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Austin Cline

Liberal vs. Fundamentalist Christians: What's the Difference? (Book Notes: Losing Faith in Faith)

By December 21, 2005

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When it comes to practical policy issues, the differences between liberal and fundamentalist Christians is usually pretty obvious. More interesting and important, however, are the differences that exist in the background: how do liberal and fundamentalist Christians differ when it comes to deciding what is a necessary part of their religion? Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist

In Losing Faith in Faith: From Preacher to Atheist, Dan Barker writes:

[E]very Christian has a particular hierarchy of doctrines and practices, and most Christians arrange their hierarchy in roughly the same manner, with the existence of God at the top, the deity of Jesus just below that, and so on, down to the bottom of the list where you find things like wearing jewelry or makeup in church. What distinguishes many brands of Christianity is where they draw their line between what is essential and what is not.

Extreme fundamentalists draw the line way down at the bottom of the list, making all doctrines equally necessary. Moderates draw the line somewhere up in the middle of the list. Liberals draw the line way up at the top, not caring if the Bible is inerrant or if Jesus existed historically, but holding on to the existence of God, however he or she is defined, holding on to the general usefulness of religion, and to rituals, which many people claim to need despite its irrelevance to reality, to give structure or meaning to life.

This is an interesting, and very visual, way to conceive of the differences between liberal and fundamentalist Christians. At the same time, though, it immediately leads to yet another question: what standards do the various groups use in order to decide where to draw the line and why do they use different standards at all.

Fundamentalists would almost seem to deny that fair and independent standards can exist at all and thatís why they draw the line all the way down on the bottom of the list, including everything as necessary. If you donít have a reliable mens for differentiating what is necessary from what isnít, then including everything or ditching everything seems like the most reasonable options.

This means that the liberal Christians are actually in what might be the least rational and least consistent position. Their conclusions may be preferable from a political or social standpoint, but their means for arriving at them may not be at all trustworthy. This is a potentially dangerous situation because when people base their principles on what conclusions they want to reach rather than on independent and rational standards, itís tough to have a rational, intelligent conversation with them.

 

Read More Book Notes from the Book Reviews on this site.

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