JEMA RESPONSE to “Fundamentalism”
Dale W. Little., editor. Japan Evangelical Missionary Association ad hoc Theological Commission Response to the Japan Evangelical Association Theological Commission's Pamphlet No.6
, Fundamentalism: "Affirmations and Questions for Discussion."
Tokyo, October 2007.
English pdf download
[Editor's note: This response was presented by the ad hoc JEMA Theological Commission for discussion at a JEA Theological Commission meeting in the fall of 2007. Only two out of the seven "Questions for Discussion" raised here were actually discussed—and those only briefly. Since then there has been no further discussion between JEMA and JEA on the theological issues raised here.]
1) Significance of topic
The pamphlet addresses the issue of how Christians should think about war, especially about the current war in Iraq initiated by America in response to 9/11. Christians all agree that war is a kind of evil. Differences among Christians usually center on whether war can ever be justly required. The pamphlet contributes to this discussion by arguing that war can never be justly required because war is not appropriate for followers of Jesus Christ. It is a presentation of Japanese evangelical pacifism. The pamphlet links what it understands to be American evangelical support of the Iraq War with what it describes as American fundamentalistic theology. Thus the title of the pamphlet, Fundamentalism. The pamphlet critiques this perceived American fundamentalistic theology which is understood as characteristic of American evangelicalism.
One purpose of the pamphlet in criticizing American evangelicalism is to distance Japanese evangelicals from American evangelicals so as to diffuse criticism directed against evangelicals by opponents of the Iraq War here in Japan. This criticism is perceived as harming efforts of evangelism in Japan. Therefore the pamphlet is an attempt to both encourage evangelism in Japan and to provide an apologetic for Japanese evangelical pacifism. The pamphlet plays a significant role in forming Japanese evangelical thinking. We affirm the significance of this discussion for Japanese evangelicals.
2) Importance of publishing on the topic
In addition, the pamphlet might also have significance outside Japan. It may well be that the present conflict in Iraq will cause American evangelicals to re-examine the biblical, theological and moral bases for war. If so, it is possible that a credible theological treatment of the issue by Japanese evangelical theologians—a publication such as this pamphlet—might act as a catalyst in such critical examination. Japan is in a unique position as the only nation which has been attacked by nuclear weaponry. Thus Japanese evangelical theologians have a distinct contribution to make in developing a theology of peace. We affirm the importance of Japanese theologians to continue publishing on this topic for an international audience.
3) Necessity of international theological dialogue
The Iraq War has generated polarizing responses among evangelicals even in America. Some American evangelicals are more nation-centric than others. Some American evangelicals are conservative in their theology while others are not. The American evangelical church is characterized by diversity and complexity. So when statements are made about sensitive issues within the diverse and complex American evangelical church it is inevitable that some will be offended.
We on the JEMA ad hoc Theological Commission, conscious that we represent a wide range of nationalities, recognize the value of fair criticism of the American evangelical church offered by evangelicals who are not themselves American. This is because we understand theology to be best developed in dialogue with international partners. American evangelicals need to hear from Japanese evangelicals. Thus we respect these six Japanese evangelical theologians who have written boldly about sensitive and important issues related to war and the role of the church in peacemaking.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1) Potentially divisive strong statements
The pamphlet makes some strong statements regarding views held by some American evangelicals that are shared by some members of both JEMA and JEA.#1
Both JEA and JEMA reflect diverse theological positions. These kinds of strong statements have the potential to cause friction and disharmony in both organizations. Is there a way to accomplish the purpose of the pamphlet without making such strong, potentially divisive statements? Is it wise for the JEA Theological Commission to use its important position within the evangelical world of Japan for the purpose of influencing Japanese evangelicals toward theological positions it knows are not shared by all its members and are not required for membership in JEA?
2) Toward a sound theology of peacemaking
The pamphlet’s concern to distance Japanese evangelicals from their American counterparts creates a theological context of negative critique. The potentially positive, constructive, and perhaps unique contribution a Japanese evangelical theology of peacemaking could make to the global evangelical movement is thus overshadowed in the pamphlet by its undertone of anti-American rhetoric.#2
The result seems to be a reactionary theology of peacemaking. Is it possible to publish a Japanese flavored evangelical theology of peace without building its case upon the many perceived theological mistakes of American evangelicalism?
