Wednesday, January 16, 2002
Your friendly sponsor of this site, Kevin Holtsberry, sited my piece from this morning on mainline-versus-evangelical and continued on a riff on fundamentalists and evangelicals, where fundamentalists are the bad guys who "demagogue and pound their fists acting as if God speaks directly to, and only to, them" while evangelicals are those who "believe in things like the inerrancy of scripture, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the requirement of salvation through faith and faith alone but who live their lives with caring and dignity." I hope my walk is more like the latter than the former, but I think Kevin's got a little bit of a straw man on his hands in his description of a fundamentalist. A bit of history is an order. The turn of the last century saw fights in many denominations on whether to hold fast to Biblical principals or to put stock in Darwinism and liberal criticism of the Bible's authenticity. A series of paperbacks defending biblical Christianity called "The Fundamentals" was published in from 1910-15, becoming the Federalist Papers of the conservative movement. By 1920, the term "fundamentalist" was coined to describe the people willing "to do battle royal for the Fundamentals." The fundamentalists tended towards anti-intellectualism, as the academy was where all the attacks on the Bible seemed to get their start. The Scopes "Monkey Trial" in 1925 (at least the "Inherit the Wind" take of it) was the quintessential dissing of fundamentalists, as Darrow was seen to get the better of Bryant's awkward defense of the Genesis account. As the conservatives started their own institutions and withdrew from more liberal denominations, the movement took on some theological quirks. Eschatology (end-times-ology) was one focal point, as a premillenial (Jesus’ second coming is before the thousand-year reign), pre-tribulation (the Rapture of the believers happens before a seven-year Antichrist era) view was often a requirement. That is the end-times take of Lindsay’s The Late Great Planet Earth from the 70s and the current Left Behind novels. Dispensationalism was another trademark, where different verses are relevant only for certain eras of history. Separatism is the third distinctive; they will at minimum not fellowship with people who don't have the right theology, or in the more virulent version, not fellowship with people who, while having proper doctrine, are in fellowship with undoctinaire folks. By WWII, some conservatives, who were chaffing at the constraints of fundamentalism, reclaimed the term "evangelical." This group wanted to have a more intellectual approach to their faith without giving up the Bible as the Word of God. The most prominent of these was Billy Graham. He started his college career at Bob Jones U., who later disowned him when he started to allow mainline churches to help in his crusades, thus violating second-order separatism. By the 70's the term Evangelical had come along as the term used for born-again Christians, reserving fundamentalist for those people who had the theological quirks listed above. The Ayatollah Khomeni threw a monkey-wrench into our nomenclature. Fundamentalist became used to describe the Shiite radicals in Iran who rebelled against modernism, as foreign affairs writers made the connection between Shiite and Protestant anti-modernists. Later, the term described anyone of any faith who took their faith "too seriously." My favorite is when the Moonies were described as fundamentalists. OK, Moon thinks he's the second incarnation of Christ and he's going to be welcome at Bob Jones? Oopsy, wrong definition. You can be a fundamentalist and not be a jerk. I've known quite a few people who fully swallow all three quirks and are nice people to be around. However, if one insists on each and every quirk of theology before you can be on friendly terms, you're going to scare a lot of people off. It reminds me of the old heaven orientation joke, "Be quite, they think they're the only ones here." The Lamb's Book of Life will make interesting reading. It is the higher orders of separation that make the jerks that Kevin is whomping on. I got a lot of the information in this post from InterVarsity Press's Dictionary of Christianity in America. I ran the bookstore at InterVarsity's Cedar Campus conference center for the summer of 1990 between my MBA and doctoral programs and got a lot of big reference books at wholesale cost as summer crew.
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