Thursday, November 11, 2010

Cultural Fundamentalism

The term “cultural fundamentalist” recently was used. Some have pled ignorance that they didn’t know what that was. Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt that they actually don’t, though I would suggest that they make up a very small group that doesn’t read much or interact with many outside of their tribe.

Why? Because when I interact with non-fundamentalists and they find out I am a Baptist (or as someone pointed out last night over beer and pizza, a “babtist”), they want to know what kind. “Independent” is my answer.

“Fundamentalist?” they say.

“Probably not, if you are asking the question.”

Why? Because usually, when someone asks the question, they have a definition of “fundamentalist” and I am hesitant to let them define me as a fundamentalist until I know what they mean.

So what do they mean, I ask.

Here’s a summary of some recent questions asked of me in personal conversations. There are all real questions  (“I am not preaching here; I am telling the truth”), and they all come from pastors (in other words, people with a reason to have a greater grasp than “Joe on the street”).

  1. Are you KJV-Only or do you use the KJV?
  2. What version do you use?
  3. Do you go to movies?
  4. Do you drink alcohol?
  5. Do you think women should not wear pants?
  6. Do you wear a suit and tie to preach in?
  7. Do you wear shorts?
  8. Do you have any connection with Bob Jones University (when they found out I was from Greenville)?

Notice what is absent: The gospel, the church, doctrine, ministry fellowship/participation.

I promise that these are real questions. And I promise that no one asks me what what I think about Billy Graham, ministry partnerships, cooperative evangelism, the gospel, the Presbyterians, the Lutherans, or the charismatics.

In other words, when people think “fundamentalist,” they don’t think “defending the gospel” or “partnering for ministry.” They think cultural issues.

Of course there are exceptions. I had dinner this week with a well-known and highly-respected man, whose name every reader here would know (and would say, “How did you get hooked up with him?”). He actually did reference fundamentalists as separatists. But in my experience, he is the exception.

But what most people ask about is cultural issues, because that is what people think fundamentalism is. Now, one might attempt to make the case that the Bible version is not cultural, but theological. I think that is partially true and partially not true, but I don’t want to deal with that argument here.

You see, they know exactly what a cultural fundamentalist is … It is a fundamentalist who is known first for his stands on cultural issues. He is not known for loving the gospel, sound doctrine, theology, and the church, though he may do all those things. He is known for cultural standards.

Is that fair? Complain away, but that impression did not come from nowhere.

You see, cultural fundamentalism exists, and in it, people care less about what you believe and more about what you do and don’t do. Again, complain away, but that impression does not come from nowhere.

What do we do? Well, if we are really about the the defense and propagation of the gospel, we have a serious PR problem. However, I fear it isn’t only PR. I fear that too many fundamentalists are as much about these cultural issues as they are about the gospel. And that is a problem.

What’s my solution? I don’t claim to be a fundamentalist without lots of explanation. And sometimes, I don’t claim it at all. For some, that makes me a new evangelical. But I think I am living proof that some sort of “silent majority” does exist for all the caterwauling against it (without benefit of evidence ironically).

By the way, what are my answers?

  1. No, No
  2. NASB
  3. Only when there is something I really want to pay money and waste a couple of hours to see, which is a really short list which in the last decade only included Fireproof and We Were Soldiers.
  4. No, but I won’t stumble if you do. Let it make your heart glad if your conscience allows; but don’t get drunk, and don’t expect me to pay for it.
  5. I don’t care; be appropriate and be modest.
  6. Usually only when you are getting married or getting buried, or other rare occasions.
  7. Usually only seven days a week, unless it falls below 25 degrees or it is Sunday morning.
  8. You might say that.

And no, the beer wasn’t mine.


Anonymous said...

Whew! I was viewing this whole post with a jaundiced gimlet eye until you made the final statement! Hah!

A number of my reformed pastor friends equate fundamentalism with Arminian teachings. That is a perception I have run even outside that circle of friends & acquaintances.

Sam Hendrickson

Frank Sansone said...


I just posted somewhat of a rejoinder to this. (It was in my drafts and I just noticed it today - thus the delay from when you originally wrote this.)

It is not an "attack" or anything, just another way of looking at the "data" you give.