Fundamentalism, as a religious movement, began in the early 20th century. Many Evangelical Christians, including Southern Baptists, have adopted its principled political positions and key theological elements. It is a tendency found in numerous churches, but it is not an organized movement and has no national body or universally agreed-upon statement. By extension, scholars have identified fundamentalist tendencies in non-Christian religions. The word is often used by liberals as a pejorative term directed against any conservative movement within Protestant Christianity.
- 1 Definitions of Christian fundamentalism
- 2 Birth of the Fundamentalist Movement
- 3 Organizing the Fundamentalists
- 4 Fighting evolution
- 5 Other states
- 6 Fundamentalism in various religions
- 7 Israel and Christian fundamentalism
- 8 See also
- 9 External links
- 10 Further reading
- 11 References
Definitions of Christian fundamentalism
The term "Fundamentalist" is a historical term originating in the 1920s to describe a specific group of Protestants--including their beliefs and their behavior. Determining a precise meaning by which a Fundamentalist may be defined is often difficult to do because there is great overlap of beliefs within the general category of Evangelicals. In Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism, George M. Marsden states:
- an American fundamentalist is an evangelical who is militant in opposition to liberal theology in the churches or to changes in cultural values or mores, such as those associated with "secular humanism."
Independent Fundamental Baptists esteem the use of the term "Fundamentalist" in describing themselves. Their foremost leader, John R. Rice, founded a fundamentalist paper The Sword of the Lord in 1934 and served as its editor till his death in 1980. Its masthead states, "An Independent Christian Publication, Standing for the Verbal Inspiration of the Bible, the Deity of Christ, His Blood Atonement, Salvation by Faith, New Testament Soul Winning and the Premillennial Return of Christ; Opposing Modernism, Worldliness and Formalism." Noted fundamentalists in that group included H.A. Ironside, Bob Jones, Sr., Bob Shuler, William Culbertson, Harry Hager, R.G. Lee, Hyman Appelman, V. Raymond Edman, Scotchie McCall, E.J. Daniels, W.A. Criswell, Joe Henry Hankins. However, in one illustration of different manifestations of fundamentalism, after the death of John R. Rice some took issue with with the direction the new editor of "The Sword" had taken in separating brethren over details about which Godly Bible believers may have differing convictions. Primary among these was defining a true fundamentalist as only a independent Baptist who stood with him. In a letter by Rice's daughter, she noted that her father even considered some evangelical non-Baptists (including Pentecostals) to be fundamentalists, if they also held to and earnestly contended for the fundamentals of the faith. She pointed to his note on Romans 14:l in the Rice Reference Bible which stated, "We then are to receive and have fellowship with all saved people who may differ on minor matters but agree on the great fundamentals of the Christian faith."
Further descriptions of fundamentalism are offered by other writers, such as Joel Carpenter in his book, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism who writes about "the complexity and contributions of fundamentalism as a faith system whose purposes and beliefs have all too frequently been reduced to caricature." Reviewer William Martin, notes how author Joel Carpenter acknowledges the value of "fundamentalism" as a generic label for militant religious and cultural conservatism. But he focuses on that particular, identifiable strain of evangelical Christianity that is persistently revivalistic, emphasizes dispensationalist premillennialism and biblical inerrancy, militantly opposes theological modernism and cultural secularity and feels a strong sense of "trusteeship" for American culture.
Birth of the Fundamentalist Movement
The term "fundamentalism" was coined by Baptist editor Curtis Lee Laws in 1920 to designate Christians who were ready "to do battle royal for the Fundamentals"; the term quickly was adopted by all sides.
Fundamentalism had multiple roots. One emerged out of Dispensationalism, an interpretation of the Bible developed in the 1830s in England. It was a millenarian theory that divided all of time into different "dispensations," which were seen as stages of God's revelation. The world in this theory is on the verge of the last stage in which Christ would return. An important sign is the rebirth of Israel, support for which is the centerpiece of Fundamentalist foreign policy.
A third strand--and the name itself--came from a 12-volume study The Fundamentals (1910-1915). Thanks to sponsorship, over three million individual volumes were distributed free to clergy, laymen and libraries. This version stressed several core beliefs, including:
- The inerrancy of the Bible
- The literal nature of the Biblical accounts of Christ's miracles, the Creation account in Genesis, and so on
- The Virgin Birth of Christ
- The bodily resurrection of Christ
- The substitutionary atonement of Christ on the cross
By the late 1920s the first two points had become central to Fundamentalism.
A fourth strand was the growing concern among many evangelical Christians with the fruits of modernism and the higher criticism of the Bible. This strand concentrated on opposition to Darwinism.
A fifth strand was the strong sense of the need for public revivals, a common theme among many Evangelicals who did not become Fundamentalists.
