Reforming Fundamentalism


George Marsden, “Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism” (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987).

While on a recent golfing vacation I picked up this book that told the story of one of the schools in my background.  I came to faith in Christ in a church that honored its fundamental heritage.  Many of the leaders in my church attended Talbot Theological Seminary of Biola University.  After discerning a call to pastoral ministry, I eagerly enrolled at Biola and found myself nourished and challenged in the Scriptures.  After receiving a seminary degree I began church planting in the mountains north of the greater Los Angeles area.  However, I continued to take classes having to do with evangelism, the church, and the Scriptures.  This hobby eventually turned itself into my pursuit of a doctoral theological degree at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena.  Fuller challenged me in new ways and developed my perspective and discernment in the matters of God.  Although I did not agree with everything I was taught (at either institution), I greatly valued my theological education.

The burden of George Marsden in “Reforming Fundamentalism” is to tell the story of Fuller Seminary from its inception in the late 1940s through the late 1980s.  The book intends to reach into the heart of the founders and describe how they wanted to reform or correct the errors of fundamentalism.  These errors included an over-emphasis on separating from the world, a combative attitude toward mainline Protestantism, and a rigid approach to interpreting Scripture.  There remains a kernel of truth to these concerns.  In too many cases the fundamental Christian church has not served its surrounding community very well.  It has tended to withdraw from the world rather than engage the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In weaker moments it has been divisive and proud.  Those of us who make up Aspen Ridge Church must admit that we share in these weaknesses and failures.

But the story of Fuller Seminary is like the proverbial mistake of throwing out the baby with the bathwater.  The leaders became so committed to correcting the errors of fundamentalism, they eventually gave up on the belief that the Scriptures were without error in the original autographs.  Inerrancy essentially refers to a belief that our Bible is without error in all that it asserts.  When all the facts become known, they will demonstrate that the Bible… when correctly interpreted, is entirely true in all that it affirms (including ethics and the social, physical, and life sciences).  Fuller turned its back on the inerrancy of Scripture, instead affirming the infallibility of Scripture, which essentially meant that the Bible never intended to be accurate in matters of the social, physical, and life sciences.

In my mind, this is a really big deal.  The inerrancy of Scripture is important because it reflects on the credibility of Jesus Christ.  In Matthew 5:17-20 and John 10:34-5 Jesus emphasizes the authority of the Scriptures.  The smallest detail of the law will be fulfilled, and the Scriptures are absolutely binding.  If these assertions of Jesus are not the case, then Jesus’ accuracy as a teacher must be questioned.  Further, if these assertions are not the case, then something that contains errors may not be absolutely authoritative.  However, the Scriptures ARE absolutely authoritative.   You can trust the Bible.  The Bible is reliable.  The Bible comes from God who cannot lie.  At the end of the day, the Bible is both inerrant and infallible.  The Scriptures are a reliable guide toward our home in Christ.  Are you following?

Warmly, Pastor Jeff