“Integrity” is an interesting word. It is a powerful word. It can be an elusive word.
The president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary wrote in a 2020 piece that was published in the Baptist Standard not long after he arrived at the seminary as president: “I believe in inerrancy. I believe in integrity.”
The problem is, in my experience those two beliefs rarely co-exist, nor are they equally true. The problem with inerrancy often is in the eye of the beholder and his (generally only his) interpretation of the Scripture and the doctrines of the Scripture. In fundamentalism, there is a tendency toward splitting and schism because each believes he is right and everyone else less so. That is what occupied the time of Old Testament fundamentalists we have come to know through the New Testament Scriptures as Pharisees.
In the life and ministry and death of Christ, we can see clearly the scourge of fundamentalism as Jesus moved from town to village proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and illness. Matthew 9:36: “When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”
The question is, where were the shepherds of the people? Where were those who were supposed to be caring for the sheep of Israel?
They (the Pharisees, rabbis, teachers of the law) were too busy debating, learning, teaching, discussing, challenging and praying on street corners and living the life their position afforded them in the community. What they were not doing was taking care of the sheep.
In fact, they had abandoned the sheep. The very people God chose and Jesus came to die for were left harassed and helpless.
There is a peril stitched into the very fabric of fundamentalism called arrogance. That was the condition Jesus found in his ministry. The great unwashed masses were beneath them. Their problems were tedious and boring. So the teachers’ answers were to “obey the law and pray.” Such was their arrogance.
Arrogance generally does three things.
“There is a peril stitched into the very fabric of fundamentalism called arrogance.”
First, arrogance elevates one in one’s own eyes, making oneself a little or a lot above one’s peers or above the crowd. Arrogance turns us into a “gift” for others whether it is a wife, a school or an institution. Pharisees were arrogant. They could not believe Jesus had anything to teach them because, well, he was unschooled and they were schooled.
Arrogance also is associated with condescension. These religious teachers were withering and condescending in their teaching, rebuking and questions. In those encounters between Jesus and the religious leaders when there was a crowd, the crowd saw the stark difference between the humility and compassion of Jesus and the absence of that in their leaders.
One often does not know how cold something is unless they touch something warm. Jesus was warm, the Pharisees not so much.
Second, arrogance blinds one to truth. That blindness makes it impossible for one to continue to learn, refine, grow, rethink or revise. So, instead of openheartedly discovering what else is out there or in there (the Scriptures) they are unwilling to open their mind to more.
That may be the great distinction between Nicodemus and the rest of the Pharisees. He sought out Jesus because he wanted to know more. The academic sat down with the carpenter, without pedigree, to talk about Scripture.
Third, arrogance has an underbelly called jealousy. The arrogant are jealous of others, their knowledge and their discoveries or successes.
I once worked with a veteran whose tinkering in his shop had led to several patents and discoveries. So amazing was his “tinkering” that the government dispatched a noted academic to look at his work. The professor was amazed at what the man had discovered and created but dismissed it all with, “This is voodoo electronics,” which of course offended the inventor. I suggested instead that he lean into the name, even suggesting he put a sign on his shop saying something like, “The professor of voodoo electronics is in.” We laughed. The reality was the academic was jealous that this man had discovered something he had been unable to do with all his degrees and in his lab.
“Honestly for 40 years of waging war on the culture, all they have to show is a restrictive ban on abortion.”
The promises of fundamentalism in their takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention and evangelicalism as well as the culture wars started by fundamentalism have come to the same place. The SBC has shrunk, not grown, evangelicalism has diminished in size and stature, and the culture wars have had few successes. In fact, honestly for 40 years of waging war on the culture, all they have to show is a restrictive ban on abortion.
However, as I pointed out earlier, this fundamentalism arrogance is unable to learn. So, these seriously misguided folks will continue to massage, manipulate, distort, lie to achieve the ends which they believe God wants.
Which brings us to integrity and the difficulty of pairing fundamentalism with integrity.
So I find myself saying, I seriously doubt God wants any part of their cold, dead, compassionless, fundamentalist orthodoxy.
Jesus didn’t have a good experience the first time with that.
Michael Chancellor served 33 years as pastor of four Baptist churches in Texas, seven years as a mental health manager in a maximum-security Texas prison and now is a therapist in private practice in Round Rock, Texas.
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Fundamentalists have a problem with Jesus | Opinion by Mark Wingfield and Mitch Randall