September 2, 2011 by Gerald Hiestand
Matthew sent me this quote today, taken from the postscript of John Frame’s, Doctrine of the Word of God.
If I lost some of my conservative friends through my progressive ideas, I will now probably lose some progressive ones on the publication of this book. It may be called fundamentalist. If so, fine. I realize that fundamentalist is a term of derision, and for many reasons I would rather not be called by it. But I know through experience that name-calling is a staple of theological debate, and I have a thick skin. For all their frequent literalism, dispensationalism, and anti-intellectualism, the fundamentalists were stalwart in defending Scripture as God’s Word, in the face of attacks on all sides. Many of them will be closer to Jesus in heaven than many of us who seek to be more respectable.
I completely sympathize with Frame here. The quote reminds me of an important point Noll makes in his book, Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Noll takes fundamentalists to the woodshed, but for as much as he blames fundamentalists for the insular, backwater, anti-intellectual posture of North American evangelicals, he nonetheless rightly observes that it was fundamentalists, not liberals, who retained and passed on the core of the gospel. While the mainline churches were gradually denying the inspiration and authority of the Scriptures, the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection, etc., fundamentalists still believed in a God who regenerated hearts, worked miracles, and who spoke through the Bible. And history has proven them right for doing so. The liberal churches are in decline, while fundamentalism was able to give birth to evangelicalism — the fastest growing Christian movement in North America.
In his book, Noll is not unsympathetic to the difficulty facing Christians at the turn of the twentieth-century. The world was shifting in remarkable ways–epistemology, authority, science, higher criticism — everything was up for grabs. We can’t be too hard on those Christians who, while not having the intellectual resources to deal with a brave new world of unbelief, at least knew enough to circle the wagons and hold on to what they did know to be true — the reality of the resurrection of God’s Son.
As Frame notes above, the term “fundamentalist” is now a term of derision. And fundamentalists have legitimated much of the baggage that weighs down that term. But all evangelicals are indebted to fundamentalism (in ways we are decidedly not indebted to liberalism) for preserving a belief in the supernatural and passing it on to us. Fundamentalism is a ditch that evangelicals can still fall into. Liberalism is another. But if you have to pick one or the other, history has shown over and over again that a firm belief in the supernatural always trumps intellectual sophistication. And this is why fundamentalism (for all its manifest shortcomings) is better than liberalism.
Which label scares you more — “anti-intellectual” or “anti-supernatural”? God help us always fear the latter more.