On Fundamentalists

OK, so I confess: sometimes I write articles just so that I can showcase what somebody else has written. There is a lotta good stuff out there, and sometimes I just wish to draw your attention to it, and give it an even wider hearing. So that is what this piece is basically all about.

And it is about fundamentalists. These people of course are the scum of the earth and the cause of all our woes – or so the secular left and the religious left would have you believe. And with Muslim terrorists regularly referred to as fundamentalists, the term has simply become one of negative connotations – it is now a pejorative word only.

So it is worth asking just what is fundamentalism, at least in terms of its Christian heritage. I in fact have written about this elsewhere: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1999/07/26/what-is-fundamentalism/

Instead of reinventing the wheel, let me now simply quote part of that earlier article:

Historically, fundamentalism arose in America in the late nineteenth century. It was a reaction against several perceived threats to orthodox Protestant faith. Those threats included Darwinism, German higher (biblical) criticism, and the study of comparative religions, all of which were seen as challenging old assumptions about the authority of biblical revelation.

Fundamentalism was also a reaction to another perceived threat of the day, the so-called “social gospel” movement. Led by such figures as Washington Gladden and Walter Rauschenbusch, the social gospellers tended to equate the gospel with the improvement of the human condition, by means of social and institutional changes, and it tended to minimise personal conversion and the spiritual elements of the Christian faith. (In a sense the social gospel was a precursor to the modern “theologies of liberation”.)

The Fundamentals

In the early twentieth century, two wealthy California oilmen, Lyman and Milton Stewart, anonymously financed a series of books in defence of basic Protestant beliefs. A series of twelve small books were published in Chicago between 1910 and 1915, containing articles and essays designed to defend fundamental Christian truths against biblical criticism and modern theology. The Fundamentals, as they were called, were penned by 64 authors from America, England, Scotland and Canada. The eighty-three articles were written from a number of perspectives, including Baptist, Presbyterian, Anglican, and Independent. Three million copies of the books were sent free to every Protestant minister, theological student, missionary and Christian worker then known.

The Fundamentals covered a wide range of topics, defending Protestant orthodoxy from a number of real or imagined enemies, including atheism, socialism, modern philosophy, Mormonism, spiritualism, Romanism, and above all, liberal theology. The multitude of fundamentals was soon reduced to a more manageable number however. By the 1920s five or six essential doctrines were generally recognised, among them the deity of Christ, the virgin birth of Christ, Christ’s bodily resurrection, the substitutionary atonement of Christ and the inerrancy of Scripture.
In attempting to stave off the assaults of modernism, theological liberalism and secularism, fundamentalists tended to develop a “siege mentality” – that is, they tended to become more and more insular and isolated from the greater culture around them. Indeed, they became in the real sense of the word, “counter-culturalists”.

By the 1940s the fundamentalists had evolved into two separate camps. One group, which came to be called the “evangelicals”, regarded the other group as too intolerant, obscurantist and anti-intellectual. The latter, still referring to themselves as “fundamentalists”, were largely self-defined in terms of personal piety and separatism. Thus they were easily caricaturised as those who “don’t smoke, don’t drink, don’t dance, don’t go to movies, don’t play cards…” The evangelicals, on the other hand, were more open to modern science, to academia, to culture in general and to awareness of social issues. The evangelicals were represented by men like Billy Graham and Carl F.H. Henry, magazines like Christianity Today, and institutions like Wheaton College and Fuller Theological Seminary.  Both groups however shared an equal commitment to the basic fundamentals of Protestant orthodoxy, and both groups were keen to evangelise, or preach the gospel of personal salvation.

OK, with that background information in place, I can now move to what I have wanted to get to all along. I just was tipped off to it today, but it has been around for a while. It is a little piece by John Piper which he wrote back in June 2, 2008. I love it, so without any further ado or commentary, here it is:

20 Reasons I Don’t Take Potshots at Fundamentalists

1. They are humble and respectful and courteous and even funny (the ones I’ve met).

2. They believe in truth.

3. They believe that truth really matters.

4. They believe that the Bible is true, all of it.

5. They know that the Bible calls for some kind of separation from the world.

6. They have backbone and are not prone to compromise principle.

7. They put obedience to Jesus above the approval of man (even though they fall short, like others).

8. They believe in hell and are loving enough to warn people about it.

9. They believe in heaven and sing about how good it will be to go there.

10. Their “social action” is helping the person next door (like Jesus), which doesn’t usually get written up in the newspaper.

11. They tend to raise law-abiding, chaste children, in spite of the fact that Barna says evangelical kids in general don’t have any better track record than non-Christians.

