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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

The Tenacity of Fundamentalism

The fundamentalist doctrine of Scripture is tenacious. Even when evangelicals move away from it, it remains a standard against which they test biblical conservatism. Yet it is also the case that fundamentalist ways of thinking are currently being undermined. This is partly because foundationalism itself is being undermined, and with it the old dividing lines between conservative and liberal, and also because evangelicals are becoming increasingly charismaticized. So these two developments, discussed below, have a moderating effect on biblical fundamentalism. None the less, a fundamentalist apologetic remains within the bloodstream of central, charismaticized evangelicalism, as is apparent from the internationally influential Alpha course. The author of Alpha, Nicky Gumbel, does not vehemently defend the fundamentalist doctrine of Scripture, but he does assume it. His stance, which will also be considered below, is typical of an evangelicalism that has developed no doctrine of Scripture besides a fundamentalist one.

Challenges to Foundationalism

There have been various challenges to foundationalism in recent philosophy, and this has affected theology (e.g. Murphy 1996; Plantinga and Wolterstorff 1983; Hauerwas, Murphy, and Nation 1994). The distinction between basic and non-basic beliefs has been challenged as arbitrary. The notion that reason moves only from more basic to less basic beliefs, rather than revisiting and modifying more basic beliefs, cannot be sustained. On matters of textual interpretation, it is realized that readers bring questions from their own context, and interact back and forth with a text, such that understanding develops in a way that is more circular than linear. (Philosophical hermeneutics are discussed in a later section.) Theologically, the idea that either the Bible or experience could be foundational in any straightforward way is no longer credible. Rather, it is understood that there is a complex interaction between the two: an interaction that is affected by our cultural formation and the filters through which we interpret the world.

These developments have led to assorted trends that are incompatible with biblical fundamentalism, including narrative theology and emphases on images, metaphors and models, and symbols. These categories, over which post-conservatives and post-liberals converge, intimate journeying, imagination, experimentation, open-endedness, and mystery (e.g. Grenz 1993; Olson 1995; Phillips and Okholm 1996; Hilborn 1997; Erickson 1997/8). Readers interact with the story imaginatively in weaving an understanding of God's message, God's world, and their part in those things. The meaning derived from the story is therefore not static.

By contrast, fundamentalist interpretative methods have assumed a fixed meaning, discernible via historical study. They have attempted first to understand the meaning of the text, and then to apply that meaning in the present—as have ‘liberal’ historical-critical readings. Thus fundamentalism and liberalism favour a foundationalist approach. But post-conservative and post-liberal theologies both tend towards non-foundationalism or weak foundationalism. On these models, one continually returns to starting-points or foundations, and understands them differently according to changing circumstances. Reason is thereby understood to move in more than one direction. In fact, narrative, highly interactive readings have long been practised by Pentecostals, and especially black Pentecostals (Beckford 1998; Land 1993: 74–5; Hollenweger 1997: 204 ff.). They are not far removed from the way in which many evangelicals relate to and derive guidance from Scripture, but technically they undermine a fundamentalist doctrine of Scripture to which so many evangelicals subscribe.

Charismaticism

Many post-conservatives have been through charismatic renewal, and have become disillusioned with rationalistic aspects of evangelicalism (Tomlinson 1995). Charismaticism modifies fundamentalist tendencies amongst evangelicals, because it expresses faith and conviction in ways that cannot be contained in intelligible language, particularly by speaking in tongues, using the body in worship, and spiritualizing the everyday world. All of these things intimate a realm of faith that cannot be reduced to verbal propositions. Most importantly, charismatics verify Scripture's authority experientially by the way Scripture works in their lives, and not only by rational arguments in defence of Scripture. They have an affinity with the Holiness tradition, whose doctrine of assurance rests on biblical promises and the experience of life in Christ, rather than on what can be proved from the Bible.

The Alpha course is representative of mainstream, charismaticized evangelicalism today. It was designed by Nicky Gumbel of Holy Trinity, Brompton, an Anglican evangelical church in London, and is now used world-wide and ecumenically. In the Alpha material, Gumbel answers the question ‘How Can I Be Sure of My Faith?’ not in terms of the reliability of biblical facts, but in terms of the promises stated in Scripture and of the testimony of the Holy Spirit (Gumbel 1993: ch. 4; 1994: ch. 1). An emphasis of Alpha teaching is that assurance, or certainty, comes from knowing, loving, and following Jesus Christ, and being sure that God will be true to his promises (e.g. Gumbel 1994: 17–18). This is very different from an emphasis on the sure foundation-stone of Scripture.

Residual Fundamentalism

Yet there is a residual fundamentalism in Alpha which reflects more generally the tenacity of the fundamentalist doctrine of Scripture. Gumbel is not much exercised over the doctrine of inerrancy, and does not hold it up as a mark of true Christian identity. Nevertheless, he moves into a fundamentalist way of thinking when he tries to explain how it is that we know about Jesus. He says that becoming a Christian ‘is not a blind leap of faith, but a step of faith based on firm historical evidence’ (1993: 23), and for this reason he introduces Jesus by the historical evidence for his existence. He therefore needs an accurate Bible. He gets it via implicit use of the deductive argument that Scripture is verbally inspired by God. He follows a line of reasoning from B. B. Warfield, James Packer, John Stott, and others, which turns on 2 Tim. 3: 16. He endorses the dual-authorship model of inspiration (also endorsed by Warfield, Packer, and Stott), which conceives of Scripture as both ‘100% the work of human beings…[and] 100% inspired by God (just as Jesus is fully human and fully God)’ (1993: 73–4). According to this model, the human writers are totally guided by God, but feel themselves simply to be writing human accounts based on eyewitness evidence. Although fundamentalists are frequently criticized for not doing justice to the human element of Scripture, actually they test Scripture as one would test the accuracy of any human report. They would take a proven inaccuracy to imply a flaw in the reporter, and since human reporters are fallible, they insist upon divine plenary verbal inspiration, assuming that God can be relied upon to get the facts right. ‘Difficulties’ and ‘apparent contradictions’ could, Gumbel implies, militate against claims that the Bible is inspired: ‘Although some of the apparent contradictions can be explained by differing contexts, others are harder to resolve. This does not mean, however, that it is impossible and that we should abandon our belief in the inspiration of Scripture’ (1993: 74–5). In other words, the doctrine of inspiration is dependent on there being no actual contradictions. If there were some actual contradictions, Scripture could not have been inspired, and the Christian faith would have no reliable basis. This is a fundamentalist apologetic.

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