Should We Abandon The Term ‘Fundamentalist’?

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Should We Abandon The Term ‘Fundamentalist’?

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They Ain't What They Used To Be

The Fundamentalist Standard of standing for the truth and separating from apostasy may have been raised as early as Spurgeon but seemed to have gained its historical form in the early 20th Century. In those days the standard was raised for Biblical truth and the primary enemy were men like Harry Emerson Fosdick. Much of today's fundamentalism seems to consider disobedient brethren the primary enemy; treating them like apostates. Consider that a brother like Al Mohler could challenge and evict the apostates from a Southern Baptist Seminary and during and after his battle the only words from fundamentalism were criticisms of other aspects of his ministry. Did anyone in fundamentalism encourage him during his battle? Did anyone even mention his accomplishment?

From my aged perspective, a lot of today's fundamentalism is known more for its stands against disobedient brethren (with no desire for reconciliation or restoration), "bad" music, their personal definitions of worldliness. Doctrinally, they seem to have elevated dispensationalism and one view of eschatology to the level of fundamentals of the faith. I wonder if they'd have room for an unenlightened cigar-smoking, wine sipping, amillenialist, Calvinist like Spurgeon.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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Spurgeon was premill.

Spurgeon was premill.

1 Kings 8:60 - so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the LORD is God and that there is no other.

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Ron

I agree.  

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Illinois. 

Greg Linscott's picture
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How is this different than any other term?

I understand the hesitancy. At the same time, there are those whose actions and emphases reflect badly on the Baptist label. Outside of Christianity, there have been those recently who have tried to hijack the label "American" to reflect a particular ideology. The point is, labels are useful, but if one relies on the label alone as an identifier, it can be a problem.

Not much good is going to come out of whether or not we use the term, in my assessment. John MacArthur and people associated with him have distanced themselves from the label for some time, but people still apply it to him and associate him with fundamentalist ideas. If you believe in the big idea, someone will eventually apply it to you, whether you like it or not.

The better answer is to model what a good Fundamentalist should look like, regardless of whatever label you apply to yourself or others apply to you.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

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Why is it needed?

To whom does the term fundamentalist have meaning?

For the last six years, I've been working in the real world and I've yet to have found a co-worker, Christian or not, who has ever heard the term applied to a branch of Christianity. In our church we use the term in its historical sense, referring to the battles of the early 20th century and those who hold to the fundamentals of the faith. I am concerned about the brand of fundamentalism that considers the label an essential and has redefined it as: "A Fundamentalist is someone who holds to the fundamentals of the Christian faith (including dispensationalism and conservative Christian music) and who practices separation from those who not hold to the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith but also will separate quickly from any Christian brother whom we deem disobedient and treat him with the same disdain our predecessors reserved for apostates without any thought or effort of reconciliation."

I know that that doesn't define all fundamentalists and I know that the KJVOnlyists and "Calvinism is from the pit" group give everyone a bad name. I guess what I'm saying is that when a label doesn't have a consistent and clear definition, it may need to be jettisoned. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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This ship has sailed...

Personally, I know of nowhere outside of the "fundamental" church where this word would be properly understood or where I would think it would be helpful to use it.

I would not even use it in every church I visited, lest I be misunderstood from one side of the aisle or the other. If or when I do use the term, I tend to add another word with it to make sure it is understood (i.e., "fundamental, orthodox Christianity").

Perhaps the reason there is no word to replace it is that the movement previously known as fundamentalism no longer exists in the same form, either.

The views I express are purely my own. However, I am happy to promote the great ministries with which I work: I minister for www.SermonAudio.com/Whitcomb. I do freelance writing for www.RegularBaptistPress.org. I speak through www.IMISOS.org.

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What about the cessaionist issue?

Will there be a point in the future that there will be a need to distinguish Christians who make cessationism a clear line of demarcation? I mean, there are cessationists who do not insist as firmly in areas of fellowship and cooperation as others. As I noted earlier, MacArthur is being called a Fundamentalist because of his willingness to make the hard distinctions. Obviously, it is being used derisively. But is it a label that could eventually be embraced by those who wished to identify with such an articulation?

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

Chip Van Emmerik's picture
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Honestly Greg, I have begun

Honestly Greg, I have begun to wonder if the day is coming when we have to abandon the term Christian. It seems increasingly clear that Mormons, Catholics and others are being lumped together with evangelicals under the broad term Christian. In America today, polls say as many as 90% of the population claim to be Christians. That certainly seems to be a term that has lost its true meaning.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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Only so much impact...

Last night, my young teenage daughter tried to tell us that she wanted a nickname, and proposed that we started to call her __________ instead of ______________. Basically, we all just kind of chuckled at her and kept calling her what we've always called her.

It's kind of like that with these labels. They will stick, because for better or worse, it's what we've been assigned.

