Trying to understand American Christianity

posted in: Tony Thompson 0

Many Europeans, including myself, struggle at times to understand American Christianity, it seems so different to our experience.

In a recent article from Tim Keller, an American pastor, he helpfully distinguishes between “fundamentalists” and other evangelical Christians. Whilst they hold to common theological truths, the social outworking of this in both cultural attitudes and practices differ. I found it helpful to understand that not all evangelicals in the States hold fundamentalist views. I found this helpful because I do not hold these views myself! Keller himself says that these distinctions are not well understood or spoken about, however they are clearly very important.

The full article is found here

The key passage is copied below.

The term “fundamentalism” was one way used in the past to describe those who hold these social traits very strongly. The six social marks are:

  • Moralism vs gracious engagement — Strict conformity to behavioral codes. Secondary doctrines made primary with resulting self-righteousness. Everything is either wholly good or evil, leading to withdrawal from society. A spirit of condemnation. Separatism and sectarianism. No ability to engage opposing views with patience, humility, hope, and tolerance.
  • Individualism vs social reform — Belief that we are wholly the result of our personal choices. Little understanding of how culture forms us, or of systemic or institutional evil forces.
  • Dualism vs a vision for all of life — A pitting of biblical beliefs against culture. Either we seek a hostile takeover or we seal off Christian beliefs from our work and life in society. No thought for how faith shapes the way we work in the secular spheres and how it can serve society.
  • Anti-intellectualism vs scholarship — A distrust of experts, a reverse snobbism against education, and of any result of scholarship or research which is not believed as “common sense” to most people. Distrust of scholarship. Skepticism of science. A refusal to show other viewpoints any respect. A shallow “common sense” approach to biblical interpretation that ignores the biblical author’s intended meaning in the original context and the scholarship that helps us discern it.
  • Anti-institutionalism vs accountability — A distrust of traditional institutions. A use of celebrity-driven, brand-driven platforms and networks which lead to fast growth, but low accountability. A tendency to authoritarianism.
  • Enculturation vs cultural reflection — A wedding of Christianity to popular, traditional U.S. culture. Two features: (a) Gender exaggeration- due to fundamentalism’s tendency to “baptize” American culture, there is a legalistic tendency toward non-biblical gender stereotypes (especially those of the 1950s), a denigration of women, and cover-up of abuse. (b) NationalismA “God and Country” ethos that rejects reflection on the dark sides of U.S. history and society and expresses fear of a multi-ethnic future. (c) Racism- Often overt, but at the very least a racial and cultural insensitivity and cluelessness.

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