Why I’m a Fundamentalist (And You Should Be One Too)

January 23, 2013

Fundies get a lot of flack, you know?deservehell

I mean, “fundamentalist” is pretty much the go-to pejorative for anyone with any kind of extreme views.  And it pairs so nicely with terms like “right-wing” or “cult member” or “outright crazy.”

That’s what you think when you hear the word “fundamentalist,” right?  Crazy.  Extreme.  Dangerous.  Hateful.  Small-minded.  Misogynist.  Fearful.

Yes, a lot of fundies live up to their image.  Stereotypes exist for a reason, right.  Incidentally, whenever people talk about demolishing “hurtful stereotypes,” I never hear anyone standing up for the fundamentalists and all the stereotypes that are heaped on them.  Just saying.

But I have a confession to make.

I am a fundamentalist.


I’m going to shoot you straight.  Most of the fundamentalists out there aren’t real fundamentalists.  Most of them are frauds.  The word “fundamentalist” has become so loaded with meaning, that it’s hardly any use anymore.

Well, I think it’s time we cleared the air and restored the meaning of “fundamentalist.”  Who knows?  At the end of this blog post, you may just decide you are a fundamentalist, like me!

Where Do Fundies Come From?

My guess is most people don’t know where fundamentalists come from, so here’s a short history lesson.

The first “fundamentalists” were Presbyterians (not Baptists) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  They were Christians who desired to affirm the key beliefs of Christianity in light of new Modernist philosophy and Bible criticism.

They decided there were five fundamental Christian beliefs:

The Bible is the true word of God.

Mary was a virgin when Jesus was born.

Jesus died to atone for human sin.

Jesus was physically resurrected.

Jesus really did perform some sweet miracles. (My words, not theirs.)

That’s pretty basic, isn’t it?  Probably not what you were expecting.  Nothing about homosexuality or alcohol or public schools.  No free will or pre-destination.  No dispensationalism.  No legalism that I can see.  No young Earth or literal six day creation.  No mention of ignoring Biblical genres in favor of blind literalism. Just the fundamentals.

Theological Minimalist

Why do I like fundamentalism so much?  That is, real fundamentalism.

I guess another word I would use to describe real fundamentalism is minimalism.  

When it comes to most theological debates, I just don’t care.  They don’t seem to matter much to me in the grandness of God himself.  Jesus didn’t seem to care too much either.  He wasn’t wasting his time in pointless arguments.  If that guy can sum up the entire six-hundred and some odd Jewish laws into “love God and love your neighbor,” it makes most of our arguments seem pretty pointless.  Jesus concentrated on the fundamentals of faith.

Doctrine Does Not Make Unity

It’s also clear to me that having a long list of beliefs does not help Christians…at all.

Why would the original fundamentalists only come up with five fundamentals?  Why wouldn’t they make a bunch of statements about what was important to them a hundred years ago?

Because doctrine does not produce Christian unity.

Just because Christians believe a bunch of things together does not mean they will love each other, work together, or be like Jesus.

Having an excessively lengthy statement of faith may mean you get a group of people who believe a lot of the same things.  But that’s not what Jesus told us to do.  

Are You a Fundie or a Phony?

I don’t think fundamentalists would even recognize modern day fundies.  Modern day fundamentalism isn’t about the fundamentals at all anymore.  If I am a theology minimalist, I think of modern day fundies as theology hoarders.

You know the cable shows about people being buried in their junk, right?  All that filth and useless trash, which has no value, and isn’t doing anything good, but they can’t let go of it?

That’s a modern day fundamentalist.  (And really, that’s a lot of modern day non-fundie Christians too.)  We are being buried alive in tired, junky, useless beliefs that have no real-world value.  Our houses are filled with beliefs, beliefs which isolate us from the world, make people want to avoid us because we stink of filth.  But we can’t let go because we think we need all these things.  That’s what turns a Christian into a fraud.  If your beliefs prevent you from loving God and loving others, you are a phony, not a fundie.

Most of us need to clean house.  There just isn’t much value in many of the beliefs we hold dear.  If you could only take five beliefs with you to a desert island, what would you take?

If you can pare everything down to that, congratulations, my friend.  You are a fundamentalist!

What do you think? Can we rehab the word “fundamentalist?”  Or is it too far gone?

