fundamentalism defined

Among the many false charges raised against fundamentalism by the neo-experts is the notion that fundamentalism is undefined. Some argue that it is hard or impossible to define [how post-modern is that?]. Others say, ‘Which fundamentalism?’ as if there is more than one. Some say that the definitions have never been really offered, or, if offered, they have been inadequate.

I am undertaking a little project to examine the resolutions of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International over the last 30 years. I have simply copied all of the resolutions from the FBFI website into a database for ease of reference and sorting. My plan is to write articles based on these statements highlighting the view of a significant fundamentalist body. Perhaps there are fundamentalist groups who might quibble over some of the FBFI resolutions at points. That isn’t really relevant. This project is intended to show that the charges laid against fundamentalism by its most recent and most vocal critics are really baseless.

We start with the definition of fundamentalism. I find in my survey of thirty years of resolutions that statements intended to define fundamentalism have been offered at least1 ten times in the last thirty years.

At the 1979 and 1980 meetings, identical defining resolutions were offered:

A fundamentalist is a genuine believer in the Person, Work, and Doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ who:

1. Regards the Bible, both Old and New Testaments, as the verbally inspired, inerrant, and in fallible Word of God.

2. Recognizes the Bible as the authoritative Voice of God on all issues pertaining to life-civil, social, and spiritual.

3. Endeavors to practice Biblical conduct in all areas of his life.

4. Believes in all the foundational truths of historic Christianity, including:

  • The inspiration of the Bible
  • The virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • The Deity of Christ
  • The bodily resurrection, ascension, and literal return of the Lord Jesus Christ
  • Salvation by grace through faith and regeneration by the Holy Spirit
  • The eternal destinies of Heaven or Hell
  • Man is a sinner by nature and by choice.

5. Earnestly contends for the faith, which includes a militant defense and proclamation of the faith and separation from all forms of heresy, apostasy, unbelief, and inclusivism, direct or in direct.

6. Is compelled by love to expose error, within and without the household of faith.

From my perspective, this definition is quite comprehensive. But history has a way of presenting new challenges, so further statements were deemed necessary. In 1981, it was affirmed that “The FBF believes that there is a subtle undermining of historic fundamentalism by definition; that a true fundamentalist not only believes in such fundamentals of the faith as … but also exposes and separates from all ecclesiastical denial of that faith and refuses to be tolerant of believers who are tolerant of unbelievers; we believe that those who hide their ‘soft’ stand on separation by hiding behind what they term ‘the modern fad of secondary separation’ espouse a position that will eventually destroy historic fundamentalism.”2

Here we see that fundamental Baptists in 1981 agree that fundamentalism is not merely holding to fundamental doctrines, but a willingness to contend for them and expose deviations from them. The ‘soft separatists’ are rebuked.

By 1994, further challenges prompt a resolution entitled “Regarding Fundamentalism and its Fight”. This resolution highlights the militancy of fundamentalism:

The FBF is concerned with a trend in certain quarters of professing Fundamentalism that would attempt to maintain the fundamentals of the faith without any fight. … We remember that we gather not around love, but around the truth of God in love. We believe that love obeys the truth … and corrects error … The FBF calls upon Fundamentalists to recognize this truth, to alert themselves to the inroads of apostasy and compromise in the religious world, and to warn their people of these dangers, using names to identify a position when the need arises.3

The call of fundamentalism is to a fundamentalism that exposes error for the protection of God’s people. Can you have a fundamentalism that fails to do this? Can you be a fundamentalist if you refuse to carefully identify error on the part of other believers?

The 1996 resolution, “Regarding Fundamentalism and its Beliefs”, reaffirms the doctrinal integrity of fundamentalism and its willingness to take militantly defend those doctrines. Fundamentalism, it says, “Earnestly contends for the Faith, which includes a militant defense and proclamation of the faith and separation from all forms of heresy, apostasy, unbelief, and inclusivism — direct or indirect.”4

1996 also added a separate resolution “Regarding Separatist Fundamentalism.” Perhaps this resolution reflects the continuing pressure of opponents and attempts to define a fundamentalist as someone who holds to the fundamentals. It seems to me that the term “Separatist Fundamentalist” is somewhat of a redundancy. Nevertheless, this additional resolution says, “‘Fundamentalist’ identifies us as a group committed to orthodox Christianity … ‘Separatist’ identifies us as a group which believes that we can have no fellowship and engage in no cooperative ministry with apostates … It further distinguishes us from other orthodox Christians who refuse to acknowledge and obey the biblical command of separation from apostasy”5

Resolutions of 1997, 2002, and 2004 address the confusion in the media by using the term ‘fundamentalist’ to describe all manner of other religions, other non-fundamentalist Christians, and even economists.