Numerous efforts to form coordinating bodies failed, and the most influential treatise came much later, in Systematic Theology (1947) by Lewis S. Chafer, who founded the Dallas Theological Seminary in 1924.
Much of the enthusiasm for mobilizing Fundamentalism came from "Bible Colleges", especially those modeled after the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. The Bible colleges prepared ministers who lacked college or seminary experience with intense study of the Bible, often using the Scofield Reference Bible of 1909, which was the King James version with detailed notes explaining how to interpret Dispensationalist passages.
Organizing the Fundamentalists
The most important leader in organizing a movement was William Bell Riley, a Northern Baptist based in Minneapolis, where his Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School (1902), Northwestern Evangelical Seminary (1935), and Northwestern College (1944) produced thousands of graduates.
Riley became the leading organizer of the movement for Fundamentalism. He created, at a large conference in Philadelphia in 1919, the World's Christian Fundamentals Association (WCFA). It became the chief interdenominational fundamentalist organization in the 1920s, and Riley was president until 1929, after which the WFCA faded in importance.
Although the fundamentalist drive of the 1920s to take control of the major Protestant denominations failed at the national level, the network of churches and missions developed and controlled by Riley indicates that fundamentalism was growing in strength, especially in The South. Both rural and urban in character, the flourishing movement acted as a denominational surrogate and aimed at a militant orthodoxy of evangelical Christianity.
Fundamentalists in the 1920s devoted themselves to fighting the teaching of evolution in the nation's schools and colleges, both public and private.
Riley took the initiative in the Scopes Trial of 1925 to bring in famed orator William Jennings Bryan as an assistant to the local prosecutor. The trial revealed a growing chasm in American Christianity and two ways of finding truth, one "biblical" and one "scientific." Liberals saw a division between educated, tolerant Christians and narrow-minded, tribal, obscurantist Christians.
Gatewood (1969) analyzes the transition from the antievolution crusade of the 1920s to the creation science movement of the 1960s. Despite some similarities between these two causes, the creation science movement represented a shift from religious to scientific objections to Darwin's theory. Creation science also differed in terms of popular leadership, rhetorical tone, and sectional focus. It lacked a prestigious leader like Bryan, utilized scientific rather than religious rhetoric, and was a product of California and Michigan instead of the South.
Edwards (2000) contradicts the conventional view that in the wake of the Scopes trial a humiliated fundamentalism retreated into the political and cultural background, a viewpoint evidenced in the movie "Inherit the Wind" and the majority of contemporary historical accounts. Rather, the cause of fundamentalism's retreat was the death of its leader, Bryan. Most fundamentalists saw the trial as a victory and not a defeat, but Bryan's death soon after created a leadership void that no other fundamentalist leader could fill. Bryan, unlike the other leaders, brought name recognition, respectability, and the ability to forge a broad-based coalition of fundamentalist and mainline religious groups to argue for the antievolutionist position.
The American Civil Liberties Union at first had no objection to a general Christian outlook in the public schools, as long as it was that of no particular sect. By the time of the Scopes Trial, however, the ACLU and other advocates of secular humanism insisted that public education must not assume any religious outlook, laying the groundwork, as Bryan feared, for the triumph of materialism.
Webb (1991) traces the political and legal struggles between strict creationists and Darwinists to influence the extent to which evolution would be taught as science in Arizona and California schools. After Scopes was convicted, creationists throughout the United States sought similar antievolution laws for their states. These included Reverends R. S. Beal and Aubrey L. Moore in Arizona and members of the Creation Research Society in California, all supported by distinguished laymen. They sought to ban evolution as a topic for study or, at least, relegate it to the status of unproven theory perhaps taught alongside the biblical version of creation. Educators, scientists, and other distinguished laymen favored evolution. This struggle occurred later in the Southwest than in other US areas and persisted through the Sputnik era, which inspired increased faith in evolutionism.
Fundamentalism in various religions
The term slowly came to mean all movements within religions that reject modernizing/liberalizing influences and attempt to stay true to the word of that religion's scriptures. The term has been applied to Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Christian fundamentalism differs from Orthodoxy in its sole reliance on the Bible and disregard for previously established tradition. Similarly, within Islam, the "fundamentalist" movements (such as Wahhabism) seek to remove perceived impurities in Islam and return it to the believed roots. Unlike Christianity, however, these uncovered roots have spawned incredible amounts of violence. "Fundamentalist" Hinduism is, in a way, a contradiction in terms. Hinduism has no one sacred holy book, and thus no original scriptures to return to, and so the term is instead used to describe those Hindus who are intolerant of the existence of other religions (and occasionally non-Indians) in their communities.