22 responses to Why I’m a Fundamentalist (And You Should Be One Too)

  1. I’m a fundie, too. Thanks for putting it so succinctly.

  2. Interesting.

    This post reminds me of my college experience in a way–I struggled so much to be a “Real True Christian” that I latched onto all of the “fundamentalist” trappings that I could. I wore Family Bookstore t-shirts. I didn’ t celebrate Halloween and I was suspicious of the guys that played D&D. Okay, I didn’t give up listening to Smashing Pumpkins but I tried to feel guilty about listening to them. I went to bible study and tried to work Christiany stuff into everyday conversation. I even tried to debate evolution with my biology prof (with a Ken Hamm book in hand, no less!) (Incidentally, he was remarkably gracious about it and not the “uppity godless intellectual” that you read about in e-mail forwards).

    Then I don’t know when it happened, but it all got to feeling very fake. Not only that, but it was a facade I couldn’t maintain. Instead of becoming a great Christian, I was just an annoying ponce that no one wanted to be around. I never got any indication of God’s approval of anything I was doing (if anything I felt more confused). I guess I was doing most if it to keep my parents from worrying about the state of my soul. What I didn’t realize was that everything I was doing wasn’t an honest reflection of my inner self.

    At some point I gave it all up. I’ve decided to only hang on to the few things that I truly believe in and ditch the rest. Now that I’ve got a couple of kids and a formerly-agnostic husband, I think it’ll be easier for them.

  3. Everybody has their test that we have to pass in order to be an officially approved, right believing, properly baptized Christian. I hate those tests. Usually they involve more then 5 things.
    I tried desperately hard to be a Christian until I learned I couldn’t be one. Then I stopped trying and let God apply the work of the cross to me and it got a lot better. My advice: you can’t do this, so stop trying and start trusting what He said IS true.

    • You are right, we all, sadly have our own litmus tests. Some of the local controversy yesterday was over a local pastor, Adam Hamilton, delivering the sermon at the inaugural prayer service yesterday morning. A bunch of people said they could not imagine a true Christian having anything to do with the President. I say I can’t imagine a true Christian passing up the opportunity to tell the President the truth!

  4. By your definition, I’m very much a fundamentalist. But in answer to your last question, I think the definition of the term has drifted so much, we need to throw it out and start over. Using a word to mean something other than what most people think it means just causes confusion and a lack of communication.

    I’d probably add one more basic premise… something to do with the church being God’s presence on earth through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. I’ll have to think about how to word that.

    • You are right, the language continually shifts until our old words are no longer useful. There are a ton of “old timey” words that are meaningless today. I wish we could redeem “fundamentalist” but I don’t really think it’s going to happen.

  5. Thanks for helping to redeem this word, Matt.

  6. As someone who self identifies as both a fundamentalist and a minimalist, and as someone who is working on a book about the problems with the modern fundamentalist movement, I appreciate that you recognize that fundamentalists are often unfairly maligned.
    However, I couldn’t disagree more with the theme of your article. The “five fundamentals” were never a litmus test for fundamentalism. The bedrock issue was always the inspiration and authority of scripture, those five things just happened to be the fronts of the inspiration battle that were under attack in the very early 1900’s.
    It’s absolutely true that many modern fundamentalists are carrying lots of baggage and majoring on very minor issues. But doctrine isn’t the problem. The problem is when they step beyond what the Bible actually says and start trying to push their preference on everyone else.

  7. Yes. By your definition, I’m also a fundamentalist. I’m quite sure many who share my CORE beliefs but not all my beliefs would be comfortable being labeled the same way. Some fundies draw lines in the sand which I don’t conform to. I mostly just keep my mouth shut about that. Pointing out how I’m not like “that guy” and ranting about so-and-so is giving Christianity a bad name is very popular these days. Especially on the Internet. But it’s been my experience that real transformation comes–for ourselves and for others–by talking less about what we’re not and doing more to give people a tangible picture of what are. For me, that’s mostly done face to face.

  8. Yes! A thousand times yes! Thank you for this, Matt! I come from a “fundamentalist” background (the more typically thought of variety), and I very much want to see the term reclaimed for what it really means.

  9. Great post, Matt. Yes, I am a fundamentalist. We diminish the importance and the beauty of the core beliefs when we add so much too them (I love your hoarder analogy), and all it serves to do is divide us. While the side issues are important to think about and interesting to discuss, they are not the fundamentals – not the things that really matter.

  10. Keep it simple, stupid! At its core, I would definately classify myself as a fundamentalist. The simplicity you describe was also the driving force of the Restoration Movement of which I’m a part. But then we start making those lists, and the more we list the more things we find to disagree on. And the unity that Christ prayed for is ruined by our “rules”.

    Great post, Matt.