12. They resist trendiness.

13. They don’t think too much is gained by sounding hip.

14. They may not be hip, but they don’t go so far as to drive buggies or insist on typewriters.

15. They still sing hymns.

16. They are not breathless about being accepted in the scholarly guild.

17. They give some contemporary plausibility to New Testament claim that the church is the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.”

18. They are good for the rest of evangelicals because of all this.

19. My dad was one.

20. Everybody to my left thinks I am one. And there are a lot of people to my left.


[1018 words]

10 Replies to “On Fundamentalists”

  1. Coincidentally I read this piece on the DesiringGod website for the first time just a week ago. I loved every part of it though I’d add “and some like thoughtful Christ-focused contemporary worship songs” to point 15, because there are a new generation of “fundamentalists”. All true, and Point 20 is becoming increasingly so.
    Garth Penglase

  2. The reason why people use the term Fundamentalists to describe the Muslim activities is that they are doing what the Qu’ran basically tells them to do. I am a Christian Fundamentalist because I am following what the Bible says. The Bible is such a different book from the Qu’ran which is why Biblical Fundamentalist are so different from their Islamic counterparts.

    If we were to put this into the sports world, all the greatest athletes in the world would be called fundamentalists of their sport, since it is often about getting the basic done right and get them done well so they become very good at their sport.

    Ian Nairn

  3. Unfortunately, the secular people out there have come to use the term fundamentalist as a pejorative, twisting its meaning, as they have done with the word gay. For example, Muslim terrorists are defined as fundamentalists, though I suspect genuine Muslim fundamentalists would see it differently. To me, fundamentalism means ‘getting back to fundamentals’ (or first principles). The world overlooks that in my opinion.
    John Bennett

  4. Considering how influential the writings of John Piper have been in my life since abou 2003, I guess I have not yet been cured of my fundamentalism–praise God, and thank you too, Mom and Dad! The roots are now just deeper and the foundation stronger.
    Steve Swartz

  5. Dear Bill, I am a devout Catholic. It seems some Fundamentalists like to interpret the Bible their way, and totally ignore any other point of view.
    Regards, Franklin Wood

  6. Thanks Franklin

    Of course that is true of almost every believer. All Christians, no matter what their stripe, like to interpret the Bible one way or another, and think they are correct in this, thus ignoring or nay saying alternative points of view. But please let us not go down the path of sectarian battles here. There are plenty of other sites for that sort of thing.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  7. Good article Bill, its encouraging to read something positive about fundamentalism as opposed to the usual scoffing, expected by the undegenerate, but more often from christians within the denominations.
    In regard to “seperation” a true fundamental believer usually believes the following:
    1. All who are saved are in the Church (The body of Christ) but not all are gathering to the name – or are seperated unto the Lord Jesus Christ. We do believe indeed that among the many man made organisations/ religions within Christendom there are many wonderful and gifted believers and pray that they would come out from among them and gather with like minded believers unto the Lord.
    2. The priesthood of all believers – All who are saved are priests unto God and the concept of any man made order of clergy presiding over the saints is unscriptural, many would go further to say that this religious system is part of the systems that all belong to the “prince and power of the air”.The High priest tore his garment in rage before Christ entered in as the true high priest, the garments of Aaron are not applicable within the church age.
    3. Order within the Local assembly – Perhaps here is where the greatest criticism comes patricularly in regard to the Headship of our Lord Jesus Christ including the womans head covering. Few fundamentalist would consider an open table for the breaking of bread. Most fundamentalists are dispensationalists and as your article states tend to stick with the old hymns and find themselves rather “suspicious” of the behaviour of those who claim revelations outside of scripture, second blessings and / or claim themselves to be prophets or apostles etc.

    Of course there are many other beliefs for which they recieve criticism but as your article says:- they do love the Lord and other believers including them that differ. Most genuinly look only to the scriptures for answers and it appears they are few in numbers (mostly due to the moral conditions of the day) and often isolated from the mainstream churches.

    And another thing I notice is that the mormons and jehovah witnesses usually only visit them once.

    God Bless.
    Paul Wilson

  8. I have often been called a “fundamentalist”, which was not a compliment meant by the speaker, but I received it as one, thanking God that through me the “fundamentals” of Christianity, Jesus the chief rock of offense, is still recognisable through me, a broken vessel.
    Many blessings
    Ursula Bennett

  9. I think one has to define what is meant by fundamentalist, as you have done. You can have fundamentalist Christians, who hold the fundamentals of Biblical Christianity.
    You can have Islamic fundamentalists, who hold to the fundamentals of the Koran.
    And you can have fundamental engineers, who hold to fundamentals, such as V=ir and F=ma.
    Whether a fundamentalist is beneficial or not depends on the truth or otherwise of the principles they are holding to.

    Tas Walker

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *