Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The Problem with Fundamentalism

Today, I was reflecting on a paragraph I wrote in a previous post that discussed the notion that true Christians are united on "essential" doctrines...an idea that implies that it is okay that they are disunified on unessential doctrines.  Here is the paragraph in question:
And finally, we must remember that doctrines are not like bullet points on a list.  Rather, they are like musical lines in a great symphony of truth.  Change one line, and the entire relationship of all the musical voices shifts.  Change one line, and the entire tapestry of truth is fundamentally altered.  Change one truth, and you have a different symphony.
Admittedly, having graduate degrees in music theory, this metaphor carries a certain weight and attraction in my thinking.  Theologians like Hans Urs von Balthasar have also noted the "symphonic" quality of truth.  Most Christians would agree that there is a holistic nature and integrity to the truth, since Jesus himself is the truth.

Knowing that Jesus is the truth, and all that is (including truth) finds its origin in God, it is baffling to think that anyone could consider a part of divine revelation--or even knowledge that can be known through our gift of reason--to be "unessential."  Certainly, there does exist a hierarchy of truths, but that hierarchy itself, and the balance and relationships within it, all assume the importance--the necessity even--of every truth in the structure.  To think that Christians can disagree over some of these truths without effecting the entire balance and divine artistry of the entire symphonic composition is to say that certain Biblical truths are unnecessary, inconsequential, superfluous, and ultimately disconnected from the entire integrated design that is the truth of Christ.  In other words, revealed truths are either essential or not even worth talking about...and certainly not worth dividing churches over.

Yet, every time I speak with a Baptist about the ecclesial and doctrinal divisions within non-Catholic Christianity (and even Baptist Christianity), I am told that "true Christians agree on the essentials."

All of this makes me think that the problem with fundamentalism is that it is not fundamental enough.

This is not meant to knock fundamentalists, many of whom are sincere in upholding the fundamental truths of Christianity.  These fundamentalists are to be commended and admired in their fidelity and commitment to Christ.

This is to say, however, that fundamentalists can not feel completely at home in their fundamentalism until they find their home in the Catholic Church, in whom the fullness of truth subsists...and through whom the whole of Christian truth is preserved and taught.  The fullness of truth, who is Christ himself, is fundamental, essential, and as beautiful a symphony as has ever been conceived.

Come and see!  This truth has been preserved by God's grace through His Bride, who finds its visible head and leadership in the teaching authority (the Pope and bishops in union with him) of the Catholic Church.

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