Historical Fundamentalism: A Personal Word

“My personal ecclesiastical heritage stems from what I would call historical fundamentalism…. what follows below is my own understanding of the term historical fundamentalism as used in a Christian context.” - P&D


I will add a bit of color:

Fundamentalism was started as part of a series of essays from 1910-1916. Just before the time of a number of fiery preachers. This fed into the 1920's when fundamentalism was picked up as a term and embraced by these fiery preachers. Already it was splintered in the 1920's. A lot of us see fundamentalism through the eyes of the one splinter which was the non-denominational movement through Bob Jones. As I have been reading the more than 600 newspapers that my grandfather published over a 50 year period, it has become quite interesting. There were many splinters. Frank Norris, splintered from Bob Jones in the 1920's to drive a baptistic fundamentalism. It was centered in Texas and surrounding areas. They questioned Bob Jones path of non-denominationalism as well as a number of other choices they felt "watered" down fundamentalism. Falwell came out of that school. My grandfather took the reigns of Frank Norris' influence in the Texas region and continued to drive that particular flavor. Having my roots in the Baptist Fundamentalist movement, while going to school in the non-denominational fundamentalism, I got to see a lot of similarities and differences between the two. Anyway, I say this, just to point out that it was heading in different directions even at its very start.

I would argue that fundamentalism splintered not in 1980, but in closer to 1996. When I went to school at Bob Jones University from 1989 to 1993, many would consider that the height of enrollment. We were busting at the seams at that point, with some dorm rooms hosting 5 people. That is a far cry from today where my middle child had a dorm room all to him self almost an entire semester and never see more than just himself and his room mate in the last few years. I felt it was right about 1995-1996 that there was a significant break where a separation of cultural fundamentalism was being defined, Christian schools were starting to decline, and Bob Jones started to see a decline.


My experience was a little different from yours (attended 1981-1985). I don’t know if that was more students than when you were there, but we were also quite crowded in the dorms. I came from the “non-denominational” side of fundamentalism (actually fundamental Methodism). While BJU as an institution seemed pretty friendly to that, having been founded by a Methodist (and both my pastor and famous Presbyterian pastors spoke at the school in chapel, Bible conference, etc.), and had multiple non-Baptist professors, the student body was most definitely >90% Baptist fundamentalist while I was there. The only other Methodist students I remember there were from my home church, and I didn’t know that many Presbyterians or other denominations.

I actually enjoyed the Sunday morning on-campus worship service, while most of those around me definitely didn’t appreciate it. I’ve mentioned this before, but after one of the Sunday morning services, one of the guys I was with said “I felt like I just got washed in an Anglican ceremony!” Talking with others about my beliefs, I got a range of reactions, but when discussing differences with particular Baptist and Methodist distinctives, most were of the nature of “that’s not scriptural” and similar. There were a couple who asked me why I was at a place like BJU if I wasn’t a Baptist, though that was uncommon. I never did find a good fundamental Methodist church in the area, so I tried attending a number of the Baptist churches on Sunday evening, but I eventually settled on Heritage Bible Church, which worked for me until graduation.

I really appreciated that BJU wasn’t a “Baptist-only” kind of school, as many of the other institutions with solid biblical beliefs definitely were. You’re right that it didn’t feel in 1981 at BJU like there was a big split between Baptist fundamentalism and non-denominational, but by 1985, it seemed clear that some type of division was coming, particularly after the whole John McArthur “blood” incident caused such an uproar in fundamental circles.

Dave Barnhart