Have you ever been called a fundamentalist?

by Cameron Buettel

Have you ever been called a fundamentalist? In recent years it has become the de factoterminology for people of any religious persuasion who hold “extreme” views.

Sadly, popular opinion and the secular media usually get to define what constitutes extremism. Today it includes anything from waging jihad to defending God’s design for marriage—and every socially unfashionable conviction in-between. And because the unbelieving world has zero use for doctrinal distinction, so-called fundamentalists from opposing faiths are grouped together as extremists. That’s why a world blinded by sin cannot see the difference between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists.

Nick Gier, Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the University of Idaho, typifies the prevailing view among academia:

There are some chilling parallels between Christian and Islamic fundamentalists. Both divide the world between believers and unbelievers, and by deciding for themselves who is saved and who is damned, they think that they can play God with our lives. Both have also declared war on the secular culture of liberal democracy, the most peaceful and prosperous means of social organization ever devised by humankind. They both reject the separation of church and state and would set up governments based on their own views of divine laws. [1]

Aside from being wildly inaccurate, the net result of that mindset has been to identify all forms of fundamentalism as a singular threat. And those who do so are determined to rid our progressive, liberated society of that threat.

Among evangelical Christians, fundamentalism is a term that gets regularly associated with prohibition—“Don’t dance, drink, or chew; and never go with girls who do.” And many fundamentalist Christians would readily concede that the stereotype is not too far removed from the truth. Activities like dancing, drinking, cards, and movies are almost always off-limits to members of those churches.    From the vantage point of modern evangelicalism, it’s hard to see any fun in fundamentalist Christianity.

Fundamentalism may now be a word that fosters derision from the world and scorn from churchgoers, but church history tells a completely different story.

During the early twentieth century, the tentacles of German theological liberalism had reached American shores. The liberal emphasis on human reason and experience came at the expense of biblical authority, inerrancy, and sufficiency—and doctrinal purity was threatened from within the church. Rising liberalism, not extremism, was the dominant threat to the Church. And heroic Christians of that era rose up in defense of the fundamental truths of biblical Christianity. Thus Christian fundamentalism was born in order to fight a necessary war for biblical truth.

Fundamentalism was never conceived as an outlet for Christian hardliners and extremists. It’s not a dirty word, or at least it shouldn’t be. There are fundamental biblical truths that must be defended and contended for (Philippians 1:16; 1 Peter 3:15; Jude 3). And defending those precious truths is just as vital today as it was a century ago. In the days ahead we will tell the story of Christian fundamentalists and the fundamentals they fought for. These are encouraging lessons from church history that speak to the struggles we face today, and the battles that loom on the horizon. You don’t want to miss it.