From 1997:

Our task is to demonstrate what true Fundamentalism is by our Godliness, and to refuse to allow our enemies to set the agenda for our ministries. We emphatically deny that Fundamentalism includes any other religion (such as Islam), cult (such as the so-called "Heaven’s Gate" cult), or those aberrations of Christianity that neither believe nor obey the whole truth of the Bible (such as charismatics).6

From 2002:

The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International decries this "hijacking" of the term and appeals to the media to learn the true meaning and cease this misappropriation. We appeal to those who are adding to the foundational doctrines of Biblical Christianity to cease attacking those who do not agree with their narrow views and to recognize that apart from the Biblical Fundamentals there is room for brotherly differences. At the same time we urge all true Fundamentalists to teach carefully the true meaning and history of the term. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International will continue to defend aggressively the foundational doctrines of our faith no matter by what name they may be known.7

From 2004:

the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International continues to identify ourselves as "Biblical fundamentalists" to demonstrate that we are appealing to the Bible as the basis for our values and core beliefs.8

From these most recent resolutions, it is clear that popular usage attacks the definition, but for anyone conversant with the history of fundamentalism and willing to learn its doctrinal basis and the biblical grounds of its philosophy, a true understanding and definition of fundamentalism is possible.

Those who are still confused about what a fundamentalist is are either ignorant of the historical usage of the term or are wishful of altering its meaning such that it becomes as meaningless as the term ‘evangelical’ has today.

In short form, a fundamentalist is a person fully committed to the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the core doctrines taught therein AND is willing to contend for those doctrines against outright attack by unbelief and against subtle undermining of those doctrines by foolish or erring brethren.

don_sig2

Notes:

