Friday, July 20, 2018

TTT #19 One Doesn’t Have to be a Liberal to Reject Fundamentalism

In my 7/10 blog article (and Chapter 18 of Thirty True Things . . .), I asserted that one doesn’t have to be a fundamentalist in order to be a good Christian. I am convinced that that is the case. But does opposing fundamentalism make one a liberal? Not necessarily, and that is the main point of this article (and Chapter 19 of TTT).
It Is Not Necessary To Go from One Extreme to the Other
My distaste for Christian fundamentalism is so strong that, as most of know, I wrote an entire book published under the title Fed Up with Fundamentalism (2007). Consequently, some people have assumed that I must be a liberal. One of my Facebook friends once referred to me as a “proud liberal.”
But does opposing fundamentalism make one a liberal? No, one doesn’t have to be/become a liberal to reject fundamentalism.
Coincidentally, the very week I was working on the first draft of the 19th chapter of TTT, I received the first shipment of my second book, The Limits of Liberalism (2010). In that book I call for finding a position between the extremes of staunch fundamentalism and thoroughgoing liberalism.
The Difficulty of Finding the Middle Position
In The Limits of Liberalism I wrote about how in ancient Greek mythology, Scylla and Charybdis were the names of two sea monsters situated on opposite sides of the Strait of Messina between Sicily and Italy.
Those fearful monsters, representing a hazardous whirlpool and a dangerous reef, were located close enough to each other that they posed an inescapable threat to sailors who sought to pass between them: avoiding Charybdis usually meant passing too close to Scylla and vice versa. 
I certainly agree with those who seek to escape the “monster” called fundamentalism, as evidenced by the content of my book Fed Up with Fundamentalism. Still, I see the danger of fleeing the “monster” on the right only to be gobbled up by liberalism, the “monster” on the left.
Unfortunately, some have been so intent on escaping Charybdis (fundamentalism) that they have sailed straight into the jaws of Scylla (liberalism).
Seeking the Radiant Center
While working on The Limits of Liberalism, I came across a delightful book by Adam Hamilton. He is the dynamic pastor of Church of the Resurrection, a Methodist megachurch here in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. The book is titled Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White (2008).
While I largely agree with the centrist position Hamilton takes on most issues, I decided I did not like to talk about that position as being gray, for generally gray is not a very appealing color. So I went on to suggest that perhaps we can seek a position “between the extremes” of black and white, one that is a brilliant blue, a gorgeous green, or a rousing red.
Even though I like Hamilton’s position and found his calling for a “radical center” appealing, I decided to call my vision for the desired middle position the radiant center.
The radiant center is the gathering/rallying place for those who reject fundamentalism as well as for those who recognize the limits of liberalism.
It is the between-the-extremes place for all who realize that one doesn’t have to be a fundamentalist to be a good Christian as well as for all who recognize that one doesn’t have to be a liberal to reject fundamentalism.

[Here is the link to the entire Chapter 19 of TTT, which amplifies and gives examples related to this brief blog article.]


  1. The grass is always greener elsewhere. But the farther one moves from the center in any direction, the less palatable they become. Some berate that as being neither hot nor cold, and worthy of being vomited - I have heard that the both extremes - those who despise their opposites. (Why can't the Church and the world (and God) just be like ME?)

    God is the eventual judge, but I know how to avoid the mean and militant extremes. Stick with people of goodwill, even if you have differences. The CHURCH needs to remember Christ's final command - Love One Another. That was directed at His followers, not the world in general.
    There does need to be some "gray". It probably extends out into muted pastels quite a ways in all directions.

    Actually, I have found the "fundamentalists" to be more loving in general. They have beliefs which are unbending iron and uncompromising, but they tend to be more friendly. But their extremists really are nasty.

    1. Sure, I know many conservative Christians, who may or may not be fundamentalists, who are quite friendly. But that is true also for most of the "liberals" I know.

      On the basis of my experience of knowing and associating with many conservatives/fundamentalists seven decades (from the late 1940s to the present) and with much less experience with liberals, I certainly could not agree that in general "fundamentalists" are more loving.

      I have several friends who lost their jobs because the "fundamentalists" thought they were too liberal. I don't personally know of anyone who lost their job because "liberals" thought they were too much of a fundamentalist.

