First of three parts
The conservative conception of truth is ‘shallow and elementary.’
Conservative Christians on both sides of the Atlantic will be keenly interested in a book entitled Fundamentalism. Its author is James Barr, distinguished Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture at Oxford University. Having taught at both Edinburgh and Princeton in past years, Barr is an international observer of the religious scene. In the book he focuses on the British (mainly English) movement that he calls fundamentalism. His thesis is that conservative Christianity is logically incoherent and contradicts biblical faith, and that authentic Christianity, instead of resisting modern theology and biblical criticism, will welcome and promote them.
Barr dismisses as “completely wrong” not only the “entire intellectual apologetic” of fundamentalism but also “its doctrinal position, … especially in regard to the place of the Bible” (p. 8). He writes: “I do not find any of its intellectual arguments to have validity except in very minor respects” (p. 9). Fundamentalism, he complains, “uses the form, rather than the reality, of biblical authority to provide a shield” for its particular religious tradition (p. 11); its stance toward nonevangelical churchmen he sees as “fundamentalist mythology” (p. 100).
The present welcome for fundamentalistic religion is largely due, says Barr, to the current tendency to regard all forms of Christian belief—“the more rational and philosophical forms” and “the most widely irrational or the most unthinkingly biblicistic”—as equally absurd, intellectually if not emotionally (p. 102). Barr declares also that “conservatism was predicated … upon a rationalistic pattern of thought, and gained its security ...1
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