James Hamilton: “Is anything other than ‘relativism’ now ‘fundamentalism’?”

Here is Hamilton’s first of two major criticism’s regarding James Dunn’s book Jesus Remembered:

Dunn writes that it is “the ‘lust for certainty’ which leads to fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others” (105). There are not a few problems with this statement. Dunn is advocating “Probability Not Certainty” (102), but to caricature those who pursue certainty as “lustful” and “fundamentalistic” is more offensive than it is persuasive. Is anything other than “relativism” now “fundamentalism”? Dunn argues that faith always has an element of doubt, and suggests that “The language of faith uses words like ‘confidence’ and ‘assurance’ rather than ‘certainty’” (104). He cites the fact that the NRSV only uses the word “certainty” once, but the wildly popular NIV translates Hebrews 11:1 as follows: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Dunn suggests that “the ‘definition of faith’ in Heb. 11.1 is much disputed as to its meaning and does not bring added clarity to the issue” (104 n. 15). But BDAG states of the word the NIV translates “certain” that “conviction” regarding unseen things is in view and that “faith means to be sureabout unseen things” (BDAG, 315, emphasis added throughout). Probability will keep scholars wrangling for their views, but only certainty will send missionaries to the ends of the earth where they place themselves and their families in danger of martyrdom (cf. Heb 11:37).

The same problems apply to Dunn’s apparent dismissal of “fundamentalism’s absolutising of its own faith claims and dismissal of all others” (105). Jesus said, “He who is not for me is against me” (Matt 12:30), a rather absolute claim. Only certainty that Christianity is the only way of salvation will send young people to the Muslim world seeking the lost. Dunn seems to suggest that the view that the Christian religion presents absolute faith claims is not Christianity but “fundamentalism.” At one time the word “fundamentalism” had connotations of anti-intellectualism. If this holds today, Dunn has lumped all who recognize Christianity’s exclusive truth claims in with those who are not willing to grapple with cerebral complexities. This is unfair to thoughtful Christians who are convinced that the Bible presents an exclusive religion.

It would seem that, rather than this being a “fundamentalistic” interpretation of Christianity, Dunn has departed from orthodox Christianity on this point, which contends earnestly that the faith in Jesus once for all entrusted to the saints is the only way for humans to experience right standing before God. This is not an anti-intellectual position; rather, it is a biblically consistent position. Christians do not claim exhaustive knowledge, but we do claim that we can have true knowledge. We are not omniscient, but we can be certain.

James Hamilton, The Southwestern Journal of Theology, vol. 46.2, p. 61-64

About cteldridge

A beggar trying to tell other beggars were the Bread is.
This entry was posted in Epistemology, Relativism, Scriptural exposition. Bookmark the permalink.

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