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Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism
By Kevin Bauder
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2011 Zondervan
All right reserved.
KEVIN T. BAUDER
Imagine the difficulty of explaining fundamentalism in a book about evangelicalism. Fundamentalism is generally treated like the cryptozoology of the theological world. It need not be argued against. It can simply be dismissed. Part of the fault lies with fundamentalists themselves. For a generation or more, they have produced few sustained expositions of their ideas. Perhaps a certain amount of stereotyping is excusable, and maybe even unavoidable. No fundamentalist has produced a critical history of fundamentalism. Nor is any sustained, scholarly, theological explanation of core fundamentalist ideas available. By virtue of its length, this essay can provide neither. Instead, it offers a very brief introduction to fundamentalism. No one can speak for all fundamentalists. Consequently, this essay reflects my own vision of fundamentalism. I occasionally indicate areas in which I believe most fundamentalists would agree with me.
I am primarily addressing people who have had limited exposure to fundamentalism. I would like to introduce them to the movement. Therefore, my presentation takes the form of ecclesiastical show-and-tell. It is not so much a work of research as it is a personal perspective —perhaps even (in the best fundamentalist tradition) a personal testimony. This being the case, I must beg a measure of indulgence. I offer observations about fundamentalism that I cannot document statistically. Those observations, however, are informed by half a century of personal immersion in the fundamentalist movement and its idea. They are also tempered by education and conversation outside of fundamentalism.
In view of the foregoing, my stance toward fundamentalism is one of critical sympathy. I do not wish to excuse the blemishes of fundamentalists, but I see enough value in fundamentalism to attract me. Central to my discussion is a distinction between the idea of fundamentalism and the fundamentalist movement. Ideas are anterior to things, and words are signifiers, not merely of things, and much less of other words, but of ideas. This observation is particularly important in discussing intellectual movements.
Intellectual movements usually incarnate an idea. The incarnations, however, are rarely or never perfect. We often grasp the idea poorly. Sometimes we twist the idea to serve our own interests. We also tend to mix one idea with another, often unwittingly. The result is that the idea (in this case, fundamentalism) virtually never occurs in pristine form. These factors have resulted in a variety of fundamentalisms. Though I shall speak of "the fundamentalist movement," fundamentalism has never existed as a single, unified phenomenon. The idea of fundamentalism has been understood differently by different fundamentalists.
In the following pages, I offer a guided tour of the fundamentalist phenomenon. First, I explore a fundamentalist theory of minimal Christian fellowship. Second, I develop a fundamentalist theory of maximal Christian fellowship. These two sections together summarize the idea of fundamentalism. The third section explores two forms of fundamentalism that distort the idea, and in the final section, I evaluate the present status of fundamentalism. I conclude with observations about the possibility of rapprochement between fundamentalists and other evangelicals.
The Idea of Fundamentalism and Minimal Christian Fellowship
Some analysts of fundamentalism believe that its primary motif is the purity of the church. While purity is important to fundamentalists, I do not agree that it is their most central concern. Strange as it may sound, the primary motive of fundamentalism is the unity and fellowship of the church. I believe that fundamentalism is a serious attempt to wrestle with the nature of the church as the communion of the saints.
Unity and fellowship do not exist in themselves. They are byproducts of something else. Unity is always a function of something that unites. Fellowship (koinônia) means joint ownership. Properly speaking, fellowship involves something that two or more persons hold in common. These insights are the mainspring of fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is particularly concerned with Christian unity and fellowship. The question with which fundamentalism begins is, "What unites Christians? What do Christians hold in common?" Since Christian unity and fellowship may be greater or less, this question has both a minimal and a maximal answer. At the minimal level, some criterion must exist for differentiating Christians from other people. Otherwise, all humans would be recognized as Christians. What is this criterion?
The Gospel and the Church
In the New Testament, the locus of Christian unity is the church. The church is pictured as one flock (John 10:16), one new humanity (Eph. 2:15), and one body (Eph. 2:16; 1 Cor. 12:13). All Christians are united in this church. This unity is the work of the Spirit. The church has access to the Father by one Spirit (Eph. 2:18). The baptism of this Spirit unites Christians with the body and, indeed, with Christ himself (1 Cor. 12:12–13). The unity that Christians are to maintain is the unity of the Spirit (Eph. 4:3). When Paul states that "we ... all" have been Spirit-baptized into one body (1 Cor. 12:13), he does not mean to include all humans. He includes himself, his readers, and all people everywhere who call on the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 1:3). Evidently, the unity of which Paul speaks is related to the reception of the gospel.
In Ephesians 4:4–6, Paul names seven factors that unite Christians. The first two are the one body and the one Spirit. Paul then names one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father. Clearly these uniting factors pertain only to people who have received the gospel. The gospel is pivotal to Christian unity.
