Righting America

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Fundamentalism: A Foreign Territory | Righting America

by William Trollinger

How do people hold on to ideas that seem to be illogical, and how do they hold on to them with fervor?

Last Sunday Bill talked about biblical inerrancy and the origins of fundamentalism at Westminster Presbyterian Church here in Dayton. It was the first of five talks on fundamentalism that he will be giving on fundamentalism at Westminster (upcoming talks: April 30, May 7, May 14, May 21, all of which are at 11.20 AM – 12.15 PM).

It was a very lively group, and there were excellent questions having to do with the definitions of fundamentalism and evangelicalism, the nature of scholarship on fundamentalism, and so forth.

But much of the questioning had to do with the notion that fundamentalists understand the Bible as having no errors or contradictions, and as being factually accurate in all that it has to say, including when it speaks on history and science:

  • Q: How do fundamentalists reconcile obvious contradictions in the Bible?
  • A: They would say that here are no contradictions, just failures in our understanding.


  • Q: How do fundamentalists account for the fact that there are two creation accounts in Genesis?
  • A: They would say that the account in Genesis 1 can be meshed nicely with the account in Genesis 2-3; they are both part of the same seamless creation narrative.


  • Q: How do fundamentalists respond to critiques of their arguments that make visible the logical contradictions within their arguments?
  • A: Not only do fundamentalists reject out-of-hand that there are logical contradictions in their claims for inerrancy, they have an answer for every alleged biblical contradiction. You might not think that the answers make sense, but they have answers.


  • Q: Do you have to be born into fundamentalism to accept it? I cannot imagine anyone voluntarily adopting these ideas.
  • A: People do indeed convert into fundamentalism. That said, fundamentalist groups such as Answers in Genesis are very much about creating a separate, almost hermetically-sealed culture.


  • Q: If fundamentalists live in a separate culture of their own making, with their own facts, how can you have real, meaningful dialogue with them?
  • A: If you mean dialogue about the Bible (or about theology or about politics), I have not had much luck in that regard.

So as we found at First Baptist in Peoria, here we have a group of Christians, many of whom find fundamentalists and creationists bewildering. The message of folks like Ken Ham and Answers in Genesis is clearly not persuading them, and in fact does not even seem to be reaching them.

So who is the audience for contemporary fundamentalist leaders and organizations? More on this in the next post, in which we will discuss one more question from the folks at Westminster.