What is a Fundamentalist?

The term fundamentalist is tossed around rather loosely these days. Often groups identified as fundamentalist do not claim that title for themselves. Their opponents apply that name to them. Some see calling another a fundamentalist as the highest insult one can give. The real meaning and history of the term is often buried under the derogatory rhetoric of its opponents.

Fundamentalism is almost always used in reference to religion groups. A fundamentalist is one who holds to a strict historic and literal interpretation of a religious text. An Islamic fundamentalist is one who intreprets the Koran literally. A Mormon fundamentalist holds to a strict application of Joseph Smith’s and Brigham Young’s teachings. A fundamentalist group is one that clings to the original interpretation of its scriptures.

Though today fundamentalist is often used to describe violent extremists, fundamentalism did not gain common use with the increase of worldwide terrorism. Fundamentalism as a “name brand” gained popularity in 1920’s America. Fundamentalism was a Christian movement. Churches and denominations across America were being influenced by men who did not believe certain key doctrines of Christianity. These men, called theological liberals and modernists, denied that Jesus was born of a virgin, rejected the inspiration of the Bible, questioned the resurrection of Jesus and discarded substitutionary atonement. A group of men stood up in their churches and denominations to fight for the preservation of the historic doctrines. To aid in this battle a series of books called “The Fundamentals” were published. The men who fought for the long held beliefs of Christianity became known as fundamentalists.

Later, in the 1940’s and 50’s, fundamentalism became more narrowly defined. Certain men who believed the fundamental doctrines wished to cooperate in ministry with the liberal denominations. These men were frustrated by the long contention and distanced themselves from fundamentalists. A new group in American Christianity was formed. This new group of Christians still taught the core doctrines of the Bible and were willing to work together with those who did not. They took the name New Evangelicals. Fundamentalism began to be distinguished by its doctrinal stand and its separation from teachers of apostasy.

The doctrines a fundamentalist defends are the key doctrines of the Bible necessary to be believed for salvation or integral to the truths of God, Scripture, Jesus and salvation. A fundamentalist believes Jesus is God the Son, Jesus died on the cross to bear the punishment for sin and He rose to life again. A fundamentalist believes the entire Bible is the Word of God, perfectly inspired by God and authoritative over men.

A fundamentalist attempts to interpret the Bible in a literal sense. The fundamentalist reads a text using the normal rules of language and literature. If a common sense reading of a passage produces a reasonable meaning then that meaning is preferred.

Though some Christian fundamentalists have picketed funerals, shouted vile curses at people and done violence to others this is not a hallmark of Christian fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is about a particular set of doctrines and the relationships between believers because of these commonly held doctrines. Christian Fundamentalism is not a violent rebuttal of political and moral idealogies. Christian fundamentalism seeks to persuade and convince not overpower, confine or destroy. Fundamentalism is a bastion seeking to preserve and defend core truths of the Bible.

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