Two of the current apologists that I appreciate very much are Randal Rauser and Sean McDowell. So I was quite interested to read Randal Rauser’s review of Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh and Sean McDowell that was published in the Christian Post.
While Randal Rauser has a different style than the McDowells, he doesn’t take the opportunity to totally slam them. When he appreciates something they have done in the book, he is willing to give them the credit. I appreciate that about Randal.
At the same time, Randal has some major concerns, not just about the book in particular, but what it represents. This is seen by the title of the review, “Fundamentalist Apologetics Comes of Age.”
This surprised me, as I have been able to get to know Sean a bit, even if only online. We have emailed back and forth and I have contributed to one of his projects. The last thing that comes to mind when I think of Sean is fundamentalist. I see him as representing the brightest and most respectful of young evangelicals.
It all comes down to what Randal means by fundamentalist. The term fundamentalist came from the summary of the fundamentals of the faith that were developed at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century. These included:
- Biblical inspiration and the infallibility of scripture
- Virgin birth of Jesus
- Belief that Christ’s death was the atonement for sin
- Bodily resurrection of Jesus
- Historical reality of the miracles of Jesus
By this definition, Sean would probably accept the description of fundamentalist, as would I. But that is not what Randal means by fundamentalist, nor what most people mean in contemporary conversation.
I don’t want to get into the full discussion of the historical background, but I would like to point you to Roger E, Olsen’s article, What Distinguishes “Evangelical” from “Fundamentalist?”
Thankfully, Randal provides the definition that he uses for his purposes. Randal states, “These characteristics include biblicism, biblical literalism, rationalism, triumphalism, and binary oppositionalism.”
Having read carefully Evidence That Demands a Verdict, I think that while there are hints of these characteristics, Randal is stretching things for his own purposes. For example, in this book and elsewhere, the description of “biblical literalism” is an over-simplification of the hermeneutic used by Sean. Sean is a solid biblical scholar who understand very much the complexities of genre and rhetoric.
Really what Randal describes, and what he expresses concern over, is simply evangelicalism. The type of beliefs presented in Evidence is reflective of much of evangelicalism and not just the small segment that would self-identify as fundamentalist.
Randal knows very well what happens when he describes something as fundamentalist, even if he defines it precisely in the body of his article. “Fundamentalist” is a term that is used to identify something as dangerous, isolationist and irrational. We have been trained to be very concerned about anything described as fundamentalist.
For example, we would walk away with a much different impression if Randal had titled his article, “Evangelical Apologetics Comes of Age.” Despite “evangelical” beginning to receive negative reactions, it is still a much more positive term than fundamentalist.
By describing Evidence as “Fundamentalist Apologetics,” Randal has dismissed the value of the book with a label, aside from the specific concerns listed in the body of the article.
As I said in my introduction, I’m thankful for the work of both Randal and Sean and all they do to present a Christianity worth considering. But in this case, labeling Evidence as fundamentalist distracts us from what could have been helpful critiques of the book.
You can read my review of Evidence That Demands a Verdict here.