Particularly since he then asks:
Is that really so different from Ernie’s summary that he would claim his summary describes all of Orthodox Christianity while mine describes only Fundamentalist Christianity?
Well, yes and no. Yes, I do think they are substantially different, but no, I concede that “Orthodox” and “Fundamentalist” are not 100% discriminated by our respective definitions.
[Read more] for my attempt to better differentiate our positions.
Since Alan understandably disapproves of my restricting his critique merely to Fundamentalism, let me use a different set of labels. I propose we label his position as “Classical Orthodoxy“, and include two additional points that seem relevant to his arguments:
5. Everyone who does not accept Christ is condemned to eternal punishment
6. Belief in Jesus and the Bible is both necessary and sufficient to lead a moral life
I suspect Alan might consider these points redundant given (3) and (4), but I trust he accepts them as valid representations of the position he is critiquing. For my part, I fully concede that these positions — while perhaps not universally held — are very much in keeping with historical, mainstream Christian orthodoxy, not just self-described Fundamentalists.
Where, then, does this leave me?
Well to return to Alan’s much-maligned analogy, I treat classical orthodoxy in exactly the same way I treat classical physics: a valid theory that worked well within their limited range of experience, but which was nonetheless inadequate to explain all observed phenomena. To stretch the physical analogy further, I will (for lack of a better term) label my position “Relativistic Orthodoxy.” For most (though not all) practical purposes, I assert that the two are equivalent, but there are important theoretical and conceptual differences.
In particular, I would phrase my “relativistic variants” of the last four points as:
3a. Jesus death and resurrection enable us to meaningfully appropriate our salvation
4a. The Bible is a faithful and authoritative record of humanity’s encounter with the divine
5a. The diverse Biblical descriptions of hell represent a genuine reality awaiting those who refuse to submit to divinity
6a. The better we understand our experience of divinity, the better life we will lead
In a sense, the key difference is that I am treating “divinity” as the sole absolute standard, with Jesus and the Bible defined relative to that. While perhaps unusual (unorthodox? :-), I would argue that this is exactly how Jesus and the Bible define themselves, so it is nonetheless legitimate.
To be precise, I am asserting that i) the differences between these two are sufficiently subtle that most Christians wouldn’t notice the difference, but ii) these differences are still sufficient to allow my theory to escape the valid portion of Alan’s critique.
So Alan, my questions to you are:
As usual, I realize this doesn’t answer all your questions, but hopefully it at least helps define the questions in a way we can both agree upon. Fair enough?