Friday, March 17, 2006

Painting Evangelicals with a VERY Wide Brush

The labeling and mislabeling of one's opponents has proven to be a timeworn strategy for advancing one's case. Employing the "straw man" technique or "guilt by association" allows the protagonist to use a variety of rhetorical tools to impeach the validity of a position by tarring the one holding it with a connection to a person, position, or organization generally believed to be socially or intellectually unattractive, backwards, or morally tainted.

Few words in the modern lexicon conjure up as many negative connotations as the word "fundamentalist." Particularly in a post 9-11 world, Islamic "fundamentalism" carries associations of terrorism and criminality. Christian "fundamentalism" reminds some of the flat-earth know-nothingism of the paradigmatically ignorant-and-proud-of-it types of believers.

So, when an ABC blogger recently applied the term "right wing (fundamentalist)" to those with whom he has significant disagreements, the result pulls together a variety of ideas, including eschatological positions, differences on the roles of men and women in the church, questions of the methodology of creation, and various theories of biblical inspiration. Naturally, since the writer sees himself as a proponent of "Baptist soul competency" and "Baptist principles," the ultimate bogeyman becomes "the adoption of a creedal faith statement."

Reading the piece, one might assume that ABC evangelicals, with their insistence on theological boudaries, can be viewed as interchangeable with all categories of fundamentalists. Does that make an evangelical the intellectual brother to fundamentalists of all shapes and varieties? Few would go that far. However, the power of the implication allows the reader to draw the conclusion without the writer claiming ownership of it.

Since Baptists exist as a fairly independent collection of loosely affiliated persons, claiming that almost any idea is THE historic Baptist position is simply silly at best and dishonest at worst. Proponents of the position on "soul liberty" popular with many of the more progressive Baptists today must take into account the strong emphasis upon very specific biblical convictions for the three hundred years prior to E.Y. Mullins' work one hundred years ago. In other words, concern for specific doctrinal agreements beyond an affirmation of "being in Christ" pre-date "fundamentalism" by centuries.

Lumping evangelicals with whom you have principled disagreements together with the social pariah category "fundamentalism" does nothing to advance the state of the argument. Nor does it honor the collegiality so often held up as a core value by progressives. One may disagree with evangelicals on any number of doctrinal or practical grounds. Suggesting that their upholding of certain doctrinal convictions makes them identical to "fundamentalists," however, seriously misstates the argument.

Such clever packaging of one's opposition, may sound impressive, but it ultimately fails to persuade.

[His Barking Dog yips and yaps according to the dictates of his own conscience only and does not snarl as the attack dog for the PSW or any other entity or organization]

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