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Fundamentalist and Literalist

by Cowboy Bob Sorensen 
Edited September 13, 2016

 "Be a clone and kiss conviction good night.
Cloneliness is next to Godliness. Right! . . .If you want to be one of his, gotta act like one of us!"
— Steve Taylor, from "I Want to be a Clone"

What is a Fundamentalist? If you ask around, you will probably receive several different kinds of answers. In the most basic sense, it is someone who believes in the fundamentals of the faith. In that way, most people who call themselves "Christian" are "Fundamentalists". One definition said, "Of or relating to or tending toward Fundamentalism". Thanks, that's very helpful, old son.

I like this one: "Christian fundamentalism refers to a set of religious beliefs within the Protestant community which emphasizes strict adherence to Christian beliefs, including a belief in the literal truth of the Bible." I agree with that definition for the most part.

As you probably know, "Fundamentalism" is another word with a great deal of connotations and emotional baggage, often used as a pejorative. People may think of the late (and often unfairly maligned) Jerry Falwell. Or that generic dour church where nobody seems happy. "Fundamentalist" implies ultra-strict, narrow minded views on Scripture. In the definition that I liked, it mentioned "the literal truth of the Bible". When someone asks if I take the Bible literally, I cringe. That is another loaded term, often a set-up for mockery. "Hey! This Fundie jerk takes the Bible literally. I bet you believe in all fairy stories, haw haw haw!" I don't cotton to owlhoots using labels to manipulate the emotions of others.

Someone said a useful phrase that I remembered for many years (unfortunately, I forgot who said it): I take the Bible seriously. People who want to mock us for believing the Bible use extremes and caricatures, and have a double standard for themselves (they will not complain about the use of the word "sunrise" for instance, because the sun does not actually "rise"). You see, in many ways, you can read the Bible as you would read a newspaper. When the text is using poetry, speaking authoritatively, describing real events, narrating history — read it accordingly.

Back to the Fundamentalist bit, now.
People use the word "Fundamentalist" a great deal. Unfortunately, they do not really understand its meaning, only their emotional reactions to it.
Image credit: morgueFile / ArielleJay
My father, a United Methodist Pastor, did not like Fundamentalists very much. One time, he referred to them as "fun-damn-mentalists" (I think this was because of their emphasis on the fires of Hell). I have found through experience and reading that Fundamentalists are very strict. Although well-intentioned, they are often legalistic, expecting adherence to extra-Biblical rules of conduct and so forth. From that springs judgmental attitudes towards other Christians:
  • He's not a true Christian, his hair is too long
  • They're not Christians, that music is rock and roll
  • She's obviously a false Christian, she's exposing too much skin
  • And she's wearing make up
  • No, brotherrrrrr, going to movies is a sin
  • A deck of cards has 52 soldiers in the Devil's army — but we can play the game of "Rook"
  • [Whatever] is not allowed here, it's worldly

If you've been reading this weblog, you know full well that I am downright enthusiastic about defending and presenting the faith. Man-made traditions, rules and regulations, I don't cotton to defending those. Do we judge people because they do not look or act in a way that we want them to look or act? Are we presuming to know the hearts of others (1 Sam. 16.7)? Do we use scriptural principles? Do we exercise righteous judgment (John 7.24, Matt. 7.20 NASB)? Are we walking in love (Eph. 5.2 ESV)?

I believe the fundamentals of the faith. And I take the Bible seriously — literally, when applicable (see this article on that subject). But I do not identify myself as a "Fundamentalist" because of confused definitions and connotations, savvy? I probably am a Fundamentalist according to some definitions.

You may want to see my follow-up article, "Christian Fundamentalism and Anti-Intellectualism".

ADDENDUM 4-23-2016: There is an outstanding lecture by Phil Johnson called "Dead Right — the Failure of Fundamentalism". Don't let the title throw you, he's not anti-fundamentalism per se, but there are problems with the Fundamentalist movement itself. He echoes some of the things I've said (interestingly, he came from a United Methodist background as well), but naturally goes much deeper. It's definitely worth your time. To download the MP3, go to this link and click on the tiny "Media Links: MP3" on the lower left. The PDF is available here.