What are the fundamentals of Christianity?
There are NONE!!!!
There are, however, certain problems associated with any such attempt to lay down what is essential to the faith or that by which, in a historic phrase the Church stands or falls.
First of all there is the practical question of who decides. In a period where there is a universal Church, when everyone is a Christian and the only dispute is whether they are orthodox or heretical, it is relatively simple: the Church decides. But what happens when the Church begins to fragment into various denominations, and the 'Fundamentals' of a particular denomination are different from those of another, each claiming to be orthodox? What happens when the Fundamentals of a Christian movement which claims to be impeccably conservative are different from the Fundamentals of early Christian orthodoxy? Is there not, for example, something odd in the fact that Fundamentalism's five Fundamentals do not include everything in the classic Christian creeds?
And that leads to the second problem, a logical problem. What is the status of those elements of Christianity which are not included in the Fundamentals? Take the residue of the Apostles' Creed which is not covered by the five Fundamentals of Fundamentalism: for example, the creation and the Holy Spirit. Does their absence from the Fundamentalists' creed imply that they are unimportant, optional, mistaken? I suppose the Fundamentalists would argue that their insistence on the infallibility of the Bible takes care of the creation and the Holy Spirit, but in that case why single out the resurrection and the virgin birth for special mention? Is it in fact possible for any movement claiming to stand in the tradition of orthodoxy to make any pronouncement at all on the Fundamentals of the faith, which does not simply repeat previous such pronouncements? In other words, can something which has once been stated to be fundamental to Christianity ever cease to be fundamental?
The third problem is partly logical and partly psychological. The implication of the Fundamentalists' Fundamentals is that you must believe them before you can claim to be a Christian. But how can you be required to believe anything? Does the formulation 'You must believe' make any sense at all? We do not in fact decide what to believe or if we do we are misusing the word 'believe'. The content of a belief constrains us to believe. To that extent it does make sense to say I must believe it: I must believe it because it's true. But I cannot be compelled to believe anything by external authority, not just because l might wish to resist that authority but because belief cannot be coerced.Now if the Fundamentalists say that they are simply stating in their Fundamentals what is true, and that is why I must believe them, the question naturally arises: what about all the other aspects of Christianity, the non-Fundamentals? Are they less true, or untrue? It seems that any statement of what must be believed can only apply to the whole of Christianity, that is, to the whole truth. Once the Fundamentalists attempt to concentrate on 'Fundamentals' then either they become logically incoherent or they are in fact trying to force us to believe, which is impossible.
But the most important objection to Christian Fundamentals, or essentials of the faith, is a theological objection: the whole idea of an irreducible minimum of belief is contrary to the spirit of Christianity. It is not easy to explain why, except obliquely - by saying, for example, in Kierkegaard's arresting simile, that it is like trying to paint the god Mars in the armour which made him invisible. I was once asked on a radio program to sum up in one sentence the message of Jesus. I racked my brains feverishly for a minute, but then I thought, 'No, why should I play this game?' if Jesus could have said in a single sentence why he had come, then it would have been quite unnecessary for him to come at all - except in order to utter that sentence.
You cannot generalise or abstract certain principles or 'Fundamentals' and attach some saving significance to them, or make of them a test of allegiance and put everything else on the level of non-essential or optional or whatever. Of course it is entirely understandable why people should want to do so. As Dostoevsky's Grand lnquisitor saw so clearly, people don't want freedom, they want to be told what to do. And psychologically there is nothing more satisfying than a rule book, or a party manifesto, which tells you simply and categorically just what you should do and what you should believe. And that psychological need is so great that you remain blind to the fact that a religion which wants to - from rules and exclusiveness and seeing God as a possession, and to open you up instead to the absolute love of God is immediately involved in a hopeless contradiction whenever it allows itself to be reduced to certain essentials or 'Fundamentals'....
And in that sense Christianity is incommunicable, in any direct sense. It doesn't proceed on the analogy base camp in mountaineering, and 'teach' certain minimum beliefs which you can then build upon for the purposes of your individual attempts to climb higher, but below which you need never go in refreshing yourself and taking stock. Much more apt is the anaIogy of the pilgrimage or voyage, which is different for everyone, and on which you never come back to the same point.It is your pilgrimage, your voyage, and no one else has ever taken exactly the same route. You can get advice from other people, hints on the sort of things that might happen to you and the sort of things you might do; but no one can travel with you, far less instead of you. And dictating to you the Fundamentals of Christianity, telling you what you must believe js precisely trying to travel with you or instead of you.And, as if to prove a point, it is on this question of the incommunicability of Christianity that the Fundamentalists really become angry. They quoted a sermon of mine on the subject at one stage in the heresy proceedings, without comment, as if I was condemned out of my own mouth. Because it is here that we are fundamentally opposed. The whole basis of their religion is that it offers salvation through acceptance of propositions about God and Jesus Christ-the Fundamentals of Christianity. And their whole purpose as Christians is to persuade themselves and others to accept these propositions, to be converted. But that is precisely why they will never be converted. In the Fourth Gospel Jesus offers freedom to the Jews but in reply they deny that hey have ever been slaves. You cannot liberate those who think they are free. You cannot convert a Fundamentalist.
From Peter Cameron's "Fundamentalism and Freedom" (Doubleday, Sydney: 1995) pp 36 -42