Any discussion of fundamentalism should include a discussion of fundamentals.
What is a fundamentalist? Someone who holds to the fundamentals.
What is a fundamental? Well, you know, of course. What they have always been. What we always believed.
But we never get around to actually defining what a fundamental is.
For many fundamentalists, fundamentals are more about names and ministries than about actual doctrine. If we can throw a label on it, we can keep the boxes pretty neat, and then the faith will be firmly defended. Or so we think.
For some fundamentalists, the fundamentals are the five things that were identified a century ago. They claim that everyone who affirms those five things is a fundamentalist. But honestly, that’s pretty reductionistic, historically revisionistic, and philosophically simplistic. I don’t think fundamentalism was every only about those five things.
So what is a fundamental for me? Here’s my take:
A fundamental is a doctrine without which the Christian faith is denied or severely weakened.
I describe it as a “load-bearing doctrine,” similar to a load-bearing wall in a house. A house can survive without a door or a window. It might be pretty uncomfortable and a little bit weird, but the house won’t fall in. And you will likely not want to live very long in a house without windows and doors. On the other hand, if you take out that wall that runs the width of your house in order to create an “open floor plan,” you have created serious damage which may not be immediately apparent but will certainly manifest itself in time.
In Christianity, if you remove a “load bearing doctrine” you will create severe problems in the house of Christianity. The absence of certain windows or doors may make your Christianity look a bit strange compared to the norm of the Bible, and it may cause it to be pretty ineffective as a means of proclaiming God’s glory to the nations, but it will still be Christianity.
For example, inerrancy is a fundamental because while a denial of inerrancy does not necessarily destroy the Christian faith, it does severely weaken it. Ecclesiastical separation (of at least some sort) is a fundamental because without it the Christian faith is possibly denied, and at least severely weakened.
However, the use of particular Bible versions is not a fundamental because the use of particular versions does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith. Arminianism or Calvinism is not a fundamental because the affirmation of one and denial of the other does not deny or severely weaken the Christian faith, provided that one affirms salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
As a fundamentalist, we need to recognize that not everything is a fundamental. That doesn’t mean that non-fundamentals are unimportant, or that we should be indifferent about them. But denial or doubt of certain perspectives on some doctrinal matters is not going to deny or severely weaken the Christian faith.
Never has, never will.
So let’s be a bit more judicious about what a fundamental is (from both sides), and let’s not pretend that being a fundamentalist is all there is to being an obedient Christian. While faithful Christianity is certainly not less than the fundamentals, it does include more.