Another way of viewing Christian unity is presented in Jesus' parable of the sheepfold (John 10:1–16). In the parable, the fold represents national Israel, which possessed a form of unity that was visible, external, and tangible. This form of unity, however, was not necessarily internal, for the nation (the fold) included some people who were Jesus' sheep and others who were not. In contrast to the external unity of the fold, Jesus says that he is going to lead his sheep "out." An example of this leading out had already occurred in John 9, where the man born blind was cast out of the synagogue because of his loyalty to Jesus. What was already true of the man born blind would become true of all Jesus' sheep. He would separate them from national Israel. Then he would bring his other sheep, sheep that had never been part of the fold, namely, Gentiles. These two groups of sheep would become "one flock" with "one shepherd" (John 10:16).
What would unite individual sheep into one flock? Jesus says that his sheep follow him because they know his voice. The flock is united by following the Shepherd. To follow the Shepherd can be understood as a metaphor for faith in the gospel. In contrast to the outward unity of Israel, the one flock would enjoy an inner, organic unity. Its unity would come through its trust in the Shepherd. Again, the gospel is pivotal to Christian unity.
As the foregoing shows, the church can be viewed in at least two ways. It can be seen as Christ's body, constituted by the baptizing work of the Spirit. The church can also be viewed as a flock, constituted as Jesus' sheep who hear his voice and follow him. From both of these perspectives, the essential unity of the church is invisible, inward, and organic. The church is created by, and the unity of the church consists in, the gospel itself.
What about Jesus' prayer for unity in John 17? Echoing the language of John 10, Jesus prays for those whom the Father has given him. He asks the Father to keep them in order that they might be one, just as Jesus and the Father are one (John 17:11).
Jesus specifies that his request includes both the circle of the disciples and those who will believe through their word (John 17:20). Since Jesus places no terminus ad quem on this request, it apparently includes his followers today. Consequently, it implies a unity that stretches not only through space, but also through time. Jesus grounds his request in the unity that exists between him and the Father. He notes that the Father is in him and he in the Father (v. 21). He asks that his followers may also be one "in us." The unity of Jesus' followers has a purpose. They are to be made one in order that the world may believe that the Father has sent Jesus. In some mysterious way, the unity of Jesus' followers is a necessary condition for the belief of the world. Very likely, the unity for which Jesus prayed is the same unity that comes from following Jesus (John 10). It is also the unity that comes from receiving Spirit baptism (1 Cor. 12:13). It is an inner, organic, invisible unity.
The fundamental unity of the church is invisible and intangible. It is an inward unity that comes with belief in the gospel. This observation does not imply that outward, visible unity is unimportant. Outward unity, however, can be enjoyed only where inner unity already exists. In sum, unity is always a function of what unites. Fellowship always involves something that is held in common. The quality of the thing held in common determines the quality of the fellowship or unity. The thing that is held in common by all Christians—the thing that constitutes the church as one church—is the gospel itself. Belief in the gospel is how people follow Jesus. Belief in the gospel is how people are Spirit-baptized into the one body. Consequently, the gospel is the essential ground of all genuinely Christian unity. Where the gospel is denied, no such unity exists. Even the most minimal Christian unity depends on common belief in the gospel.
The Invisible Church and Visible Unity
What all Christians hold in common is the gospel. The fundamental unity that comes from the gospel, however, is essentially invisible, for both faith in the gospel and Spirit baptism are invisible. This invisibility presents a problem for determining the boundaries of visible, external Christian cooperation. How can invisible unity be relevant for questions of visible cooperation and fellowship? The answer is that external manifestations of fellowship are grounded in the real, internal unity that already exists between all genuine believers. Christians do not have the obligation to contrive unity or fellowship. God graciously gives these things.
Paul explicitly grounds visible unity on invisible commonalities in Ephesians 4. Believers are supposed to endeavor to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v. 3). This external unity is founded in the seven invisible realities of one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father (vv. 4–6). The inner unity that believers have been granted ought to be reflected in their outer conduct.
How can Christians make judgments about Christian fellowship? Since God alone can see hearts, the test must be something other than perfect knowledge. God alone knows who genuinely possesses faith. What Christians can know, however, and what they must evaluate, is who professes faith. Christians are united by their faith in the gospel. When they profess the gospel, they announce their faith. Unless their profession is falsified by their behavior, they ought to be received as participants in the one flock and the one body.
Those who profess the gospel should be recognized as saints, provided that their lives do not contradict their professions. The Second London Confession, a Baptist document, states this principle: "All persons throughout the world, professing the faith of the Gospel, and obedience unto God by Christ, according unto it; not destroying their own profession by any Errors everting the foundation, or unholyness of conversation, are and may be called visible Saints." As visible saints, such individuals are presumed to participate in the communion of the saints.
Possession of faith in the gospel determines who really is a Christian. Profession of faith in the gospel determines who should be reckoned as a Christian. Profession of the gospel is the minimum requirement for visible Christian fellowship. The gospel is the boundary of Christian fellowship. The gospel defines fellowship, but that leaves another question: What exactly is the gospel?