You can't exactly leave something formally and officially, because who exactly decides who is Christian, or Fundamentalist, or a "holy roller," or what have you? Just because you don't embrace a label doesn't mean it won't be applied to you. It's not as simple as "I'm going to stop being a Methodist and become a Baptist." There is no organization you can leave, exactly (though I suppose there might be groups you could join if you really wanted to abandon the term, at least in the perception of some....).

In the end, people are mainly going to evaluate you based on your conduct and reputation. What others do is not completely irrelevant, but there is only so much one can do to distance ourselves from those things.

Greg Linscott
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Greg Linscott wrote:In the

Greg Linscott wrote:
In the end, people are mainly going to evaluate you based on your conduct and reputation. What others do is not completely irrelevant, but there is only so much one can do to distance ourselves from those things.

But that's part of my point. The conduct and reputation associated with these various labels has been so abused and transformed in recent years that applying the label doesn't mean what it once did. 100 years ago, conservative Christians decided that term wasn't sufficient any more and the term fundamentalist was coined. I am thinking we might be at the point where it's time to coin a new term again.

Why is it that my voice always seems to be loudest when I am saying the dumbest things?

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What's Important?

Occasionally, when discussing "religion" at work, I'll be asked what I am. I basically tell people that I'm a follower of Jesus Christ who believes the Bible is completely true because God wrote it. This has led to some profitable discussions.

I recently heard a member of Mark Dever's staff refer to Dever as a fundamentalist. Dever himself even used the term to describe himself. (Someplace now a "true" fundamentalist is having a stroke.)

Maybe fundamentalists need a dividing line. Are you to the right or left of John MacArthur?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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dividing line?

Ron,

You said........"Maybe fundamentalists need a dividing line."

Ron - good luck with that! Let me know how that works Smile

Straight Ahead!

jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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Joel Tetreau wrote: Ron, You

Joel Tetreau wrote:

Ron,

You said........"Maybe fundamentalists need a dividing line."

Ron - good luck with that! Let me know how that works Smile

Straight Ahead!

jt

I don't know. I may have something. As I recall, Phil Johnson's visit to the frozen north seemed to have a "middling" response. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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Greg Linscott wrote: Will

Greg Linscott wrote:

Will there be a point in the future that there will be a need to distinguish Christians who make cessationism a clear line of demarcation? I mean, there are cessationists who do not insist as firmly in areas of fellowship and cooperation as others. As I noted earlier, MacArthur is being called a Fundamentalist because of his willingness to make the hard distinctions. Obviously, it is being used derisively. But is it a label that could eventually be embraced by those who wished to identify with such an articulation?

 

I hold, for the most part, to Wayne Grudem's view of NT prophecy. I don't know that fundumantalists are functionally all that cessationist compared to Wayne Grudem's view. 

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I have personally abandoned fundamentalist as a layman.   It is the same as Calvinist.  It is a word and a pejorative one in most circles.  It isn't a biblical word like Calvinism.   It smells of all sorts of legalistic, second and third separations and "baptist" popes lording it over their flocks.   It smacks of scandals (do I really need to name some?) and it brings association of believers with the Phelps ilk.  I've no interest in being associated with those groups.   Fundamentalists seem to worry about appearances while more liberal brethren tend to feed people and have concerns for the poor.  I would refer to our Lord's word on handing out a cup of water and attending to the poor.   What is wrong with "the Way" instead of fundamentalist?   Fundamentalism conveys "fight", "argue", mean spirited, my college is more fundamental than yours etc.   Give it up.  

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Reminder that labels are about only 3 millimeters thick

Reminder that labels are about only 3 millimeters thick

 

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The Gospel is offensive, regardless of how we label ourselves

I commented on the actual article, so I won't retype everything I wrote (although I'm sure it deserves some editing). I will say that the label "fundamentalist" is going to be ours whether we want it or not. And by "ours" I mean Believers whom many that are members of this site would NOT even think to classify as a fundamentalist. Christians who affirm a Biblical view of sexuality, among other things, are fundamentalists in the eyes of our pluralistic society. There is an article on Salon that speaks to this.

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It's not about "offense"

John E. wrote:

I commented on the actual article, so I won't retype everything I wrote (although I'm sure it deserves some editing). I will say that the label "fundamentalist" is going to be ours whether we want it or not. And by "ours" I mean Believers whom many that are members of this site would NOT even think to classify as a fundamentalist. Christians who affirm a Biblical view of sexuality, among other things, are fundamentalists in the eyes of our pluralistic society. There is an article on Salon that speaks to this.

It's not about "offense", it's about meaning:

  • To the non-Christian it means something that you don't want it to mean
  • To the theologically astute it may have meaning but when you are communicating with people at that level there are more precise ways of explaining one's position.

