May 30, 2005

What IS Fundamentalism?

I'm reposting this from several posts I made on the old blog. I'm not reposting the whole thing -- just some parts, so you might want to head over there and read the full posts I made a little over a year ago. I just finished reading this piece by Frank Schaeffer. I like Frank -- I've read his books about his son in the Marines (Keepin Faith and Faith of Our Sons) and enjoyed them immensely. I've read his father's works, and been blessed by them. But I'm not sure that Frank "gets Fundamentalism" as well as he thinks he does. What is needed is a good definition of what fundamentalism is, and what it isn't.
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So what ARE the fundamentals, anyway? Glad you asked. According to the people who wrote the book The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth, which was written to combat the rise of liberal theology in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries, the fundamentals are:

1. The inerrancy of the Scriptures
2. The Deity of Christ
3. The second coming of Jesus Christ
4. The virgin birth
5. The physical resurrection of the body
6. The substitutionary atonement
7. The total depravity of man - original sin

Belief in all of these is all it takes to consider yourself an historic fundamentalist.
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Orthodox Christianity has always held to most if these basic beliefs -- I would guess that C.S. Lewis would consider this type of fundamentalism to be "mere Christianity". The only possible exception is the idea of substitutionary atonement -- many early Christians didn't see the atonement this way (Anselm was probably the closest).

The problem is that there are, within Christianity, different types of fundmentalism. Modern fundamentalism has added a LOT to the basic beliefs of the church -- things related to musical styles, dress, etc. Bahavior-related legalism (no movies, no dancing, etc.) has become S.O.P (standard operating procedure, for those who don't know) among modern fundamentalists. Many modern fundamentalists have fallen into the King James Version Only camp, rejecting any translation of the Bible made after 1611 (or 1769, depending on how hardcore they are). They have retreated into their churches, refusing to engage culture at all. The only interaction with anyone outside their churches that they might have is on Saturday mornings when they go out and knock on doors, evangelizing the neighborhoods.

Problem is, nobody knows who they are. They have no interaction with the everyday problems in their communities, no empathy with those who live right next door. They have separated themselves to the degree that in many cases they are completely worthless -- the salt has lost its savor.

There are fundamentalists who are not like this. They have largely abandoned the name 'fundamentalist,' though, leaving it for the moderns in their church complexes. Some call themselves 'evangelical,' but not all evangelicals are fundamentalist. Some call themselves 'Bible believers' to reflect their dependance on the Word of God. Many don't label themselves at all, calling themselves simply Christians. Many of these don't realize that they are really fundamentalists, and reject the label because of the abuse that the moderns have subjected it to.

Unfortunately, the moderns have gotten most of the press in the recent past. And more unfortunately, most people aren't interested in finding out the truth of what fundamentalism actually was meant to be, and how it has been hijacked.

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There are many areas where evangelicals and fundamentalists differ -- especially if you look at modern, rather than historic, fundamentalists. Modern fundamentalism had become a haven for legalism and anti-intellectualism. Modern fundamentalists typically hold very dogmatically to a rather rigid set of beliefs, and often pride themselves in who they have 'separated from' -- carrying the Biblical injunction to separate from heresey to degrees never envisioned in Scripture.

The differences between evangelicals and historic fundamentalists are slight. The differences between modern fundamentalists and evangelicals are huge, and getting bigger every day. As modern Fundamentalism has slipped into KJVOnlyism, second, third, and fourth degree separation, and other such doctrinal abberations, the gulf will grow even bigger. This is the reason I stopped calling myself a fundamentalist -- I don't like what the name has come to represent. I am, and always will be, an historic fundamentalist.
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Posted by: Warren Kelly at 02:43 PM | Comments (3) | Add Comment
Post contains 725 words, total size 5 kb.

1 I like the term "historic fundamentalist". But I still would prefer a substitute for fundamentalist, even when used with historic. My earliest recollection of the use of the term fundamentalist was when, as a teenager, I was dragged to a youth conference at Jack Hyles church. Almost in the same sentence that he called himself a fundamentalist, he was asking a young man with long hair to leave the building. Then he proceded to pick on The Imperials. (my favorite group at the time) So even by putting "historic" in front, I get squeemish about being identified as a fundamentalist of any kind, when in fact....I am.

