Will the real Bible please stand up? Welcome to another post on Fundamentalist Friday. Trigger warning: if you hold the belief that the Bible is perfect—factually, historically, and scientifically true and is without contradictions—it is highly likely you’ll get uncomfortable reading this. I’m not here to argue, but simply to share with those who care what I learned on my journey out of what I consider a fundamentalist cult, The Way International™ (TWI).
♦ By the by, I think trigger warnings do not really help people, but keep them from learning something new and possibly worthwhile, like the value of considering other viewpoints …
Last week I talked about a book by Michelle Goldberg called, Kingdom Coming. This week, I want to give you some food for thought from the most instructive book about Fundamentalism that I read and re-read after leaving TWI. It’s James Barr’s book simply titled, Fundamentalism.
In 1987, just before I escaped TWI headquarters in New Knoxville, Ohio, a friend gave me a copy, but not until 2007 when I decided to write my memoir did I settle down and really study it.
A little background on Bibles
I value Barr’s work so much I quoted from it twice in my memoir, Undertow. The first instance is in my Preface. “As the biblical scholar James Barr tells us: ‘It is this function of the Bible as supreme religious symbol that justifies us in seeing fundamentalism as a quite separate religious form.'”
Picture a Bible on a pedestal. I’ve seen them like that in museums around the world. Sometimes we see them open on podiums, or lecterns, or in display cases. We find Bibles placed by the Gideon Bible Society in the drawer next to the bed in hotel rooms, tucked in the racks on the backs of church pews, laying on grandma’s coffee table, put in the bookcase along side theology books, and in the arms of street preachers standing on the corners downtown.
If you are new to the topic of Bibles, the Bibles we see in those places are usually the King James Version or ones like it, meaning they all contain the same “books” inside. Those “books” are different kinds of writings: stories, psalms, proverbs, accounts of Jesus’ life, and letters from various apostles and disciples.
But guess what? Not all Bibles are created equal. The one Catholics use has additional books than the KJV and other versions used by Protestants. A good question to ask a fundamentalist is, “Which Bible is the perfect one?”
James Barr’s food for thought
For your consideration, I offer some quotes from his book, along with page numbers.
“My purpose is thus to understand fundamentalism as a religious and intellectual system and to see why it functions as it does. My main task, therefore, has been to attempt a theological analysis of fundamentalist beliefs and practices.” p. 9
“… fundamentalism is based on a particular kind of religious tradition, and uses the form, rather than the reality, of biblical authority to provide a shield for this tradition. … It is the powerful hold of this religion on the soul that supplies the dynamic for the zeal and the cohesive force of the fundamentalist movement, and that also forges the bonds that make it difficult for fundamentalists either to change their theological position or to talk with other Christians on even terms.” p. 11
Barr goes on to inform us that the main ingredient of the recipe that brought about fundamentalism is “the religious experience of the Evangelical Revivals.” p. 12
A particular emotional, personal, and lively life based squarely on the Bible was the result. The issue was: how to apply the Bible to everyday life, in every minute, hour, day, and month? It sounds so easy. It is not. One reason it is not is because the “how to apply it” appropriately became a matter of opinion. That’s part of the reason for so many Protestant denominations.
Is fundamentalism relevant today?
Yes. Fundamentalists (evangelicals share the belief in inerrancy too sometimes) buy airtime on major television networks and preach in neighborhoods across the country, offering one fanatical side of the Christianity story. Barr says, “The contrast between the ‘nominal Christian” and the ‘true Christian’ is a distinction basic to all fundamentalist thought and action. … the distrust of the existing church is carried to the point of cynicism.” p. 13.
In TWI, this distrust of churches was indoctrinated into us. Wierwille, founder of The Way, was firm in his opposition to established churches, decrying them, calling them hypocrites, accusing them of having no power to “really help people.” I’m embarrassed to admit I believed him and jumped on his bandwagon.
Newsflash: Not only does TWI still operate today, but several offshoot groups of TWI operate across the country now, continuing to preach the fundamentalist dogmas they absorbed from Wierwille. One of the major non-negotiable beliefs is inerrancy.
Breaking the power of fundamentalism
” ,,, modern theology and biblical criticism, if valid, would break the intellectual link with the Bible which for fundamentalists provides them with the final assurance that their religious faith is true. Fundamentalists therefore fight hard because they are fighting for their own total perception of God and their own knowledge of salvation.” p. 342.
For further info:
Click here for a good definition of biblical criticism.
Click here for a description of modern theology or theological liberalism.
I welcome your comments!
Your writer on the wing,