Slight exaggeration: Huguenot has more meaning than Fundamentalist

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  Jim wrote:   To the

 

Jim wrote:

 

  • To the non-Christian it means something that you don't want it to mean
  • To the theologically astute it may have meaning but when you are communicating with people at that level there are more precise ways of explaining one's position

 

I don't believe that to the non-Christian it means something that I don't want it to mean, generally speaking. To the ex-fundy who has an axe to grind the term is probably weighted with specific connotations that I would prefer to not be saddled with. To be honest, though, I'm not overly concerned with the opinions of ex-fundies. I do believe that for most of the non-Christians who use the term pejoratively, the connotations are mainly things that I hope and pray that I have the courage to truly exhibit and boldly proclaim; things like speaking God's truth into the face of secular opposition, belief in the virgin birth of Christ, the inerrancy of Scriptures, and the Divine punishment in Hell that awaits those who refuse to bow their knee to King Jesus in repentance.   

 

Admittedly, this is purely anecdotal (does hard data and research exist in this area?), but having been raised in a KJVO home, I was taken aback when in my early 20's I was finally able, as an atheist, to separate from my upbringing and live in and of the world and the world rarely defined and saw things in the ways that I was told they did. The pagans that I came in contact with didn't differentiate between the church my dad pastored and the churches that my dad separated from. The term "fundamentalist" was used to mean Christians who actually believed that the Bible was inspired and preserved by God and believed things like the miracles actually happened. Up until a couple of years ago I was a professional theatre artist, and, as a new Christian, I was at the time dismayed to find that if I attempted to articulate the Bible's teachings on sexuality, I was labeled a fundamentalist. As I mentioned, outside of ex-fundies, I have rarely heard the label applied in ways that I find pejorative. My fear of man rears its ugly head at times and I recoil at the label, but, with God's grace, I'm learning to accept that more often than not when I'm tagged with the label "fundamentalist" that means that I am a committed follower of King Jesus. 

 

I'm not necessarily arguing that we should embrace the term, although I'm puzzled by a seeming rush to discard it. I am arguing that we are probably not going to get to have a say in the matter anyway, and that at times the term represents in the minds of the world the very things that Jesus asks of me.   

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It's what we are historically

So friends - I know many of us struggle with the term fundamentalists - in large part because many who call themselves "fundamentalists" are in reality "hyper-fundamentalists." I could (and have) used other terms to describe these ..... individuals. In my taxonomy I think I called them Type A+ fundamentalists. This is why when people ask what kind of a Christian I am - I typically respond by saying "I'm a conservative Baptist type."  99 out of 100 people are good with that answer. The one person that needs more info I might add - "you know - I don't drink - I don't dance (actually I can't dance - my feet don't work like that)."

Historically anyone who was committed to a literal and authoritative Bibliology and a militant belief in Christological and Soteriological Orthodoxy - You were called and you were in fact - a fundamentalist - even if you didn't like the terms. An example is Machen. Machen really didn't like the term but was viewed by friend and foe as one of the leading fundamentalists of his day.

What about today? - November 2013? Well any of you who are committed to an orthodox view of Scripture, Christ, Salvation, etc......in today's environment both within and without evangelicalism - are more often than not going to be viewed as a fundamentalist, I don't care if you like the term or not. It doesn't even matter if you don't use the term - historically if you are orthodox and militant you are a fundamentalist - that is especially true if you repudiate any form of ecumenicalism. That's why even though MacArthur says he's not a fundamentalists the whole world of evangelicalism would view Mac as not only a fundamentalist - but perhaps the posterboy of fundamentalism today.

I know the Type A guys want to say you have to be as militant and separatistic as them to be in the club - but they own such a small little corner of the ecclesiastical cosmos - it really doesn't matter. The vast majority of evangelicals and Bible-believing Christians that are historically aware will view you that way (ie - fundamentalist). To my earlier post after post after post after post on type A, B and C fundamentalism - let me say it again - even if you consider yourself a very "liberal" or "left-wing" fundamentalist you have to remember that when compared to the bulk of evangelicalism here and abroad - you are still very, very conservative - and you will be viewed as a fundamentalist no matter how much you (or your type A brothers) say you aren't.

That's just the way it is - until our collective evangelical/fundamentalist experience is dramatically changed by some event or string of events that displace the effects of the early fundamentalist-modernists wars which created a fundamentalists/evangelical unity - which eventually cracked - which now is being healed - at least to some degree.

a thought or two - from the shadows of the cacti!

Straight Ahead fundamentalists one and all!

jt

 

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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Welcome John E!

By the way - to "John E" - Welcome to the SI round-tabled campfire John E. I loved your post and am looking forward to reading more from you. What a thrill to hear of your coming to faith - even after growing up under the gospel, running away from God. The fact that you have come full circle and now embrace our Lord and the gospel is a benediction! I love your spirit and frankly think you will make a fantastic fundamentalist! God bless you brother!

