Dr. james Barr, Oriel Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture in the University of Oxford, is one of our leading British theologians. He will probably be remembered for his contribution to the hermeneutical debate in The Semantics of Biblical Language (1961), in which he convincingly argues that the meaning of a word is to be determined less by its etymological history than by its contemporary use in context. He has written four major works since then.
Last year, however, he wrote a very different kind of book, Fundamentalism, which is not dispassionate but polemical, and which fiercely attacks fundamentalists or conservative evangelicals (whom he refuses to distinguish from one another). Our whole position is “incoherent,” even “completely wrong” (p. 8), he asserts. Indeed, to him “fundamentalism is a pathological condition of Christianity” (p. 318), so that, far from it being “the true and ancient Christian faith,” he is not even sure if it comes “within the range that is acceptable in the church” (pp. 343–4).
Two introductory comments need to be made. First, Barr refers several times to the research that lies behind his book, and claims that he has made a “very thorough review of fundamentalist literature” (p. 9). This is a false claim. He relies too heavily on the Scofield Reference Bible, which he calls “perhaps the most important single document in all fundamentalist literature” (p. 45), and popular presentations like the New Bible Commentary and New Bible Dictionary. He is unfair—even rude—to Norman Anderson and Michael Green, almost ignores F.F. Bruce and Howard Marshall, and does not begin to do justice to the reasoned argumentation of J.I. Packer in his Fundamentalism and the Word of God or J.W. Wenham ...1
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