“Fundamentalist” vs. “Critical”

Some startling headlines are coming out about a major international survey of attitudes toward the Bible. Fundamentalists, it seems, don’t know their Bibles as well as Christians (and even non-Christians?) of the more liberal sort. They think Jesus wrote the Gospels and don’t know whether Paul or Moses fit in the NT or OT, respectively.

But there’s a problem with the survey which, I argue, is skewing its results. The survey asked respondents to describe the Bible, but it provided its own responses:

  1. “The Bible is the inspired word of God, but not everything in the Bible should be taken literally, word for word.”
  2. “The Bible is an ancient book of fables, legends, history and moral precepts recorded by man.”
  3. “The Bible is the actual word of God, which must be taken literally, word for word.”

I’m a fundamentalist, but I’m in a strait betwixt two. It’s all because of that tricky word “literal.” I believe that every word of the Bible is true, but surely no one thinks Assyria is literally a physical rod in God’s hand (Isaiah 10:5). It’s a metaphor—and no less “true” for being such! Surely no one who selected number three above would think that Jesus is literally a physical door and not a human being (John 10:9). That word “literally” kills this question for me. I can’t answer it.

I suspect that the “critical” view, number 1, had inflated numbers because it encompassed both mainline Protestants and Catholics along with thinking evangelicals. Those who selected number 3 were labeled “fundamentalists” by the survey. But perhaps that response garnered support mainly from people who, though my dear brothers and sisters, are unsophisticated in their hermeneutics. I need to see more data before I’m willing to believe the headlines.

There are three kinds of lies: 1) lies, 2) you know, and 3) statistics.

Author: Mark Ward

PhD in NT; theological writer for Faithlife; former high school Bible textbook author for BJU Press; husband; father; ultimate frisbee player; member of the body of Christ.

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