Dave Doran on "The Value of the Fundamentalist Label"

The Value of the Fundamentalist Label


This thread is to discuss his article.



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Jim's picture

If it is being used during an “in-house” discussion among the self-professing, then I don’t believe it is either archaic or contaminated. The already committed generally possess enough historical awareness to prevent archaism and enough sympathy to overcome any sense of contamination.

I will concede, however, that even among the “in-house” crowd there is enough confusion regarding our history and identity to require, in my mind, some type of qualifier or modifier.


For myself, I have preferred the word separatist as the modifier. Some, no doubt, will argue that concept of separatist is included in the definition of the word fundamentalist. I understand, and am sympathetic to, their point. Yet, I remain convinced that beginning in the 1940s the chief issue which distinguished new evangelicalism from fundamentalism was separatism, and that the fragmentation among fundamentalists in the late 1950s and following resulted from the breakdown of the fundamentalist unity on this point. In other words, each “new” brand of fundamentalism was more or less a non-separatist one.

If, however, the context for the term “fundamentalist” is outside the boundaries of those who have some historical awareness and theological sympathy with the term, then I believe it does suffer from archaism and contamination. The meaning of words is controlled by usage, and the contemporary usage for “fundamentalism” does not recognize its uniquely Christian and theological significance.

If I write an op-ed for our local newspaper that boldly proclaims that I am a fundamentalist, the average reader will not understand that means I am one who is opposed to theological modernism within supposedly Christian churches and that I embrace historic orthodoxy on those points which are being abandoned by the modernists. They will associate that term with the narrow-minded radicalism that it is so often used to label. Since they don’t know the history of the term, they will define it according to contemporary usage.


So, returning to the original question, is the “fundamentalist” label too archaic and contaminated to be considered useful? For me, it depends on the audience to whom you are speaking. I would hate to see us lose a word of historical and theological significance for American believers. Fundamentalism is an important part of our heritage, and teaching its meaning and history can be an excellent means of preparing our churches to guard the Faith.

Speaking to the world around us, though, demands that we use words that communicate clearly and don’t obscure or detract from our message. I am pretty sure that putting “Fundamentalist” on our church sign or brochure would not communicate clearly to lost people. Given the contemporary usage of the term, it should only be used as an in-house label.

Emphasis mine