Mission Issues

Thinking and re-thinking missionary issues

Some thoughts on Fundamentalism and the Emerging Church

My son directed me to a certain blog earlier this week. John Frye who, I must say, has a talent for writing, published two posts on John 4 (Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well). In the one post he wrote the story as a Fundamentalist Jesus would tell what had happened there and in the second post he wrote the story in the way that an Emergent Jesus would tell the story. I’ve always been extremely wary to categorise myself as a certain type of believer, mainly because, what is acceptable today, is unacceptable tomorrow. We are probably all aware that, in certain circles, it’s not acceptable to merely be a Christian anymore. In fact, even being a born again Christian is not enough. You need to be a truly born again Christian to be acceptable to some. I wonder what’s next. (I predict that in the time to come, “emergent” will not be acceptable anymore and a new term will be thought out to describe what God expected the church to be right from the start.)
I read the posts of John Frey and immediately asked myself a few questions. Firstly, when reading the post where the story is told in the words of the Fundamentalist Jesus, I wondered whether I knew anyone who would interpret John 4 in the way that it is written there. I understand that John is trying to prove a point. And I understand that he’s making use of irony to get the message across. But, in my fairly wide group of friends (and especially in Swaziland) I know a great number of people who would probably be described as Fundamentalist believers. Many of these people are extremely legalistic in their viewpoints. With my knowledge of theology, I feel differently about many issues. But many of these people are an example to me in the way in which they live their daily lives. They are totally devoted to God. Many of them had to break with their culture and with their families in order to become followers of Christ. And I don’t know a single one of them who would even closely interpret John 4 in the way in which John Frey told the story.
Secondly, I asked myself how I would have felt had I been a Fundamentalist believer. I would probably have been angry and hurt. But I would most certainly not have been convinced that I might be wrong. Any chance of a meaningful conversation is cut off by a post like this. Many people have complimented John Frey on his posts (and as I said, it’s really well written), but the people who liked these posts were those who agreed with him. To ridicule someone because of a certain viewpoint they have, has never, as far as I know, convinced such a person to accept the opponent’s viewpoint.
Thirdly, I asked myself the question what the big difference is between Fundamentalists and someone who writes in the way in which these posts were written. And in a certain sense they are the same. One of the problems which I have with Fundamentalists is that they leave very little chance of discussing issues. People would say that they believe the Bible “as it is” which is interpreted to mean: “If you don’t agree with me, then you’re wrong!” And in essence, this is exactly what I felt when reading these two posts: “The way in which the Bible should be interpreted, is through the spectacles of an Emergent Jesus, and if you don’t agree with me, then you’re wrong!”
I’m all for an open discussion on the meaning of the Bible. I know enough about theology to realise that some things in the Bible cannot be interpreted merely by reading the words in the Bible. You need to study the culture and the background. Sometimes you need more information on the Greek, Hebrew or Aramaic in which the original texts were written. Some interpretations within the Bible have had to be adapted after realising that we misunderstood the Bible in the past. (I can still remember, as a kid, the first time a woman came into our church without wearing a hat!) We had close friends at our house last week to whom I had to say at one point that I cannot agree on their viewpoint about certain theological issues. In fact, I feel strongly that their viewpoint is incorrect. But I never had to ridicule them to prove my point. And most probably, because we’re such great friends, we’ll continue the discussion when next we have dinner together.
And I couldn’t help but wonder how an Emergent Jesus would have spoken the words of Matthew 5:22: “Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.”


Sunday, November 16, 2008 - Posted by | Church, Dialogue, Mission, Swaziland, Theology


  1. I enjoyed reading the John Fraye posts on the two versions of Jesus. The problem is, though, that neither of those was the actual Jesus. He was not a fundalmentalist, nor emerging, nor Roman Catholic, nor Baptist, Methodist or Presbyterian. Jesus lived his life perfectly abiding by God’s law, and set the example we are to immitate. Our goal should be that people would see Christ living in us, not that we could become more fundamental, more emergent, etc. than we were yesterday.

    Comment by Clark Bunch | Sunday, November 16, 2008 | Reply

  2. Thanks for your remark, Clark. What you say is the truth and the reason why I’m so reluctant to place myself within a certain category.

    Comment by Arnau van Wyngaard | Sunday, November 16, 2008 | Reply

  3. Mildly humorous, but ultimately unhelpful. This series of posts is going to end up poking fun at everyone, and not really saying anything edifying. That’s my take.

    You’ve made an important point: I’ve also never aligned myself with those who ridicule me. That’s a more important lesson for me than whatever he’s getting at… 🙂

    Comment by brad | Wednesday, November 19, 2008 | Reply

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