Monday, September 10, 2012

Ambiguity and Utility: Fundamentals of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism

To keep evangelical and fundamentalist alliances, beliefs must be rendered ambiguous.  In the consideration of what is certain, decisions are made based on utilitarian means.  Ambiguity and utility are new doctrines.  Scripture doesn't teach them.  You won't find them in the history of Christian doctrine, but today they have become necessities.

The Bible reveals certainty and surety.  Faith is sure.  We practice based on conviction, not what will work or feels the best.  No utilitarian test applies to what God said.  We just do it, and even if He slays us, as Job said, we still trust Him.

Ambiguity and utility aren't in God's Word, but they have become chief virtues of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.  Ambiguity means humility, what is called epistemological humility.  No one likes a know it all.  Then utility means you're smart, you're wise.  It doesn't really.  But now it does.  Utility means fruitfulness.  It worked, therefore, you're fruitful.  Not really, but now it does mean that. Ambiguity means that I can't know, therefore, I can't expect everyone to be just like me, so I overlook differences in belief.  This is supposedly humble.

Utility relates to what will work for me.  Theologically, it means going to heaven.  That's most important, because it's the most important thing for me personally, so it is the indispensable doctrine.  Practically, it means what will make for an easier life, one in which you can still go to heaven, and yet you get along with the world (you don't stick out too much), plus you grow numerically (you're popular) because you dropped the things that the world especially doesn't like.  Again, you're smart.  People who don't do this must be stupid.  They won't be popular, will not get as big, and will have a more difficult life.  Anyone who goes ahead and does that, who doesn't really have to, must be stupid.

So I present to you the evangelical and fundamental doctrines of ambiguity and utility:  fundamentals of the faith.  You won't find these doctrines in history and they are still being developed, argued for, in contemporary theology.

Scripture and historical theology teach a perfect Bible, the preservation of the same words and letters in the original languages as the original manuscripts.  And now that is actually an acceptable position to believe, as long as several other positions are also acceptable.  You can take a perfect preservation position, if you are willing to tolerate several other positions:  critical text, eclectic text, majority text etc.  In other words, your position must allow ambiguity, whatever it is.  If you do, you're fine.  Utility comes in here as well.  Men want a bible that is easier to read with a contemporary flavor and tone, and not just one of them, but several.  They necessitate multiple versions, any of which are acceptable, to choose for whatever context one needs one of them.   The more versions allowable, the bigger the coalition---this is also the utility.  And then there is the utility of scholarship, providing greater opportunity among more and diverse academic settings.  The intolerable position is one position.  Scripture and historical theology say one Bible in fitting with one God and that is the one position that is unacceptable today in evangelicalism and fundamentalism.  You're not just wrong if you believe this---you're a joke to them.  Ambiguity and utility reign.

If the source of authority for every doctrine becomes ambiguous, then it is no wonder that the doctrines derived from that source will also be ambiguous.  In almost every doctrine, several options must be accepted.  Even some of the so-called fundamentals of the faith welcome nuance.  Finally we get a Jesus, who is adaptable to your worship, your lifestyle, your aesthetics, and your preferences.  He becomes the canvass on which you can project the Jesus appropriate to your needs.

Ambiguity and utility are welcome and friendly, seldom hostile and exclusive, with the rare exception of intolerance.  Intolerance will anger ambiguity and utility.  The fundamental is being violated.  The biggest reaction is reserved for an occasion of clarity and conviction.  Ambiguity and utility must be preserved.


Steve Rogers said...

Pastor B,

This is a BULLSEYE, TOUCHDOWN,SPOT ON,(and a hundred other descriptions)on one of the most important perspectives independent Baptists need to get right! Fundamentalism, the movement and belief system, is NOT a synonym for Biblical Separation, but for really the exact opposite, doctrinal and theological inclusivism and ambiguity and unity. I fear too many independent Baptists have been indoctrinated with the mantra for so long now, it's engraved in their vocabulary. Isn't it ironic, the only ones fundamentalists cannot seem to tolerate, are Biblicists, committed to more than just the Fab 5!

Joshua said...

Sums it up perfectly.

I remember as a child trying to get out of the house with my brother before Mum found out that we hadn't done all the chores she asked.

As we pedaled furiously away, I remember faintly hearing something like a woman crying my name wafting on the breeze to me.

"Is that Mum calling?" Said my brother. "Not sure - can't really make it out", I shouted back, "Keep pedaling!" And away we went until we couldn't hear anything anymore.

Amazing how humble I became regarding my hearing ability when ambiguity was of great utility to me...

Truly, these are the fundamentals of faithlessness and disobedience.

Joshua said...

Something that I think is easily overlooked here is the value of certainty, and even when it is misplaced - the certainty is not the problem!

We've all met someone supremely confident in something that is completely wrong.

For the evangelical/emergent, they would say that his certainty is the problem.

We say something entirely different. We admire his certainty and zeal, but seek to correct his error so that his certainty is according to knowledge.

Romans 10:2 For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.

Paul didn't complain that the Jews needed to be less sure or less zealous. He admired that - bare record of it even. But it wasn't according to knowledge, and that was his concern.

There are no Scriptures attacking certainty. Certainty is good. So many Scriptures are given to us to build our certainty. Error is the problem, not certainty.

Kent Brandenburg said...

Steve and Joshua,

I loved your comments. Thanks.