This will be the first blog entry of what I am sure will be many to come on the topic of fundamentalism. Let me say this at the start: I am an unapologetic fundamentalist (as I understand it). I repudiate with great concern the actions and attitudes of some who claim the name fundamentalism. But I think it necessary to at least try to defend what I (and I think many others) would believe fundamentalism to be. Obviously, I can’t say everything in one post, and no doubt there are some holes in this attempt, so I post with some fear and would like unanimous consent to revise and extend my remarks.
A Brief History of This Entry
The idea for this post has been rumbling around in my head for some time. I recently interacted on an Emergent Church blog that I read from time to time. The topic was Fundamentalists in the Emerging Church? The blog entry referenced writer and lecturer Karen Armstrong who lectured on fundamentalism and the Battle for God. I would like to take time to read carefully and interact with Armstrong’s lecture notes, but I don’t have time.
My interaction in this blog was sparked by a comment made by a poster using the handle of Iggy, who said,
The biggest difference [between fundamentalists and the postmodern/emergents] is the inability for a fund'y to see beyond his own view... In that regard I pray we never are referred to as Fundamentalists. In my run ins with most fundy's I have not felt anything but judgementalism [sic]. To me the one thing we have in common is that they are against modernism... but do not be fooled, they are very premodern (in denial) and are not usually open to postmodern at all. In fact they have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM [postmodern] views.I responded that Iggy’s post was worthy of his own condemnation. I said,
I have never had a true conversation... on [sic] received rebuke and monologue
You say that they (fundamentalists) have a big tendency to grossly misrepresent PM views. As a fundamentalist, I have seen nothing here that properly represents my views. Don't you think you are saddled with the same problem you complain about? (HINT: You should think so, or else you are guilty of your first complaint, about not being able to see past your own view.) Not all fundamentalists are the same. Christian fundamentalism has absolutely nothing in common with Judaic, Islamic, or any other kind of fundamentalism. To include them in the same idea is a misrepresentation of church history (and secular history for that matter). The only commonality is that someone gave them the same name.That led Andrew to say,
My plea is for you to recognize that you just did the very thing you complained about, misrepresented someone because you can't see past your own view.
a lot of people do not know the history of Christian fundamentalism, or the social gospel issues in the 20's in USA that gave birth to the postive [sic] side of this movement.(Still with me??? I think we could make a movie or something out of this..)
Karen Armstrong is considered a world authority on the subject, and no one would rubbish her critique, but she may not have your angle.
Could you write up something and come back and give us a link to it?
So here it is … My “something” about fundamentalism as I have seen it, and do see it. I don’t speak for all, and perhaps not for anyone but myself. But here is my brief attempt to lay out some basics. It is necessary in writing something of this link to be simplistic and to gloss over some needed details. I hope those interested will continue their research.
"Something" about Fundamentalism
First, let me say that a lot of people claim the name “fundamentalist” who have no right to it. The blog summarizes Armstrong this way (quoted from the blog):
Fundamentalism, she argued, is found in Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, and even secular humanism. It is not orthodox, she said, but rather it is a "new doctrine", characterized by the two ingredients of independence and innovation. Behind fundamentalism is the fear of annihilation and fundamentalism becomes more extreme when attacked.I think she is dead wrong. To associate historic Christian fundamentalism with that of Judaism, Islam, etc. simply doesn’t understand what Christian fundamentalism is. The unique connotation of Christian fundamentalism (hereafter simply “fundamentalism”) makes it markedly distinct from all other forms of fundamentalism, whatever similarities they might share. Even within Christian fundamentalism broadly defined, there are many who have no legitimate claim to the title of fundamentalist for a variety of reasons, including their departure from the historic doctrinal positions. Second, to say that fundamentalism is new is also to misunderstand what fundamentalism is, and it is here that I shall park my horse for a moment.
Fundamentalism as a movement arose in the early part of the 20th century in response to the theological liberalism and weakening of the gospel that came from the continental theologians in the 19th century. There was a rising “scholasticism” bent on denying or recharacterizing the doctrines held since the beginning of the church that had been systematized throughout church history. The late 19th century and early 20th century saw the rise of the social gospel through men like Bushnell, Rauschenbusch, Strong, Gladden and others, and this social gospel began to squeeze out the biblical gospel. What began as a “both/and” for many soon become a “one only.” And they chose the wrong one. In response to this shift in theology and practice, a series of booklets entitled “The Fundamentals” were written by a number of men. The name “fundamentalist” was coined by Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 when he said, “We suggest that those who still cling to the great fundamentals and who mean to do battle royal for the fundamentals shall be called fundamentalists” (see The Watchman Examiner, July 1, 1920). All that to say this: When Armstrong says that fundamentalism was a “new doctrine,” she is not correct. Fundamentalism was a plea to hold on to the “old doctrine" that was being compromised by theological liberalism.
For fundamentalists, the most important standard of truth is the truth of God’s word. An old saying goes, “God said; I believe it; that settles it.” For the fundamentalist, the saying would have read, “God said it; that settles it.” Personal belief could not be made a criteria for truth, nor could acceptance by others. Of course, this addresses post-modernism head on in many ways, but that is a different topic and I must hurry on. The "great fundamentals" revealed by God in Scripture were worthy of our full commitment of belief.