The term "fundamentalist" is also self-applied by a breakaway movement from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, calling itself the "Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints." This group, which practices polygamy and whose leader was convicted on charges relating to child rape, claims to continue the original revelations of Joseph Smith who was a polygamist. It is considered to be an apostate group by the older church and cannot truly be called fundamentalist, in the Mormon context, because it ignores the doctrine of continuous revelation to the leaders of the church. It was one such revelation that caused the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to renounce polygamy approximately sixty years after the church's founding.
There are no fundamentalist Jews, as all movements to return to the basic tenets of Judaism simply result in increased orthodoxy. Judaism may be unique in this regard. Though according to scholars such as Samuel C. Heilman, Menachem Friedman, and Werner Backeberg, there are "truly fundamentalist Jews" who are "a minority of a minority of a minority (that is, approximately 30 percent of Orthodox Jewry, which itself is only about 15 percent of the approximately twelve million members of world Jewry)."
In recent times, the media has taken to describing any conservative non-denominational church or conservative evangelical church as fundamentalist. Indeed these churches do strive to return to the basics of Christianity—its fundamentals.
Israel and Christian fundamentalism
Historically speaking, the majority of American Fundamentalists have been and remain zionists. Fundamentalist-evangelicals rejoiced when part of Jerusalem was annexed after the 1967 six day war, whereas the National Council of Churches denounced Israel. Liberal Christianity called for the "internationalization" of Jerusalem throughout the 1960s, while Fundamentalists expressed their hope for Biblical prophecy: God promised Jerusalem to Israel.
Differences between liberal and fundamentalist Christians
- Fundamentalism's literal interpretation of prophecy versus Liberalism's spiritual interpretation.
- Fundamentalism's equal weighting of the Old and New Testaments versus Liberalism privileging the New, especially the liberal tendency to interpret critical remarks against Judaism.
- Fundamentalism's belief in unconverted Israel over against Liberalism's conversion requirement (i.e., so-called replacement theology).
- Almond, Gabriel A., R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, eds. Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (2003) excerpt and text search
- Hankins, Barry. God's Rascal: J. Frank Norris and the Beginnings of Southern Fundamentalism (1996)
- Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture (2nd ed 2006), the standard scholarly history (by a fundamentalist) excerpt and text search
- Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism (1991) excerpt and text search
- Ruthven, Malise. Fundamentalism: A Very Short Introduction (2007) excerpt and text search
- Sandeen, Ernest R. The Roots of Fundamentalism (1970)
- Trollinger, William V. God's Empire: William Bell Riley and Midwestern Fundamentalism (1991) excerpts and text search
- Witherup, Ronald D. S.S. Biblical Fundamentalism: What Every Catholic Should Know (2001), 101pp excerpt and text search
- Richard Thomas Hughes, The American quest for the primitive church (1988) 257 pp excerpt and text search
- Trollinger, William Vance, Jr., ed. The Antievolution Pamphlets of William Bell Riley. (Creationism in Twentieth-Century America: A Ten-Volume Anthology of Documents, 1903-1961. Vol. 4.) New York: Garland, 1995. 221 pp. excerpt and text search
- Also cited were two chapters in Rice's book, I AM A FUNDAMENTALIST (1975), that of Be a Fundamentalist, But Not a Nut, and Fundamentalists Should Love All Christ's Other Sheep.
- From Library Journal review
- "How the Fundamentalists Learned to Thrive", by Rice University professor of sociology, William Martin in The Christian Century, September, 23-30, 1998, pp. 872-875
- The Fundamentals A Testimony to the Truth
- William Vance Trollinger, Jr. "Riley's Empire: Northwestern Bible School and Fundamentalism in the Upper Midwest". Church History 1988 57(2): 197-212. 0009-6407
- David Goetz, "The Monkey Trial". Christian History 1997 16(3): 10-18. 0891-9666; Burton W. Folsom, , Jr. "The Scopes Trial Reconsidered." Continuity 1988 (12): 103-127. 0277-1446, by a leading conservative scholar
- Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., ed. Controversy in the Twenties: Fundamentalism, Modernism, & Evolution (1969)
- Mark Edwards, "Rethinking the Failure of Fundamentalist Political Antievolutionism after 1925". Fides Et Historia 2000 32(2): 89-106. 0884-5379
- George E. Webb, "The Evolution Controversy in Arizona and California: From the 1920s to the 1980s." Journal of the Southwest 1991 33(2): 133-150. 0894-8410. See also Christopher K. Curtis, "Mississippi's Anti-Evolution Law of 1926." Journal Of Mississippi History 1986 48(1): 15-29.
- Fundamentalism, Werner Backeberg (Faculty of Theology) Institute for Missiological and Ecumenical Research (IMER), University of Pretoria, p. 19
- Fundamentalism Observed, p. 198
- Zionism Within Early American Fundamentalism 1878-1918: A Convergence of Two Traditions, David A. Rausch, Edwin Mellen Press, 1979, ISBN 9-88946-875-3, ISBN 0-88946-976-8, p.4