  1. If you consult the FBFI website, you will note that resolutions for some years are not posted. I don’t know the reason for this, or if they are available elsewhere. []
  2. Full 1981 Resolution: The FBF believes that there is a subtle undermining of historic fundamentalism by definition; that a true fundamentalist not only believes in such fundamentals of the faith as the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture, the incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and glorious ascension and second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, the new birth through regeneration by the Holy Spirit, the resurrection of the ungodly to final judgment and eternal death, and resurrection of saints to eternal life, but also exposes and separates from all ecclesiastical denial of that faith and refuses to be tolerant of believers who are tolerant of unbelievers; we believe that those who hide their "soft" stand on separation by hiding behind what they term "the modern fad of secondary separation" espouse a position that will eventually destroy historic fundamentalism. []
  3. Full 1994 Resolution: The FBF is concerned with a trend in certain quarters of professing Fundamentalism that would attempt to maintain the fundamentals of the faith without any fight. We do not believe that a position of Fundamentalism can be maintained without contending publicly for the Faith. While affirming that we should "speak the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15), we argue that truth should not be sacrificed on the altar of love. Scripture teaches that the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable (James 3:17). We remember that we gather not around love, but around the truth of God in love. We believe that love obeys the truth (John 14:15, 21, 23, 24) and corrects error (Matthew 18:15-17). In I Corinthians 15:33, the apostle declares, "Be not deceived; evil communications corrupt good manners." A good doctrine is always contaminated by a bad environment or bad associations. The FBF calls upon Fundamentalists to recognize this truth, to alert themselves to the inroads of apostasy and compromise in the religious world, and to warn their people of these dangers, using names to identify a position when the need arises. []
  4. Full 1996 Resolution: The FBF believes that a Fundamentalist is a genuine believer in the Person, work, and doctrine of the Lord Jesus Christ who: Regards the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments, in the original writings as the verbally inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God; Recognizes the Bible as the authoritative voice of God on all issues pertaining to life: civil, social, and spiritual; Endeavors to practice biblical conduct in all areas of his life; Believes in all the foundational truths of historic Christianity, including the inspiration of Scripture in the autographs; the virgin birth of the Lord Jesus Christ; the deity of Christ; the bodily resurrection, ascension, and literal return of the Lord Jesus Christ; salvation by grace through faith; regeneration by the Holy Spirit; and the eternal destinies of heaven or hell; Earnestly contends for the Faith, which includes a militant defense and proclamation of the faith and separation from all forms of heresy, apostasy, unbelief, and inclusivism — direct or indirect. []
  5. Full 1996 Resolution: The FBF reaffirms its commitment to separatist Fundamentalism. This title, separatist Fundamentalism, is a clear statement of our distinctive character. "Fundamentalist" identifies us as a group committed to orthodox Christianity and distinguishes us from groups which have deviated from the fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith. "Separatist" identifies us as a group which believes that we can have no fellowship and engage in no cooperative ministry with apostates (II John 9:11; II Corinthians 6:14-18). It further distinguishes us from other orthodox Christians who refuse to acknowledge and obey the biblical command of separation from apostasy (II Thessalonians 3:6-15). As Separatist Fundamentalists we believe that separation on both fronts, from apostates and disobedient brothers, is essential to the preservation of God’s truth. On the basis of our separatist commitment, we believe it is necessary to limit the scope of our fellowship in ministry to those men, churches, and ministries which likewise agree with and practice separation from those who deny the fundamental doctrines of the Faith and from those who deny the doctrine of separation from disobedient believers. []
  6. Full 1997 resolution: Whereas the word "Fundamentalism" was coined to describe Biblical Christianity in the early part of this century, and whereas some modernist and compromising scholars who know this have deliberately contributed to or catered to the redefinition of "Fundamentalism," while other basically orthodox believers foolishly participate in this confusion by using terms such as "Islamic fundamentalists" and the like, the FBF makes no apology for its continued adherence to the correct use of the term. Believing that what is actually under attack is the faithful adherence to Biblical Christianity and that attack will never diminish or abate in this dispensation, the FBF affirms that is both unnecessary and unworkable to seek to avoid confusion and misunderstanding by desiring or promoting some other term whereby fundamental Baptists may be identified. Our task is to demonstrate what true Fundamentalism is by our Godliness, and to refuse to allow our enemies to set the agenda for our ministries. We emphatically deny that Fundamentalism includes any other religion (such as Islam), cult (such as the so-called "Heaven’s Gate" cult), or those aberrations of Christianity that neither believe nor obey the whole truth of the Bible (such as charismatics). We deplore — but are not surprised by — the incessant slander of Fundamentalism as nothing more than the predicted slander of Christ’s true disciples (John 15:20, 2 Tim. 3:12). As the FBF has repeatedly stated, "the core of historic Fundamentalism is its commitment to matters of doctrine. . . . Fundamentalism is a theological movement governed by its commitment to the absolute authority of God’s inspired and inerrant Word." []
  7. Full 2002 Resolution: The names "Fundamentalism" and "Fundamentalist" have served as honorable terms identifying those who hold unshakably and defend militantly the irreducible foundational teachings of the Bible. Even liberals acknowledge, "There is no mystery as to what the term meant when it was first coined." Yet the news media have "co-opted" the term and identified terrorists of all types: Muslim extremists, rebellious militia groups, so-called Christian identity groups, abortion clinic bombers, and murderers, as "Fundamentalists." Religious groups which have departed from orthodox Christian doctrine: Charismatics, faith healers, health-wealth preachers, and various cults, are called "Fundamentalists" by print and broadcast media. Corruption has resulted from misuse by some who call themselves Fundamentalists, claiming orthodox doctrine but rejecting the separation taught by Scripture, or adding their own interpretations and extreme positions claiming that all who do not agree with them have apostatized, identifying themselves as the only true Fundamentalists. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International decries this "hijacking" of the term and appeals to the media to learn the true meaning and cease this misappropriation. We appeal to those who are adding to the foundational doctrines of Biblical Christianity to cease attacking those who do not agree with their narrow views and to recognize that apart from the Biblical Fundamentals there is room for brotherly differences. At the same time we urge all true Fundamentalists to teach carefully the true meaning and history of the term. The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International will continue to defend aggressively the foundational doctrines of our faith no matter by what name they may be known. []
  8. Full 2004 resolution: The Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International recognizes that the media has, at times, abused the term "fundamentalist". In the minds of some, the term has been equated with "terrorist." In recent usage, however, the term has returned to its historic meaning of "one who adheres to the basics or core values" by appealing to the original source. This usage recognizes that the "tolerance ethic" is incorrect because the clash in values goes to the very root of those values. Thus the media has begun to use terms such as "investing fundamentalist", "secular fundamentalists", and "religious fundamentalists" to show that fundamentalists act upon their core values. With this in mind, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International continues to identify ourselves as "Biblical fundamentalists" to demonstrate that we are appealing to the Bible as the basis for our values and core beliefs. []