3) Confusion about what American fundamentalism is and who American fundamentalists are
American evangelicalism is historically and theologically complex. Confusion is perpetrated in the pamphlet through its lack of clear definitions and consistent use of the term “fundamentalism.” For example, some articles in the pamphlet exhibit an overlap in the use of the terms “Christian fundamentalism” and “evangelicalism.” Christian fundamentalism is also described as conservative Christianity.#3
Although among American evangelicals there is a vocal left wing, evangelicals in the United States have historically agreed on such Biblical fundamentals as one God who is Creator and Lord of the universe, the virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection, the literal return of Jesus Christ, and the authority and inerrancy of the Bible. However, evangelicals in America usually reserve the term fundamentalist for those who hold to the necessity of other doctrines, such as a literal six-day view of creation and dispensational premillennialism. But doctrinal positions in themselves do not identify a person as a Christian fundamentalist. Therefore, along with these doctrinal positions, fundamentalists have tended to socially isolate themselves from those with whom they have a disagreement on doctrinal and moral issues, including separating themselves from other evangelicals. In the American context, “Christian fundamentalists” often associate themselves with the Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America (IFCA) whereas evangelicals choose to identify with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Some of the writers of the “Fundamentalist” pamphlet overlook this distinction by equating evangelicalism or conservative Christianity and Christian fundamentalism in America. That is, the pamphlet tended to group together American evangelicals and American Christian fundamentalists even though that is not the self-understanding of the Americans being described. The result is that the pamphlet redefines American evangelicals in a way that is alien to them. Is this revisionism intended?
Several writers in the pamphlet describe American evangelicals as having a pro-war attitude which leads the American nation to war and that this attitude derives from their theology.#4
It would probably be more accurate to characterize American evangelicals as reluctant to go to war. Furthermore, the aspects of conservative American evangelical theology which the pamphlet criticizes (see next point) do not necessarily result in American evangelicals applauding war. The rhetoric which this kind of misrepresentation generates might convince Japanese evangelicals that there is a distinction between Japanese and American evangelicals. That is, American evangelicals love war and Japanese evangelicals love peace. But the rhetoric also has the potential to unnecessarily antagonize many American evangelicals. Does the JEA Theological Commission place value on accurate representation of American evangelicals so that healthy dialogue is encouraged?
5) Theological reductionism
Watanabe seems to understand that historical events play an important role in the formation of public opinion, including the opinions of evangelicals. However some other contributors assert a causal relationship between certain theological positions held by many American evangelicals and support for American militarism.#5
The cause of American evangelical support of the Iraq War is thus reduced to theology. The suspect theological positions include premillennialism, dispensational eschatology, and the young earth theory which is dependent upon a literal interpretation of the Bible (absolute inerrancy?). Doubtless, many American evangelicals and Christian fundamentalists who hold these theological views do indeed also support the American war effort in Iraq. However, there are many other American evangelicals, and perhaps even American Christian fundamentalists, who hold these same theological convictions but are opposed to the Iraq War. Among American evangelicals, theology does not conclusively determine one’s political stance, including one’s position on any given war. Does the JEA Theological Commission recognize this variation among American evangelicals who might hold to the same theological positions?
One article encourages Japanese evangelicals to shift from absolute inerrancy to full inerrancy in order to arrive at a moderate understanding of inerrancy and in order to avoid the American fundamentalistic extreme of literally interpreting the Bible.#6
This implies that Japanese and American evangelicals generally hold to absolute inerrancy. However, most American evangelicals actually hold to full inerrancy. If the typical American evangelical position has been full inerrancy, how would the shift from absolute to full inerrancy among Japanese evangelicals help achieve a Japanese theology of peacemaking? Full inerrancy has not apparently accomplished this feat in America. Or does the suggestion to move toward a more moderate view of inerrancy actually mean that a broader view than full inerrancy is being suggested (e.g., limited inerrancy, inerrancy of purpose, accommodated revelation, or nonpropositional revelation)? What is the JEA Theological Commission’s understanding of its own stated position on inerrancy?
7) JEA Theological Commission exclusivism?
Fujimoto shows how an “us versus them” mentality results in the confrontational posture often associated with fundamentalism. At least one of the articles in the pamphlet creates just such a posture of exclusion in order to distance Japanese evangelicals from their American counterparts.#7
Does the JEA Theological Commission see the irony of identifying this exclusive mentality in what it has described as American Christian fundamentalism but not recognizing this tendency within its own commission?