Christian fundamentalism began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries among British and American Protestants as a reaction to theological liberalism and cultural modernism. Fundamentalists argued that 19th-century modernist theologians had misinterpreted or rejected certain doctrines, especially biblical inerrancy, that they viewed as the fundamentals of Christian faith. A few scholars regard Catholics who reject modern theology in favor of more traditional doctrines as fundamentalists. Scholars debate how much the terms “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” are synonymou
The term fundamentalism was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 to designate Christians who were ready “to do battle royal for the fundamentals”. The term was quickly adopted by all sides. Laws borrowed it from the title of a series of essays published between 1910 and 1915 called The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth. The term “fundamentalism” entered the English language in 1922, and is often capitalized when referring to the religious movement
Fundamentalism in Christianity:
In Christianity, the term fundamentalism is normally used to refer to the conservative part of evangelical Christianity, which is itself the most conservative wing of Protestant Christianity. Fundamentalist Christians typically believe that the Bible is inspired by God and is inerrant. They reject modern analysis of the Bible as a historical document written by authors who were attempting to promote their own evolving spiritual beliefs. Rather, they view the bible as the Word of God, internally consistent, and free of error.
The term “Fundamentalist” derives from a 1909 publication “The Fundamentals: A testimony to the truth” which proposed five required Christian beliefs for those opposed to the Modernist movement.
Originally a technical theological term, it became commonly used after the “Scopes” trial in Tennessee during the mid 1920s. Dayton, Tennessee in 1925. John Scopes, a high school biology teacher was on trial for contravening the state’s Butler Act. It forbade the teaching of “any theory that denies the story of the Divine Creation of man as taught in the Bible, and to teach instead that man has descended from a lower order of animals.” 4,5 Although Scopes was found guilty, many felt that he had won a moral victory.
By the late 1930’s Christian fundamentalists had formed a sub-culture and had largely withdrawn from the rest of society. Following major revisions to Roman Catholic beliefs and practices during the Vatican II conferences in the 1960’s, the term “fundamentalist” started to be used to refer to Catholics who rejected the changes, and wished to retain traditional beliefs and practices. Thus it became a commonly used word to describe the most conservative groups within Christianity: both Protestant and Catholic.
Back in the 1960’s many theologians and historians expected that religions would become less conservative and generally weaker with time. That did not happen. Instead, the fundamentalist wings of major world religions, including Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism, have grown and become increasingly dedicated to preserving religious tradition. Karen Armstrong has addressed Fundamentalism in Christianity, Islam and Judaism in her book: “The Battle for God.” 1
In the U.S., the Fundamentalist-led Moral Majority emerged to challenge social and religious beliefs and practices. Today, Fundamentalists are the most vocal group, on a per-capital basis — who oppose abortion access, equal rights for homosexuals, same-sex marriage, protection for homosexuals from hate crimes, physician assisted suicide, the use of embryonic stem cells for medical research, comprehensive sex-ed classes in public schools, etc.
The Assemblies of God is one Fundamentalist denomination. The Southern Baptist Convention has moved towards fundamentalism in recent years. Bob Jones University, the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Moody Bible Institute, etc.are also Fundamentalist. Among the most generally known Fundamentalist Christian leaders are Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson and Hal Lindsey.
Fundamentalism is built on five tenets of the Christian faith, although there is much more to the movement than adherence to these tenets:
1) The Bible is literally true. Associated with this tenet is the belief that the Bible is inerrant, that is, without error and free from all contradictions.
2) The virgin birth and deity of Christ. Fundamentalists believe that Jesus was born of the virgin Mary and conceived by the Holy Spirit and that He was and is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.
3) The substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross. Fundamentalism teaches that salvation is obtained only through God’s grace and human faith in Christ’s crucifixion for the sins of mankind.
4) The bodily resurrection of Jesus. On the third day after His crucifixion, Jesus rose from the grave and now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
5) The authenticity of Jesus’ miracles as recorded in Scripture and the literal, pre-millennial second coming of Christ to earth.
Other points of doctrine held by Fundamentalists are that Moses wrote the first five books of the Bible and that the church will be raptured prior to the tribulation of the end times. Most Fundamentalists are also dispensationalists.
The Fundamentalist movement has often embraced a certain militancy for truth, and this led to some infighting. Many new denominations and fellowships appeared, as people left their churches in the name of doctrinal purity. One of the defining characteristics of Fundamentalism has been to see itself as the guardian of the truth, usually to the exclusion of others’ biblical interpretation. At that time of the rise of Fundamentalism, the world was embracing liberalism, modernism, and Darwinism, and the church itself was being invaded by false teachers. Fundamentalism was a reaction against the loss of biblical teaching.
The movement took a severe hit in 1925 by liberal press coverage of the legendary Scopes trial. Although Fundamentalists won the case, they were mocked publicly. Afterwards, Fundamentalism began to splinter and refocus. The most prominent and vocal group in the USA has been the Christian Right. This group of self-described Fundamentalists has been more involved in political movements than most other religious groups. By the 1990s, groups such as the Christian Coalition and Family Research Council have influenced politics and cultural issues. Today, Fundamentalism lives on in various evangelical groups such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Together, these groups claim to have more than 30 million followers.
The term fundamentalist is controversial in the 21st century, as it can carry the connotation of religious extremism, even though it was coined by movement leaders. Some who hold these beliefs reject the label of “fundamentalism”, seeing it as too pejorative, while to others it has become a banner of pride. Such Christians prefer to use the term fundamental, as opposed to fundamentalist (e.g., Independent Fundamental Baptist and Independent Fundamental Churches of America). The term is sometimes confused with Christian legalism.
Like all movements, Fundamentalism has enjoyed both successes and failures. The greatest failure may be in allowing Fundamentalism’s detractors define what it means to be a Fundamentalist. As a result, many people today see Fundamentalists as radical, snake-handling extremists who want to establish a state religion and force their beliefs on everyone else. This is far from the truth. Fundamentalists seek to guard the truth of Scripture and defend the Christian faith, which was “once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 1:3). The church today is struggling in the postmodern, secular culture and needs people who are not ashamed to proclaim the gospel of Christ. Truth does not change, and adherence to the fundamental principles of doctrine is needful. These principles are the bedrock upon which Christianity stands, and, as Jesus taught, the house built upon the Rock will weather any storm (Matthew 7:24-25).
Fundamentalism at merriam-webster.com. Accessed 2011-07-28.
Marsden (1980), pp. 55–62, 118–23.
Sandeen (1970), p. 6
Roger E. Olson (2004). The Westminster Handbook to Evangelical Theology. Westminster John Knox Press. pp. 3–6. summarizes the debate.
Reid, D. G., Linder, R. D., Shelley, B. L., & Stout, H. S. (1990). In
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Robbins, Dale A. (1995). What is a Fundamentalist Christian?. Grass
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