Comments

  1. I’m guessing that some of the confusion comes from (for example) the SI post about “a fundamentalism worth saving”. And from the periodic infighting over things like naming of pavilions, rants against Calvinists “within the ranks”, and so on.

    When it comes to points #5 and #6, there seems to be a wide latitude for “Christian soldiers” to individually judge for themselves that this or that behavior is “error” or “inclusivism”, and to thus go to war.

    The elaborate rules of engagement that have been defined for “separation” versus “limited participation” show that the question is not uncommon within fundamentalism; and also suggests that reasonable fundamentalists will often disagree, leading to inevitable situation where some fundamentalists consider other fundamentalists to be wrong — implying that two or more different views of fundamentalism would be simultaneously held.

    • Hi Joshua

      I don’t think the essential definition is altered by differences in application. Fundamentalism as a concept is as it is described in these resolutions. But Fundamentalism as a denomination doesn’t exist. That’s to the good, in my opinion. It is better that we maintain our independence and be able to apply our doctrine and philosophy as unto the Lord above all, without regard to our political part in the pecking order.

      As for ‘limited participation’ as expressed in the 2009 resolution, it is one of those statements that can be taken in different ways depending on your perspective. From what you say, it appears that you might be saying that it primarily applies to how a fundamentalist might relate to conservative evangelicals. (If it isn’t your view, please correct me! But it does seem that it is the way some could take it.) On the other hand, the way I take it is that it refers to relationships between self-identified fundamentalists. We don’t all see things the same way and there is no obligation that we must work closely with one another just because we share a label.

      I personally would like to see fundamentalists exhibiting the maturity to let anti-Calvinists and Calvinists speak to their views without criticism, no matter how poorly or well the speaker might handle the topic. That is probably a vain hope, but it is mine nonetheless.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  2. Paul says:

    Life isn’t about fundamentalism or Calvinism. Life is about knowing God. It’s ironic to me that in an effort to refute/take a stand against/divert young people away from “the horrible new Calvinism” people (e.g. Piper/Desiring God Ministries), “Fundamentalists” are falling into a trap they’ve set for themselves in putting the emphasis on their movement instead of their God.

    • Hi Paul

      Well, not sure what to make of your post. Of course life is about knowing God. However, that is not to say we should never talk about lesser concepts, is it? In wrestling with lesser concepts as they are taught to us in the Scriptures, do we not come to know God better?

      The purpose of my post was to show that contrary to popular opinion among some, fundamentalism is a well-defined concept. It is the fruit of fundamentalists taking the time to think about what they are doing and why they are distinct from other Christians. You appear to think that somehow it is a trap for fundamentalists to do this? Is that it? Wouldn’t it be more of a useless and fruitless exercise to be off marching to the beat of a different drummer and not know why you were doing it?

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  3. Do you consider FBFI the only group that is fundamental? Because I had not heard of the group nor had any fellowship with any preachers from that group, and that is interesting since I have been around for 60 years. Yet I have been a fundamentalist since birth.

    This is a great article and research, and one that I have no problem with.

    • Hi Charles,

      No, I don’t think the FBFI is the only group that is fundamentalist, but they probably represent the largest fellowship among the side of fundamentalism in the Maranatha Baptist Bible College, Northland International University and Bob Jones University orbit. There are a few other schools that would be part of that also, but you will find the same leaders on boards in the various schools and on the board of the FBFI. There are other “orbits” in what could be called fundamentalism, my personal preference is for the FBFI version of it.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  4. Thanks, Don

    I was thinking of “limited participation” and “separation” and all the other tools of militancy as being tools that seem to be brandished internally as much as externally. And in this case I was thinking specifically of it being used between self-identified fundamentalists.