Fundamentalism had a second criterion, as outlined by Laws. Not only did they “cling to the great fundamentals,” but they also “mean[t] to do battle royal for the fundamentals.” For the fundamentalist, it is not enough to simply hold to doctrine. It is necessary to battle for them. This “earnest contention” (cf. Jude 3) includes going as far as separation from those who reject the core doctrines of the faith, a separation such as is outlined in passages like Romans 16:17-18, 3 John 8-11, Jude, and others. It is not separation on personal preference or personality. It is separation based on doctrine and obedience. According to Romans 16:17-18, the fundamentalist is not the one charged with division. It is the one who contradicts the Bible who is the divisive person. Too many times that is turned around and the fundamentalist is labeled the schismatic.
For the fundamentalist, loving God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, meant that God’s enemies were your enemies. You were commanded to love them and reach them with the gospel, not to work alongside them in ministry or ecclesiastical union. Those who refused to obey God must be separated from in the interest of purity and holiness of the Church and the doctrines that God revealed.
Let me try to sum this up, though perhaps I have raised more questions than I have answered. A fundamentalist is first and foremost committed to the core doctrines of Christianity. I have called them the “load bearing doctrines,” the doctrines without which the house of Christianity falls. Obviously, not all doctrine fits in this category, but there are certainly some that do such as the virgin birth, salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, the bodily resurrection of Christ from the dead, the personal coming of Christ at the end of the age, as well as some others. A fundamentalist is committed to whole-hearted acceptance of and commitment to these things that God has clearly revealed in Scripture.
A fundamentalist is secondly committed to the honor of and defense of those doctrines, through confrontation, exposure, and separation if need be. The Bible commands that we separate from those who teach falsely—contrary to what we have learned in Scripture. One cannot be obedient and one cannot love God truly without practicing this separation. Such separation is based on core doctrines clearly revealed, not on doctrines of dispute, or doctrines that are so called “minor” doctrines. (One of the great lacks in fundamentalism, in my opinion, is the lack of agreement about which doctrines fit this category. But again, that is another topic, and I must hurry on.) Fundamentalists should be strongly committed to biblical unity, unity based on the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” Where that faith is not held in high esteem, unity is a farce. To fail to separate in such cases is not an act of love for the body of Christ, but rather an act of disdain for God and the body of Christ which He has saved. Such separation should not be taken lightly, nor undertaken hastily. In some cases, separation has taken place over a number of years. But it must be undertaken for the sake of God and his truth, and for the sake of the body.
Have some fundamentalists taken separation too far? Absolutely. Have some fundamentalists behaved in unseemly ways? Without question. Have fundamentalists been guilty of judgmentalism? No doubt. Are some fundamentalists unable to see past their own views? Certainly. But the sine qua non of fundamentalism is different than that. Fundamentalism is about people who love God more than men, about people who love God’s word more than they love the approval of others. It is about people who love God and his truth enough to honor it with a hearty defense and separation when need be. I will not defend people who claim the name of fundamentalist and do stupid things. Quite frankly, I am often embarrassed by what some “fundamentalists” do. I have told some fundamentalists that they are out of line. I have told some people they have no right to the name fundamentalist. But I also refuse to be defined by their lunacy.
Many fundamentalists believe what they believe because it well defended by Scripture, not because they are judgmental or angry. On the other hand, many fundamentalists are simply repeating what they have heard. Fundamentalists that I know are not afraid of “annihilation” as Armstrong says. In fact, I think the brightest days of fundamentalism are still ahead, in heaven if not on this earth. The theological and ecclesiastical landscape has greatly changed in the last century. The battles of Curtis Lee Laws, W. B. Riley, Bob Jones Sr., Robert Ketcham, T.T. Shields, and other great men have changed. But at stake is the truth of God’s Word and the souls of men. And those are high stakes.
Fundamentalism is broad, and there may be some intramural squabbles about where exactly the line is drawn on some issues. But these squabbles should be characterized by grace and humility in earnest contention for the faith. I am not for a "softer, gentler" fundamentalism. In fact, I think fundamentalism has grown too weak. The academic and theological substance of an earlier generation gave way to bombastic nonsense being spewed forth from behind pulpits that must have been reinforced to withstand the pounding. The personal piety and holiness gave way in many cases to a rigid legalism, in which some standards were right, but were taught without the foundation of loving God with everything that you are.
So fundamentalism is no new thing; it is age old Christianity applied to a modern context. Fundamentalists are not without faults and that is to our shame. But in the haste to condemn the “judgmental fundamentalists,” let us not forget that it is judgmental to make such a condemnation. In other words, those who attack fundamentalists are forced to do the very same thing they accuse fundamentalists of, namely, make judgments about someone else’s theology and obedience. And that judgment results in a de facto separation from their end.
But don't confuse Christian fundamentalists with Islamic fundamentalists, Jewish fundamentalists, or people who parade around with "God hates fags" signs. We are different, and with good reason. Our roots are found in historic Christianity. Or as liberal theologian Kirsopp Lake put it:
It is a mistake, often made by educated persons who happen to have but little knowledge of historical theology, to suppose that Fundamentalism is a new and strange form of thought. It is nothing of the kind; it is the ... survival of a theology which was once universally held by Christians ... The Fundamentalist may be wrong; I think that he is. But it is we who have departed from the tradition, not he, and I am sorry for the fate of anyone who tries to argue with the Fundamentalist on the basis of authority. The Bible and the corpus theologicum of the Church is on the Fundamentalist side (in The Religion of Yesterday and To-morrow [Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1925], pp. 61-62 quoted in David Beale, The Pursuit of Purity:American Fundamentalism since 18509 [Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 1986], p. 4).I hope and pray that the church of Jesus Christ will become more unified as we draw near to the end, but that unity must begin with doctrine, and proceed from obedience.