by Grant Swart
A related post which I placed a few weeks back can be read by clicking here: Are you a Calvinist? The problem with man-made labels . Rather than repeating what I wrote in that post regarding man-made labels, I recommend reading that post in conjunction with this one, which will place the subject in perspective.
It is with predictable regularity that Bible believing Christians today, are confronted with the question: “Are you a Fundamentalist?” More often than not, the question is posed rather as a piercing accusation than an interested or genuine inquiry. Those who pose the question have generally made up their minds beforehand, what the qualifications for being a Fundamentalist are and accordingly, they label the Bible believer a “Fundamentalist”. However, their assumption is inherently skewed, as most of what the world views as being Fundamentalism, is not akin to biblical Christianity, therefore a truly biblical Christian cannot be that kind of Fundamentalist.
Most biblical Christians who uphold the Five Solas, eventually become accustomed to being labelled Fundamentalists (and Calvinists, as I stated in my previous article on man-made labels), even though Fundamentalism and Reformed Christianity are mutually exclusive in many aspects. Often this assumption is based on the fact that true biblical and Reformed Christians have steadfastly opposed man-centered beliefs by upholding the sole authority of Scripture, the Sovereignty of God and the Supremacy of Jesus Christ.
If it were true that these were the only distinctives of what most perceive to be Fundamentalism, then I would surely have no serious objections against wearing that label. However, what does constitute Fundamentalism, is somewhat removed from that which constitutes Reformed theology. Had the Fundamentalist movement remained concerned solely with the defense of the five main tenets of the Christian faith, and not added a growing list of extra-biblical doctrines, it could have been a label more worthy of true biblical Christians.
While the movement has done much to defend certain Christian principles since it’s formation at the end of the 19th century, it has also been instrumental in adding unbiblical facets to, what is seen by much of the world, as being the Christian faith. That fact, along with the extreme, radical approach and at times absurd, militant and embarrassing actions of many of the adherents to the Fundamentalist movement, has by implication had the effect of severely tarnishing the image of true Christianity. As a result, the movement has become increasingly fragmented and hard to define.
The movement, which was initially intended to defend the fundamentals of Christianity, has in many ways become its own enemy. Recent events in Norway, where Anders Breivik, a man whom many perceive to be a Christian Fundamentalist, went on a murderous rampage in which he killed 77 people, is a case in point. Of course, it has been argued that he did not claim to be a Christian Fundamentalist, although he did say that he was 100% Christian and that he had been baptized at the age of 15. There have also been valid arguments made for the fact that no measure of Christian would act in the way he did. Whether he is or not is a possible subject for a different article, however, the fact that he is seen by many as being a Christian Fundamentalist is based on certain preformed perceptions of what constitutes that fundamentalism.
Once again, it becomes glaringly obvious why sticking man-made labels to others presents huge, seemingly insurmountable problems. While every Christian is called to defend the fundamentals of our faith, those fundamentals are not defined by the Fundamentalist movement, nor are we to be called Fundamentalists. The Bible says I’m a Christian, because I follow Christ. That is more label than I deserve – but it is the one I wear and earnestly defend with humility and consideration before Almighty God.
After reading a short piece which deals with being labelled a Fundamentalist, (which I have attached below), I felt it appropriate to post it here on our blog. It represents, in its essence, in crisp and concise simplicity, what I believe to be the correct stance we must adopt when defending our position as truly biblical Christians…
Do you consider yourself a “Fundamentalist” ?
I am delighted to have an opportunity to answer this question. I get this question more than you might think. Fundamentalists ask me this question because they’ve heard people call me a Fundamentalist, but have not seen evidence of it in my life and/or ministry. Others ask me the question because they’ve heard media outlets (or liberal Christians) use the term to describe me and/or my ministry.
Fundamentalism vs. Reformed Evangelicalism.
The easy answer to this question is a resounding no! I am absolutely not a Fundamentalist. Moreover, any claim to the contrary is demonstrably false. There is a long history of clear distinction between Fundamentalism and Reformed Theology. However, most people who use the term Fundamentalist don’t use it in an effort to define, but to discredit. A “Fundamentalist” is unintelligent, anti-scientific, anti-progress, narrow-minded, and downright mean. In the media, a “Fundamentalist” is someone who straps bombs to himself and goes out to kill his enemies. However, the term does have a very rich and easily definable theological history.
Fundamentalism and its Similarities with Reformed Theology
Before addressing the differences between Fundamentalism and Reformed Theology, let me acknowledge some similarities (you can find the following lists here). Both Fundamentalists and “Calvinists” believe the following:
- The inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture
- The Deity of Christ and the virgin Birth
- The substitutionary atonement
- Justification by faith
- The physical resurrection
- The bodily return of Christ at the end of the age.
- Christ performed miracles
Fundamentalism and its Differences with Reformed Theology
Confessional: The Reformed tradition is highly confessional, whereas Fundamentalist Christians tend to be much less so. Fundamentalism is often characterized by the “no creed but Christ” mentality. When they do adopt confessions, they tend to be very short and succinct (compared, for example, to the Second London Baptist Confession to which our church holds).
Calvinistic: The Reformed tradition is also Calvinistic whereas Fundamentalism is overwhelmingly Arminian.
Covenantal: A third difference between Reformed and Fundamentalist Christians is the overall hermeneutic that governs their theology. The Reformed tradition is Covenantal in its approach to and understanding of Scripture whereas Fundamentalists tend to be Dispensational.
Cultural: Fundamentalists are known for their pietism, perfectionism, and moralism (i.e., KJV only, no R-rated movies, no dancing, etc.), whereas the Reformed tradition has had a much more holistic view of culture. This familiar (though definitely oversimplified) saying may help to demonstrate the contrast: Fundamentalists are known for what they’re “against,” while Reformed Christians are know for what they’re “for”.
Still My Brothers
While I do not identify myself as a Fundamentalist, I do identify Fundamentalists as my brothers. I use the ESV, hold to the Doctrines of Grace and the Second London Baptist Confession, reject Dispensationalism, own Saving Private Ryan and Braveheart (both rated R), love dancing, and listen to Jazz (among other things). However, I do hold to the seven fundamentals at the core of “Fundamentalism.”
And regardless of what I believe, as long as the word Fundamentalist is a badge of scorn and dishonor hurled by those on the political and theological left, I will continue to be called a Fundamentalist despite the fact that a true Fundamentalist would never claim me.
The part of the above article under the heading, “Do you consider yourself a Fundamentalist”, was re-posted from the blog of Grace Family Baptist Church, with much appreciation . It can be accessed through the following link: http://www.gracefamilybaptist.net/voddie-baucham-ministries/blog/question-month-july-2011-2011-07/
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