Let’s Have A Round For These Friends Of Mine

Theology. Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes.

A term that is often misunderstood is “fundamentalism”. On Tuesday night I talked with a student who come September will be a Catholic seminarian that had the idea that “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” could be interchanged. So tonight Zoomtard is going to throw a few ideas on the table really quickly about why that is not the case. This entry will firmly be in the category of “theological sketchpad” so don’t let me waste your bandwidth if you are not interested.

Fundamentalism is a phrase that initially comes from a series of pamphlets published by the Princeton theologian BB Warfield from 1913-15. From here the dreaded word comes into its common usage today. Warfield was a serious scholar, an evolutionist and a leading feminist. Don’t you hate how these guys defy stereotype?

Back in the day, fundamentalism was not a movement associated with crazy. In the face of the “rationalistic” onslaught against orthodox theology that marked the turning decades between the 19th and 20th centuries, fundamentalists stood up for the historic doctrines of the church and for the legitimacy of the Bible. Remember, the world wars hadn’t happened yet. Neither had the Khmer Rouge, the USSR, the breakdown of Yugoslavia, the Vietnam war or the Rwandan genocide. People could still legitimately claim people were naturally good and that science would solve all our problems.

Warfield and co. stood against the unwarranted confidence, actually the arrogance of the times and they stood with their intellects and serious scholarly study to support them. HL Mencken was no fan of Christianity but even he wrote of the initial fundamentalists that they were men “of great learning, and, what is more, of sharp intelligence”.

Back then, fundamentalist could really be interchanged with evangelical. An evangelical Christian is one who believes the core claims of Christianity, what might be referred to as the “Primary Truths”. Central amongst these are that Jesus was fully God and fully man, that He physically died on the cross and physically rose again, that faith before works is the measurement God uses to assess our lives and finally that the Bible is divinely inspired.

All that has been lost. The wars took their toll on all of us. The Scopes Trial did a huge amount of damage to the evangelical mind. And soon fundamentalists fractured from evangelicals. There are now serious, deep-down, geologically deep divisions between the two groups.

Evangelicals can still be marked by the description above. This document serves as a very concise (and in listing its beliefs, typically anal) definition of the things evangelicals agree on. Evangelicals can come from any denomination and in theory should be very nice people to live beside or work with or even hang out with at the pub.

You won’t find a fundamentalist in the pub though. In Proverbs 20:1 we can
read that “Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler” and so a fundamentalist would take this wise little warning against drunkenness and apply it to all alcohol in all senses. Even when Jesus’ first miracle is turning water into wine and even when Paul advises Timothy to drink a little whenever he is queasy. Sure didn’t you know that they drank grape juice at the Last Supper? That’s where Jesus said that the “wine” was a symbol of His blood!

Protestant fundamentalists pride themselves on their “plain” reading of the Bible. They believe that it is perfect and never in error and as an implication of this they deny or disregard any social or historical context for the books. They are highly suspicious of any academic practice that might challenge their true interpretation of the ever-true words of the Lord. As a result, they are highly suspicious of practically everything you can study formally.

When I am asked I simply tell people that I am a Christian. Although I attend a Presbyterian church, I believe I am a follower of Christ long before an advocate of a denomination. Although I am orthodox, I believe I am a follower of Christ long before I am doctrinally secure. Yet another label that could apply to me is evangelical. Yet I am not a fundamentalist. As a Christian, the thing I object to most about fundamentalists isn’t that they take the Bible too seriously but they have far too low a view of the Bible. Their faith in it is not strong enough to take it out and sell it to others. Instead they sell Jesus Junk. Or buy it.

Fundamentalism today is not limited to Calvinists with weird beards. Today we have lots of Hindus, Sheiks, Muslims and Jews with weird beards to join them. They all mutilate their own scriptures to serve a highly self-righteous, narrow and self-vindicating world view. They join each other in exalting structured ignorance (Christian “creation scientists”, if only they could bring themselves to do it, would find firm allies in Islamic “creation scientists”) in the face of the honest intellectual questioning (what Augustine called “eros of the mind”) that serves only to bring us to a firmer appreciation of truth.

Fundamentalism, across the world today, whether Christian, Muslim or atheist, is marked by one dominant characteristic: Fear. They are terrified of the wide, beautiful world and the diversity of views that thrive out there. They are terrified that their view might turn out wrong and destroy the identity they have built up. So instead of confidently entering the market-place of ideas they put up their walls and retire into the dark where their fears can only fester and grow.

Your Correspondent, Knows It Off By Heart

5 Responses to “Let’s Have A Round For These Friends Of Mine”

  1. teragram says:

    I like his beard. I like it so much that I’ve decided to grow one just like it

    (in case img tags don’t work in comments, you can get the image here:)


  2. stig says:

    Good stuff once again. Wrapped everything up in a neat little PACK-age-euh. Concise too.
    Gosh darn it, I loved this post.

    (But mainly just because of the Queen Joni lyric-title 😉 )

  3. adrian says:

    As I recall Devo reconciled creationism and the theory of evolution in 1978 in one very simple lyric:
    ‘God made man, but a monkey applied the glue’

  4. JBOC says:

    I followed a link from my logs and found your link to my page, “Notes on Sayyid Qutb”.
    You have a fun and provocative blog. Glad I found it.
    Best wishes,

  5. Caoimhe says:

    This is one of your most interesting posts in my opinion…and I understood it too!!

    The term ‘evangelical’ is one I had difficulty understanding and would be have been tempted to tie it with fundamentalism. Clearly there is a very distinct difference.