Provocative Friday Quote

“Another way of putting it is to say that the modern challenge is how to live with uncertainty. The basic fault lines today are not between people with different beliefs but between people who hold these beliefs with an element of uncertainty and people who hold these beliefs with a pretense of certitude. There is a middle ground between fanaticism and relativism. I can convey values to my children without pretending a fanatical certitude about them. And you can build a community with people who are neither fanatics nor relativists.”

From Epistemological Modesty: An Interview with Peter Berger

Somewhere I hear Scott Clark whispering something about the QIRC.

This seems like at least part of the difference between Fundamentalism and Confessionalism when it comes to religious truth. What has been called “the intolerance of Presbyterianism” is often mistaken for what is conceived of as Fundamentalism. Machen’s instincts were to reject the category of Fundamentalism. Whatever else correctly informed those instincts it sure seems to me that the smart money was on that sort of hedging since it turns out that, amongst other things like a blatant culturalism, Fundamentalism was simply another variety of the modernism he meant to reject. It thought it could do better at withstanding modernism than what was to be already found in Presbyterianism. But, despite the conventional wisdom of fighting fire with fire, the accommodations of Liberalism didn’t need to be answered with the certitudes of something like Fundamentalism. Rather, they needed the intolerances of Reformed confessionalism.

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4 Responses to Provocative Friday Quote

  1. Darryl Hart says:

    Zrim, what do you do with all the fans of Enns who read Berger and say, “hear, here”?

  2. Zrim says:


    Maybe I am not clear on the question, but could that be something like McLaren gobbling up Calvin, where something tells me he isn’t quite getting it? (Do you mean reading Berger here specifically or in general?)

    But I don’t know, what do you make of it?

  3. Darryl Hart says:

    Zrim: I heard often in the debates over Enns that a middle ground existed between being TR and a liberal. So I guess I’m concerned about wanting to play it in the middle between certainty and relativity. I think I know what you mean. But I’m not sure you’d like the company that would try to keep with you in that middle position. Don’t we all think we’re avoiding extremes?

  4. Zrim says:


    Well, let me put your mind at ease by saying that I think it is less an issue of “middle ground” than it is to question the categories of certainty and relativity in the first place. Rubbing elbows bothers me less since I am not so sure that the company one might find himself in with some statements is the best measure of the point being made. I mean, lots of things appear to put us in cahoots with everything from revivalists to Catholics to Liberals to Mormons to secularists. But once the unpacking begins things get complicated and “fellowship” becomes more and more out of reach, as it were. At the risk of the bad kind of certitude, I know you know what I mean.

    I think the point here is that there are two kinds of certainty, one that seems in keeping with faith and one with sight. The former is allowed to co-exist with doubt (the latter not so much). Some call that sort of faith not quite good enough, but I think that is because they are operating with a certainty of sight in the first place. In the same way, there’s relativity and then there’s doubt. But just because one may doubt something it doesn’t mean he’s a relativist. My Liberals call me a Fundamentalist and my Fundamentalists call me a Liberal for saying such things. Instead of saying this is a project in middle ground, I prefer to think they keep using words they don’t quite understand. After all, I have no need to bring them together but to find a home in confessionalism.

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