Straight Ahead!

Joel Tetreau

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Baptist Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

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a question

Question:

When the media use the term "fundamentalist Islam," what do you think the modifier "fundamentalist" is generally taken to mean?

Now take that meaning and create a Christian version of the same.

That's what people who aren't familiar with the original fundamentalism think when they hear the term.

Ditch it.
 

神是爱

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I'm ok with others who use it ....

I'm ok with others who use it, I'm just saying it doesn't work for me. 

I'm not a super evangelist but I try. I work with many internationals (India, Liberia, Kenya), and many typical US folk. 

The term "fundamentalist" does not compute for these people.

 

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Joel

Appreciate your post. It articulates my own thoughts very well. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Illinois. 

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There is a level of irony that I'm the one claiming the label :)

Thank you for the welcome, Dr. Tetreau. I’m more of a lurker than a poster, but I’ll try to be a little more active in the conversations. Over the past couple of years, many of the postings on this site have been a source of edification for me.

Jim, if I may be so bold as to mirror you – I’m ok with others who don’t use it, I’m just saying it works for me.
As I stated, the “evidence” behind my thoughts are anecdotal (along with an article on Salon, but a Salon article probably deserves to be discounted a priori because it’s an article on Salon), and I do not know how people respond to the term “fundamentalist” in the area where the Spirit has placed you to be a Gospel witness. From my perspective and in my current context, many who eschew the label “fundamentalist” do so out of a misguided desire to be accepted by the world in order to be a better Gospel witness. The world will never accept us and I’ve had to learn that the hard way. By God’s grace, I’m finished apologizing for being a Christian who actually believes that God is who He claims to be in His word and that He will bring to pass those things that He says He will – judgment of sinners and all. In the eyes of most around me, that makes me a fundamentalist. So, I am a fundamentalist.

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Still useful...

Fundamentalist may not be the primary identifier... We haven't used it when working with our Karen folks that I can think of. At the same time, if I have someone ask me if we are a General Conference/Converge Worldwide church (another prominent Baptist group here in MN), or if I have a missionary calling, the term is a helpful distinction, especially if they might not be familiar with the MBA (an association our church is affiliated with).

Side note: our church is considering if the term "Regular Baptist" has an advantage in distinguishing us from some of the more extreme associations we would desire to avoid.

Greg Linscott
Marshall, MN

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Terms

Very telling. Without realizing, it, when I spoke to my sister the other day (who is unsaved) I described myself as an "evangelical Christian," because that is automatically taken to mean "conservative" in our culture today.

I didn't say, "I'm an fundamental Baptist" for reasons already mentioned here.

I didn't say, "I'm a conservative Baptist," because that gets us into a discussion on denominationalism. I don't want to discuss Baptist vs. Presbyterian vs. Methodist - I want to discuss the Gospel. Those issues are important, but they come after the Gospel. 

On the whole, I would say that "fundamentalist" is not so much a label to claim, but more a philosophy to actually live out. It also depends entirely on who you're talking to. To the unsaved, I'm just an evangelical. To a fellow Christian, I'm a fundamental Baptist. 

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Illinois. 

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Interesting Statement

I was curious, so I hopped on over to Maranatha's website and reviewed their definition of "fundamentalism." Here is an excerpt:

The fundamentals of the faith have historically been defined as those beliefs that are necessary to the biblical doctrine of salvation combined with a high doctrine of Scripture, so that we have an inerrant record of those doctrines. Fundamentalism as an idea is absolute allegiance to those doctrines united to a willingness to defend those doctrines and to separate from those who deny or contradict them. 

Perhaps my favorite part is this delicately crafted sentence:

We also reject the attitudes and actions of fundamentalists who elevate tangential and eccentric teachings to the level of the fundamentals of the faith and separate over them.

TylerR is the Pastor of Faith Baptist Church in Divernon, Illinois. 

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TylerR wrote: We also reject

TylerR wrote:

We also reject the attitudes and actions of fundamentalists who elevate tangential and eccentric teachings to the level of the fundamentals of the faith and separate over them.

 

I liked this sentence as well. The question is, "What is a tangential and eccentric teaching over which some people separate?"

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

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Maranatha

Maranatha has chosen to separate from Baptist churches who have guitars in their services and who decline to have "Baptist" in their church name.

Maranatha has not chosen to separate from King James Only supporters.

 

 

Everyone applies their delicately crafted statements differently....

May Christ Be Magnified - Philippians 1:20 Todd Bowditch

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Potato Potahto

One man's eccentric teaching is another man's fundamental.

Consider music, eschatolgy, polity, dispensationalism, church names......

Sometimes the essentials for fellowship are also seen as reasons for separation.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan