Fundamentalism Is What???
Are you a fundamentalist? Yes? No? Not sure? Fundamentalism is a commonly misunderstood, and frequently misused, term in America. Though often associated with each, fundamentalism is not synonymous with evangelicalism, the charismatic movement or conservative Christianity in general. It’s not even synonymous with conservatism. Fundamentalism is also poorly understood when we use it to describe a personality style, militancy, or worldviews.
So, what is fundamentalism? When used in a Christian, theological context, fundamentalism refers to a school of thought that began in the late 19th Century at the Princeton Theological Seminary. That’s interesting trivia, but not really important, today. Here’s what’s important: the central idea of fundamentalism is that the Bible is inspired by God and is an infallible account of the words of God. I agree with that! Seems simple, right? So, why did I write this article? Here’s the catch: there are two other important heritages associated with American fundamentalism: dispensational pre-millennialism and the holiness or Pentecostal movement. Fundamentalism is best understood by considering the development of pre-millennialism and the holiness-Pentecostal movements — these have taken over and changed fundamentalism and one another.
In order to understand the impact on culture and policy, we must recognize that these are uniquely American religious traditions. These ideas have given Americans a strong desire for a ‘felt’ or ‘experiential’ religious experience, which has led us to the phenomenon of contemporary evangelicalism. American evangelicalism emerged after World War II and proved successful in unifying conservative Protestantism. Like-minded Americans achieved even greater unity in the 1970s as a response to the troubling decline in the moral condition of America. The increasing organization around an American political agenda was most noticeable in non-denominational, Southern and independent Baptist and Pentecostal churches. With increasing despair over the state of world affairs and American morality, pre-millennial ideas flourished and spread across denominational boundaries. In the last three decades, publishing, broadcasting and other media efforts designed to spread pre-millennialism have had a dramatic effect.
The original, fundamentalist idea of perfect inspiration was good, correct and right. The pre-millennialist agenda has warped it to emphasize a literal interpretation of Scripture (which is generally a good thing), even where the Holy Spirit has made it plain that a particular passage is figurative or communicated through signs and symbols. This shift and re-interpretation of fundamentalism is essential to the doctrine of pre-millennialism and its reading of Revelation as a yet-to-be-realized singular, specific and physical series of events. It ignores the fact that Revelation is intended to help us understand things occurring in the spiritual realm and their impact on the physical world. It also means that the book would have been largely useless and unintelligible to the original recipients.
Revelation is a product of perfect inspiration. It is also one of the easiest parts of Scripture to understand. It shows us how spiritual warfare plays out in the physical world and guides us in our response to this conflict and the resulting persecution. It specifically describes the Roman persecution of the church that began late in the First Century. It’s extremely useful to you and me because we can read, see and understand that this spiritual warfare continues to this day, with the dragon constantly raising up and empowering new beasts from land and sea to wage war against the Lord’s Kingdom, the church. Revelation is a call to stand firm and confident in the promise that His kingdom is eternal and the gates of Hell shall never prevail against it.
I’m well aware that many readers and followers of this site will take issue with this article. Please share your comments right here – as the moderator, I’m going to approve and even promote other viewpoints. While Scripture is perfectly inspired, none of us are – I remain open-minded and ready to learn.