    2. Sadly, we each encounter and know of those near to us who are effected. I know more of conservatives being ousted. But that does not negate your experience.

      I'm not sure of "radiant center" other than Christ himself. We each have our own perceptions of how it should be - "I am of Apollos..." 1 Corinthians 3:4. We each have our own measuring sticks - The 10 Commandments; The Creed; The Sermon on the Mount; The Four Love Commandments... may just say a prayer and get wet and forget the rest. The Church seems to love schism - all sides. Meanness and vindictiveness does not become the Church, but it is real. There is none righteous. If only there could be repentance and reconciliation - there are occasional sparkles of that - I have seen it twice. God grant each of us more goodwill, especially to those of the household of Christian faith.

      PS - You would know one of my Methodist friends who was driven out. My cousin was the leader of the gang that drove him out.

    3. 1sojourner, I like your reference to 1 Corinthians 3. It seems to me that there Paul is pleading for a "radiant center" over against divisiveness and strife caused by polarization, which was probably most based on pride and the love of power. He wanted them all to be "co-workers in God’s service" (v. 9, NIV).

      If Christians are defined as those who believe in and follow Christ--and why else should they be called Christians--then following the teachings of Jesus should be the "stackpole" in the midst of the radiant center. But there should also be a broadness there, recognizing various emphases and accepting different ways of following Jesus, realizing that in spite of differences we are, indeed, co-workers for Christ. There doesn't have to be uniformity--but there does have to be love and mutual acceptance.

    4. Hear, hear.

  2. This morning Thinking Friend Andrew Bolton sent "loving greetings from England" and a lengthy, thoughtful email commenting on today's article. Here is just a part of what he wrote:

    "I love your term the 'Radiant Center.' This is where I am. I tended to be ‘fundamentalist’ as a young Christian. Then I swung to a liberal position. For some years I have called myself a ‘post-liberal.’ Hanging out or fellowshipping in the 'Radiant Center,' though, sounds much better.
    . . . .
    "The Bible for me is not the word of God. Jesus is the Word of God, God’s ultimate, reliable and personal revelation of Divinity in a human life. Jesus is the revelation of the possibilities of the kingdom of God. To say the Bible is the inerrant word of God is idolatrous. It is important for me to read all scripture through the lens of the Jesus described in the four Gospels. Jesus corrects scripture as part of his ministry, 'You have heard that it was said, but I say unto you . . . .'

    "Incarnation is the Radiant Centre, for Jesus is the Word of God. The Bible is a witness to this and a commentary that blesses us when we read with understanding and with the help of scholars, faithful interpreters and draw on the wisdom of the Christian community past and present. I like the Anabaptist way, that biblical interpretation requires the whole Christian community, not a privatised, individual understanding. Plenary revelation is too simple. Incarnational revelation is subtly wonderful in communicating infinite Spirit in human ways that even children can understand.

    ". . . . Thank you for your wonderful term, the 'Radiant Center.'”

    1. Thank you so much, Andrew, for your long, thoughtful email--what I posted above as wekk as the rest of what you wrote but I didn't post because of the length.

      Thanks, too, for your understanding of the Anabaptist view on biblical interpretation and explaining that in your comments.

      I am happy to acknowledge you as a good friend I can gladly fellowship with in the Radiant Center.

  3. And here are comments from Thinking Friend Greg Hadley, a USAmerican who has lived in Japan for decades and is a professor at Niigata University on the "back side" of Japan.

    "Yes, the radiant center. This is a very helpful concept, and I truly appreciate how you have constructed this. It gives people like me new vocabulary for naming what it is we are wanting to do and for where we would like to position ourselves within this polarizing world.

    "Thank you!"

  4. I much appreciate the following comments from Thinking Les Hill in Kentucky--and a retired Southern Baptist missionary (as I am).

    "I needed this presentation. I keep running across both positions and too seldom find a clear and acceptable (in my thinking) [statement] of what I appreciate your calling the 'Radiant Center.' Recently I have heard two strong positions that seem to take the position, 'radical liberal.' Because of their source, they have given me a sense of loss in the long term.

    "Thanks for the insight. When this book comes out I'll order multiple copies for two seminaries in the Philippines and add your two previous books that I appreciate."