A New Kind of Christianity: response to Morrell and McKnight

I just had the chance to read Mike Morrell’s lengthy response to some early critique of my new book and its author. I certainly appreciate Mike sticking his neck out on my behalf.
I didn’t realize that my earlier post on Seth Godin’s definition of fundamentalism had stirred up so much controversy. I keep forgetting that I’ve largely lost the freedom to share something light-heartedly and with a wink even on my blog, without it being scrutinized. My mistake. I agree with Scot McKnight when he wrote:

I don’t think that question’s answers separate fundamentalists from the curious. The opening answer is about traditionalism, and in fact characteristic of all of Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy and Protestantism.
Furthermore, the arrangement smacks of radical individualism and denies the foundational role our communities play in our knowledge and social construction of reality. What’s wrong with asking about every new idea what “the Church” or my community thinks? Or if it is logically consistent with what I’ve already concluded to be sound? Not only that, but the world of Jesus was much more like the first answer than the second, and that is has been brought to the fore by cultural anthropologists like Bruce Malina, who adapts the research of Mary Douglas and others.
I also wonder if this is not a false dichotomy: I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder “what if?” and who are always chasing down their questions. I know plenty on the other side who aren’t in the least curious.
Is Seth Godin a good source for defining fundamentalism?

I think Scot is right on all counts. My paraphrase of Seth Godin didn’t capture the real point he was trying to make very well at all, and Seth’s point itself could probably have been nuanced and adapted with good effect rather than passing it on as-is.
When I passed on the video clip, I was thinking of issues like these:
– When questions arose in Copernicus’s and Galileo’s time about the structure of the universe …
– When Foulke, Leidy, Owen, and others raised questions in the 19th century about fossils, dinosaurs, and the age of the earth …
– When Lamarcke, Wallace, and Darwin raised questions on the evolution of living organisms …
Most of us, myself included, would have reacted as many of our ancestors did: to reject and mock those who dared question what “everyone” already “knew” to be the case. Thank God for those whose curiosity was strong enough to ask, “What if?”
Certainly, as Scot says, almost anyone’s first response would be to ask how these ideas would sit with their faith community. Scientists would do the same thing as people of faith, I think: comparing what is proposed with what is already believed to be true among their peers. So probably the issue isn’t what one’s first thought is, as I (and Seth) suggested, but instead whether one stops there and refuses to give a new idea a second thought.
As Scot implies, there are all kinds of problems with radical individualism, and there is a wide span in between a reactionary individualism on the one hand and an unthinking conformity to the prevailing views of one’s community on the other hand. I want to migrate to that higher ground between the extremes.
When Scot says, “I know plenty of fundies who are intrinsically curious people, who wonder “what if?” and who are always chasing down their questions,” I agree. That’s actually pretty much the story of my life, since I grew up in a fundamentalist setting and I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to wonder “what if” unless there had been others around me who modeled that curiosity.
Scot’s point about the world of Jesus’ day is also spot on. It reminds me of something I was thinking about the other day. I was pondering Jesus’ repeated statement in the Sermon on the Mount: “You have heard it said … but I say to you.” That simple word “but” was all the more extraordinary because of the context in which it was raised. So – thanks to all who critiqued my little quiz. You were right, I was wrong, and I appreciate your good insights.
I’ll try to continue this response to A New Kind of Christianity tomorrow …