Newsletter Question of the Month
Each month we receive dozens of questions. Some I answer in my blog, but some require much shorter responses. We try to answer one of those questions each month in the Newsletter.
This month's question is:
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:
1) The inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture
2) The Deity of Christ and the virgin Birth
3) The substitutionary atonement
4) Justification by faith
5) The physical resurrection
6) The bodily return of Christ at the end of the age.
7) Christ performed miracles
Fundamentalism and its Differences with Reformed Theology
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).
The Reformed tradition is also Calvinistic whereas Fundamentalism is overwhelmingly Arminian (read here for a good comparison).
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 (read here for a concise comparison)
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.