The Fundamentals and Fundamentalism

Historic Fundamentalism, a reaction to the Modernist crisis in mainline Protestantism, particularly Presbyterianism, was so named because of a series of pamphlets published in the early 20th century, The Fundamentals. These were not the reactionary screeds of illiterate country bumpkins, as the despisers of Fundamentalism would assume, but were written by some of the best Protestant theologians of the day.

Now, I am not now and have never been a Fundamentalist. I have never believed in the dictation theory of inspiration, have never been a Dispensationalist, have never believed in the Calvinistic view of predestination–or a host of other positions that have been associated with Fundamentalists.

At the same time, I respect their defense of true Fundamentals such as the reliability of Scripture and the Christian confession of Jesus as fully God and fully man, born of a virgin, who died for us and will come again. I respect this perhaps more today than ever before, having seen tendencies in many varieties of liberalism to water down these teachings.

In both Catholic and mainline Protestant seminaries the Bible is dissected and undermined. Those books which speak of prophecy must, in the rationalistic mind, have been written after the fact (including Daniel and the Revelation). Scripture is seen as a human creation, with oral and written traditions manipulated by authors and redactors to address the needs of their communities. There is no historical value, it is suggested, to anything before the time of David, and even what the Bible says of his reign and that of Solomon must be taken cum grano salis.

Historical criticism, the method behind these various theories, has its origins in German rationalism and–shall we bell the cat?–antisemitism. Many German critics had a desire to undermine Jewish traditions and history, to show the superiority of the Hellenistic mind to the Hebraic, to emphasize Christ’s liberation from the yoke of the Law. Many German theologians would go on to support Hitler’s agenda, including folks still respected by Protestant and Catholic scholars around the world like Gerhard Kittel.

If you want to get into The Fundamentals, consider these essays as a starting point:

7 thoughts on “The Fundamentals and Fundamentalism

  1. Fundamentalism had the misfortune to be born around the time of the Scopes trial and be forever associated with the evolution controversy.
    Terminology is crucial, what do people mean by literal interpretation? One can believe in inerrancy without believing in literalism.

  2. All interpretations see some things as literal and some things as symbolic, don’t they? Did Jesus literally die? Did he literally rise? Was he literally born of a virgin? I think you’d say yes.

    Are there literal beasts rising from the sea with multiple heads and horns? No, these are symbols of other things.

  3. Thats part of the problem. The Church may not be perfect but at least she can act as an authority when it comes to such interpretations. The same goes for other churches that have a teaching body. You see if I am a fundamentalist Baptist preacher and I beleive that that the beasts exist I can split and set up my own church and preach that. I am not knocking all Baptists by the way, maybe my example is not very good.

  4. Not to mention that fundamentalism is such an over used word these days. It is usually ascribed to people or groups that others do not like, fundamentalist Jews, fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus, I am sure many consider Benedict XVI a fundamentalist because he upholds Catholic teaching. It is easy to lable someone fundamentalist it usually means thatthey have nothing of value to contribute.

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