    In any case, I think you have been pretty level-headed about the areas where you would like to see less infighting, so it wasn’t a comment toward you. I was just speculating that the very hypervigilant militancy that characterizes fundamentalism makes it more susceptible to triggering the fuse and becoming fractious in unnecessary cases.

    I understand that people within fundamentalism can disagree while still fitting the definition, I was just speculating that these disagreements may appear to others as “different kinds of fundamentalism”.

    • Ah, ok, thanks for clarifying. It’s funny to see you commenting back while I am working on all these posts. We had a great day today at our Canada Day picnic. Four small churches gathered together in a crowd of about 60ish people. It is encouraging as I told the folks, that they can see that even though we are in small churches, we aren’t all alone.

      As for level-headed, I hope I am learning! It is easy to get heated and blast away, especially on the internet.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  5. Dan says:

    I guess I’m a little confused. I thought Minnick said that as a fundamentalist he would not associate with conservative evangelicals like Dever and Mohler not because they fellowship with apostates or that they fellowship with those who fellowship with apostates but rather because they do not separate from a lifestyle that he considers worldly (he listed certain movies, drinking, and music as examples of the worldly elements). From the definition above, I suppose Minnick regards the failure to separate from worldly elements as transgressing #3. Of course, Mohler would not consider that his behavior violates #3. Therefore, he may believe he fits in the definition of a fundamentalist as given above.

    My question then is what a fundamentalist considers a violation of #3. How is biblical conduct defined? Do you separate from another Christian who goes to movies based on #3? Do you separate from someone who doesn’t necessarily go to movies but fellowships with a third party that goes to movies? Also, if one believes in a different mode of baptism, would that be considered not practicing biblical conduct? I think part of the reason why people ask “which fundamentalism?” is because fundamentalists all agree with #3 but have various interpretations of what that is. Once you broaden separation beyond reasons of apostasy, it is almost impossible to have consensus (which is why the early fundamentalists called themselves fundamentalists so as to distinguish themselves based on defined fundamentals of the faith rather than based on various interpretations of “biblical conduct”).

    • Hi Dan

      I am not sure what statement of Minnick’s you are referencing. And of course it is impossible to answer for someone else, so let me answer for me.

      I think that the problem I have with Mohler, Dever, et al, is more under the category of #5, especially this category: “inclusivism, direct or in direct.” I would also have some concerns for #3, but I admit the subjectivity of that point. You are right that there are problems in application here because of disagreement over what constitutes ‘biblical conduct’.

      I am not sure that separation is the automatic result of disagreements here. As I see it, commitment to fundamentalism means that I am not willing to ignore it if I think a brother is violating biblical standards of conduct. I will either speak up or distance myself (in some degree of non-participation) or both. If the violations are particularly egregious and have the potential to influence those under my care, and my attempts at influencing change are either futile or exhausted, then I will separate (i.e., cut off all contact and partnership).

      In any case, I will grant your point that applications can become subjective and are varied. My point in this post is not about application, but about definition, however. The claim is made that fundamentalism as such is undefinable. It is more likely that those saying it is undefinable are unwilling to accept the definitions given.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  6. Paul says:

    Don,

    It’s the often self-righteous and fruitless exercise of making distinctions from other Christians based on lists that are usually arbitrary that is the problem with fundamentalism.

    • Paul, I think the problem you are describing has to do with fundamentalists, not fundamentalism. This post is about defining fundamentalism, not evaluating the appropriateness of how certain fundamentalists have applied what they believe.

      If you care to actually interact with what I wrote, that would be more helpful.

      Maranatha!
      Don Johnson
      Jer 33.3

  7. Note to all: I deleted a comment from someone who is not readily identifiable. We do not permit anonymous comments here. (Which is not to say we have been perfectly consistent with this policy in the past!) But our policy remains: if you wish to comment, please identify yourself.

    In addition, this comment did not interact with the post at hand, just took gratuitous shots at fundamentalism that are not very original (we’ve heard them all before) and without much charity. So…

    Reform your language and identify yourself. Then we’ll post your comment.

    Maranatha!
    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

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