"By every indicator, historic, mainstream fundamentalism is a shrinking movement. Churches are shrinking. Fellowships are shrinking. Mission agencies are shrinking. Schools have closed and those that remain are scrambling for students. ...This situation confronts Bible colleges and seminaries with a difficult question: how can they continue to train students for ministry in mainstream fundamentalist churches and mission fields?" - P&D
Republished from Voice, Jan/Feb 2020.
John Fea noted two decades ago that “the term fundamentalism has become the most elusive term on the American religious scene.”1 Today a fundamentalist is often viewed as anyone who holds to a strict religious system.2 The task I have been given here is to note the attempted “hijacking” of the designation “fundamentalist.” While I can, in the main, appreciate the faithful heritage of historic fundamentalism, at the same time I also reject the extremism that can often be found in too much of what I term Movement Fundamentalism. It is easy for me to note the faults within fundamentalism, but at the same time it is hard to take issue with all fundamentalists; many of whom are faithful, sincere, sacrificial and dependable saints.
Over the years I have used a taxonomy to explain to insiders as well as outsiders the nature of contemporary fundamentalism in order to demonstrate the fractured nature of what fundamentalism had become over time. The basis for this present article is my original work which was entitled, “Three Lines in the Sand”3 which enumerated three varieties within contemporary fundamentalism.
I minister in a church sub-culture that has no understanding of the fundamentalism/evangelical debates. I received theological training from an excellent fundamentalist seminary. But, the church I serve has no self-conscious fundamentalist identity, even though it’s a member of the GARBC. It’s an “evangelical” church, though many members might not know exactly what that means.
Recently, a church member asked me what an “evangelical” is, what a “fundamentalist” is, and how they’re different. This article is basically how I answered. It’s a short answer. But, I think it captures the basic distinction between the two groups.1
Fundamentalism in America began as a protest movement within conservative Christian circles in the late 19th century. Christian leaders in churches, bible colleges, seminaries and denominations began to be aware of a revisionist, unorthodox approach to the Bible and theology. There was a willingness to reevaluate the integrity of the Bible, how it was transmitted and preserved, whether Adam and Eve were real people, whether Moses really wrote the Pentateuch, whether Isaiah really wrote all of Isaiah, whether Jesus was really conceived by a miracle of the Holy Spirit, whether miracles really happened, and more. This openness to “new ideas” began in seminaries and gradually filtered down to the pulpits in local churches of many denominational stripes.