Fundamentalism and Intellectual Humility

I just published an essay over at the Rabbit Room that I started to write a couple years ago but didn’t finish for some reason. Not long ago, I came across a quote by N.T. Wright that provided a concise summary of the point I wanted to articulate, which prompted the completion of the essay. The title is Intellectual Humility, and in it I am trying to push back against the idea that we alone are possessors of the “correct interpretation” of Scripture, that we are, that I am, the only one reading scripture without preconceptions, the only one who believes the right things about God and the Bible. Rob Bell, in Velvet Elvis, builds one of his arguments around the idea that “God has spoken, and the rest is commentary.” There is no such thing as reading scripture in a vacuum, or “believing just what the Bible says.” We are, all of us, shaped by our environment, by our upbringing, by our culture, etc. As Scot McKnight says in his recent book The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, “Every one of us adopts the Bible and (at the same time) adepts the Bible to our culture. In less appreciated terms, I’ll put it this way: Everyone picks and chooses.”

One book I have that provides a good example of the foundation from which I approached doctrine and certainty growing up is I Am a Fundamentalist, one of the last books written by my great-grandfather, John R. Rice, and published in 1975. In one chapter, he relays a question he received about the doctrine he held about scripture, followed by his reply.

You say, “You confuse a doctrine about the Bible with the Bible itself. You seem to believe that because a man doesn’t believe your theory of inspiration, he doesn’t believe in the Bible at all.”

How wrong you are! In the first place, an honest and friendly approach to the matter would show even a casual observer that I do not pretend to have any theory of my own about the Bible. I accept the Bible itself at face value. The only doctrine I have about the Bible is what the Bible itself teaches about itself.”

So, here is my attempt at pushing back against that kind of approach.

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