  11. Cool Bananas guys! I did the fundy jump about six years into my born-again experience. It opened the eyes of my heart to hanging on to things, possessions….loosely. I fell in love with God’s bigger picture. if you asked me to describe that picture, I cannot. It is too big. i get just a glimpse of it in my saner moments.

  12. Matt, I appreciate your desire to clear up what fundamentalism is. Distinguishing true fundamentalism from what most people think of when they hear the term is something many who consider themselves fundamentalist would love to do. Unfortunately though, I have to disagree with much of the article.

    Equating fundamentalism with minimalism because Presbyterian fundamentalists stated only five fundamentals, I believe, is (at least, historically speaking) an incorrect conclusion. The five points that you stated above (in your words, not theirs 😛 😉 come from a 1910 Presbyterian doctrinal declaration that was put out in order to clarify what Presbyterian ministerial candidates had to believe in. This was done not at all to minimize doctrine, but “in response to a complaint about ministerial candidates who did not believe certain cardinal doctrines” (“In Pursuit of Purity,” David O. Beale. p.149). Soon after listing the five statements, Beale says: “As a safeguard, however, from anyone falsely assuming that Christianity could be reduced to five assertions, the 1910 Assembly added that other biblical truths were ‘equally’ important” (p. 149).

    Also, we have to remember that doctrinal statements, etc. (like the 5 fundamentals above) are reflective of what biblical truths are under attack at the time. For instance, there is no mention in those 5 fundamentals of “salvation by grace through faith.” You ask which 5 beliefs we would take with us if we were sent to a desert island. That’s not a bad question to ask. However, would you want to be limited to five? Respectfully I ask, wouldn’t you like to be able to have all of the above 5 along with “salvation by grace through faith” and other statements of biblical truth? I believe that the early fundamentalists, by no means, would have wanted to be limited; they were only addressing the doctrines that were actually under attack at the time.

    Some of early fundamentalism was trans-denominational and chose to not make too big a deal over theological issues that were open for debate. You talk about theology hoarding. Again, respectfully, I think if you gave some examples of what beliefs would fall under theology hoarding it would be helpful. If you’re calling on Christians to not get too wrapped up in debatable points of theology (e.g. predestination, dispensationalism), then I would agree that we need to, at least, be careful not to be getting too wrapped up in these and separating ourselves from good brothers and sisters who come to different conclusions. But what which beliefs are they that “We are being buried alive in tired, junky, useless beliefs that have no real-world value”?

    Were the early fundamentalists theological minimalists? Not really. Should we be minimalists? Well . . . it depends on what exactly you mean and how far you’re going to take it.

    I prayed that this (epistle-long 😉 comment would be a blessing. I sincerely hope that it will be.

  13. Thanks for the history less, Matt! And the vocabulary lesson. If I could only explain my faith in five principles, I would use the five but change the last one to: “Because he was fully man and fully God, Jesus performed some sweet miracles.” So that makes me a fundamentalist.

    There is part of me that says we need to change the name from “fundamentalist” because it has gotten a bad reputation, but then, another side says that the label isn’t the problem. A new label will be twisted by the twisted because that is what they do. Just like kids can take any person’s name and find a way to pervert it or use it to make fun of the person. As a teacher, you probably see this every day, or at least every week.

  14. I think the definition is too far gone in our culture. There’s an evolution of language, the meaning of words changes over time. Nobody uses the word gay anymore to refer to happiness. Perhaps you coined the new word “theology minimalism” to mean what fundamentalism used to mean. I won’t call myself a fundamentalist because of the negative connotations that come with it. I don’t even like to call myself a Christian sometimes because of the negative connotations that are now coming with that. And it’s not because I’m embarrassed, it’s because sometimes people will hear you’re a Christian or fundamentalist and immediately discredit everything you say simply because of that label. Why do that? I’d rather gain their trust naturally through a relationship and let them see Jesus through me. Then if they ask me questions about my faith I can tell them where my heart lies. Of course my blog says that I’m a Christian, but I’ve tried to keep it subtle, so as not to run people off before they’ve gotten to know me and my work. Great post! Always thought-provoking,

  15. I don’t know how you read my mind and then write it out so much better than I could. I have cringed at the theological arguments I have read or heard and thought, “What is the point?” I have been in favor of a more distilled version that you described as “Theological Minimalist.” That will be my label if I’m forced into one. Good post.

  16. Brilliant! Thank you for this. I love the simplified theology and calling out folks for all the muck we get stuck in.

    How about a new label altogether? Fundaminimalist!