body of truth attributed to God they can declare it as orthodoxy. Our understanding came down from heaven it is the way things are, they can’t be changed. Then those not accepting the orthodoxy are shunned or discredited or in extremist cases worse.

As Reinhold Niebuhr wrote: ”Frantic orthodoxy is never rooted in faith but in doubt. It is when we are not sure that we are doubly sure. Fundamentalism is, therefore, inevitable in an age which has destroyed so many certainties by which faith once expressed itself and upon which it relied.”

The hope then is by fixing beliefs the fundamentalist can prevent change. It is a poor strategy because all human knowledge is partial at best. Even revelation from God is partial as Paul said “we know in part and we see in part” but he looks to the day when we know and be known completely. Human knowledge is always affected by time and place.

Fundamentalism has three basic flaws

  1. Limited knowledge. (we are guaranteed that there are errors in every religious system of belief)
  2. Change is ever present and perhaps necessary part of life. (how does one fight a given in life)
  3. Truth is often based upon an experience test. (The ultimate truth is revealed by a person’s experience of the transforming power of God. Thus they look inward to judge the viability of their religion. But what happens when the person falls into sin or their conversion experience appears to fail? If they look inward their proof is gone. What happens in many fundamentalists is that they lose their faith in fall into agnosticism or secularism.)

One of the wonders of early Adventism was the idea of Present Truth, knowledge that is current and as time moves on knowledge increases and present truth expands.

Dr. Thomas did remind us of the two major contributions of Fundamentalism which are a high degree of respect for the Bible and a continuing the sense of the supernatural against the modernism of the last centuries.

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