The Gospel, History, and Doctrine
The gospel is the primary category for understanding Christian fellowship. Therefore, a right understanding of the gospel is extremely important. Among those who name the name of Christ, however, definitions of the gospel vary widely. How do we know what the gospel is? If we want a biblical definition, then we ought to seek a biblical text that aims to give a definition. We find such a passage in 1 Corinthians 15. The chapter opens with Paul's statement that he intends to "make known" the gospel. In other words, Paul means to explain or define the gospel. What gospel? It was the gospel that he preached, that the Corinthians received and in which they presently stood, and by which they were being saved.
Its place in the epistle and, indeed, in the Pauline corpus underlines the importance of 1 Corinthians 15. Paul opens the epistle with a disquisition on the gospel. In 1 Corinthians 1:17–18, he explicitly ties the preaching of the gospel to the rationale (logos) of the cross. Unlike miraculous signs or human wisdom, the message of the crucified Christ has the power to save those who believe (1:20–24). In fact, Paul purposes to preach nothing but Jesus crucified so that people will trust God's power and not place their confidence in human wisdom (1 Cor. 2:1–5).
Paul returns to the subject of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 9. There he insists that he will surrender any privilege that hinders the effective proclamation of the gospel (v. 12). His reason is that he is duty-bound to preach the gospel, for the preaching of which he holds an administrative trust (vv. 16–17).
Paul also contrasts his gospel with other gospels. In 2 Corinthians 11:4, he mentions people who preach a different Jesus, receive a different spirit, and accept a different gospel. In one of his earliest epistles, he warns the Galatians about those who wish to pervert the gospel of Christ (Gal. 1:6–7). He warns against being drawn away from the grace that is in Christ to a different gospel (Gal. 1:6–9).
Paul insists that his gospel is not one of human invention. He did not receive it from humans, but by direct revelation from Jesus Christ (Gal. 1:11–12). Only after Paul had begun to preach the gospel among the Gentiles did he review its contents with the other apostles (Gal. 2:2).
The gospel that Paul makes known, or defines, in 1 Corinthians 15 is the same gospel that he had been preaching. It was not new to the Corinthian congregation. They had heard it before. They had believed it. Now, however, it was coming under attack. In preparation for his counterattack, Paul clearly summarized the gospel.
In Paul's articulation, the gospel revolves around the death and resurrection of Jesus. It is news about specific events. Christ died. Christ arose. These are the decisive events of the gospel. Each of these events is attested by witnesses. The death of Christ is attested by the witness of his burial. The resurrection is attested by the witness of those who saw the risen Lord with their own eyes. If these events did not occur in just the way that Scripture says they did, then the gospel is false and without value.
By themselves, however, the events have no meaning. Christ was crucified, but the Romans crucified many criminals. Allowing that Christ did rise from the dead, why is this fact more than a scientific conundrum? The value of the events lies in their significance. When Jesus was crucified, he died for our sins. When he arose from the dead, he became the firstfruits of those who slept.
Paul's primary concern in 1 Corinthians 15 is with the resurrection of Christ. The resurrection was under attack. Paul uses the balance of the chapter to expound the significance of the resurrection. In contrast, he offers only the briefest explanation of Jesus' death: Christ died "for our sins." This explanation, however, is pregnant with meaning. It summarizes an understanding of Christ's death that was voiced, not only by Paul, but by other writers of the New Testament.
What does Paul mean when he says that Christ died for our sins? Certainly he means the kind of sins that he had discussed elsewhere in 1 Corinthians. These include matters such as incest, adultery, greed, idolatry, slander, homosexual conduct, stealing, drunkenness, the use of prostitutes, misapplication of gender roles, abuse of the Lord's Table, falsifying spiritual gifts, bickering with one's fellow Christians, judging the motives of others, preening over one's own superiority, engaging in crooked business dealings, suing fellow Christians, and even cursing Christ. These are the kinds of sins for which Christ died.
Such sins are all irreducibly personal. Granted, these sins do show up in the way that we treat other people (they have social dimensions). By committing them, we damage ourselves and others emotionally (they have psychological dimensions). They may even lead us to into twisted uses of the created order (they have environmental dimensions). Before they are anything else, however, they are personal. They involve the individual rejection of God's authority as moral lawgiver. They represent personal transgressions against his righteous demands.
The fundamental problem that sin poses is guilt, that is, injustice committed against the utterly pure judge of all. Even when sins have social, psychological, or environmental ramifications, they remain obstinately personal. The sins for which Christ died are personal sins entailing personal guilt and requiring personal salvation. In other words, the environmental, social, and psychological effects of sin are symptoms. The gospel is about personal redemption and the forgiveness of sins. In any articulation of human sin, personal guilt must remain primary.
What did Christ do about our sins? What does Paul mean that Christ died for our sins? Whatever other answers may be given, the New Testament definitely views the death of Christ in terms of penal substitution and the satisfaction of divine justice. This does not mean that other "theories" of the atonement are necessarily false in what they affirm. Each of them becomes false, however, if it is used to deny penal substitution. When Scripture declares that Christ died "for our sins," it means that God imputed the guilt of human sin to Christ on the cross and judged it there. It means that Christ's sacrifice propitiated God's wrath and satisfied the demands of his justice.
Excerpted from Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism by Kevin Bauder Copyright © 2011 by Zondervan . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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