Posted by: Terry McCann at May 31, 2005 03:22 PM (g/EAS)

2 I'm finding a lot of people calling themselves 'Biblicists' -- that might be the way to go, I don't know. Labels are difficult things -- even the term "Christian" was coined by our enemies. I went to a Hyles youth conference when I was 16. Heard all about how you shouldn't kiss a girl until you marry her. That never took (and I know some guys who were VERY disappointed when some of the girls mentioned how much they LIKED that idea).

Posted by: Warren at June 01, 2005 12:36 PM (a64K1)

3 I'm a little surprised to find Frank Schaeffer (whose work I've enjoyed over the years - even the Calvin Becker books) calling his father a fundamentalist with all of the overtones that that word carries in the Protestant world. Schaeffer himself used the label Bible believing Christian and was certainly embraced far more readily by those who considered themselves evangelical than by those who styled themselves fundamentalists (at least that was the case in my neck of the woods). Most of the fundamentalists I knew considered Schaeffer to be too intellectual and too worldly (after all he listened to the Mother's of Invention, watched Satyricon and actually knew who Picasso and Dali were). In Sham Pearls For Real Swine Frank makes some valid points about American fundamentalism/evangelicalism. None of that book seemed to be pointed at his parents, both of whom in their published works disassociated themselves from the sort of high culture denying/pop culture embracing that he was critiqueing. It seems strange that he now uses the word fundamentalist to identify both of his parents. Francis Schaeffer towards the end of his life obviously had problems even with evangelicalism (The Great Evangelical Disaster deals with that). I suspect (as does Frank himself) that had his father lived longer he might have found himself in one of the historic branches of Christendom. Frank moved to Greek Orthodoxy, in large part because he was rejecting the logical rational thought of Western Christianity. After reading Sham Pearls and at least one book that he referred to in it, I ended up ultimately becoming a Roman Catholic. Greek Orthodoxy would have been a less painful move (although not a very realistic one in my area), but my study of Church history led me home to Rome. I understand why Frank rejected Protestantism, I even understand why he became Orthodox. What I have difficulty understanding is why he now identifies his parents with a branch of Protestantism that they conciously chose to not identify themselves with. Perhaps he is only using the historic definition of fundamentalism, but the word is so loaded at this point, and he knows that, that it seems like a slur to use it in reference to his parents. A lot of people have assumed that the Becker books are thinly veiled pictures of the Schaeffers. While there are details that obviously come from real life (the pot throwing and Calvin's lack of education) as detailed by Edith and by Susan Macaulay, it seems to me that much of what Frank is caricaturing is the lives that people who came to L'Abri described. I suspect that he has combined the worst parts of his parents with the worst parts of the true fundamentalists he was exposed to as he wrote the Becker books. The admiration that he clearly had for his father and the love he has for his mother has come through even in these post Becker years. When you read about their reaction to his getting Genie pregnant when he was 17 you do not see the reaction of the Beckers. You see the reaction of the Schaeffer's as Edith portrays them in What is A Family. Both Francis and Edith made it clear over the years that when you expect perfection or nothing you will get nothing. The problem in fundamentalist circles was and is so often that perfection is what is expected. That is why it is so disturbing to see Frank identifying his parents with something that they clearly (at least in their published work and audio tapes) rejected. I continue to be enriched by much of what the Schaeffers wrote, even while my conclusions have led me to a place they would not have intended. I do not consider Dr. Schaeffer's word the final authority, but I do consider that he raised questions that Christians need to consider in our post-modern world. Many people have come along since Dr. Schaeffer's death to grapple with these questions, some in response to Dr. Schaeffer, others because they in their own study began to realize the importance of the issues. I rarely look at my Schaeffer books anymore, but I will freely admit the intellectual debt that I owe him. I never would have dared to ask the questions, read the books, watch the films had he not challenged me to move beyond the fundamentalism of my youth. I suspect that Frank would not be Orthodox today if his father had been a typical fundamentalist. I suspect that all of the high art to which he was exposed played a part in where he ended up.

Posted by: Liz at September 13, 2005 02:52 PM (4S/Vw)

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