Questions for Understanding Fundamentalism

9:13 am | Uncategorized

A few weeks ago (prior to my life becoming chaotic) there was some discussion on various Christian blogs on the topic of Fundamentalism and where it exists today. I only loosely followed the discussions, but I was a little bothered by the degree of generalizations that fog how Christians understand Fundamentalism. As this website is distinctly titled ‘Evangelical Resources’, it should be clear that I consider myself distinctly in the broad category of Evangelicalism. This is both a good and bad thing; Evangelicalism is by definition a very mixed and very diverse movement. But I do see it as distinct from Fundamentalism.

In the discussions I have seen about Fundamentalism, it is clear to me that there are many Christians who do not see a distinction between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Granted that the distinction between the two groups is blurry, but this very difficulty begs the question of what differences do exist, and how these differences should be understood in light of the most recent theological discussions and in public discourse.

From my vantage point, I have postulated a number of questions that need to be addressed in the current discussions regarding Fundamentalism:

How did a movement that rallied and unified Evangelical Christians under a common theological banner prior to 1925 result in the splintered and separatist movement of Fundamentalism that we see today?

What were the philosophical underpinnings of the Modernist movement? Was it largely driven by a Positivist-influenced philosophy imported from Europe, or was Theological Modernism more deeply influenced by the home-soil philosophy of American Pragmatism?

What factors characterized the nascent period (1865-1925) leading up to the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy? How did various philosophical reactions to the war between the States culminate in uniquely American philosophies that would later influence theological Modernism?

How and why did the Fundamentalist movement split from Evangelicalism in the late 1920s? In what ways has this inclusivist/exclusivist view shaped Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in the 20th century, and how is it still imprinted on each movement today?

Why is it that churches in the Southern United States were isolated from the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy before the 1930s?

How did this theological movement centered mostly in urban centers in the north-eastern United States over time become a solidly Southern and rural institution?

What role did Southerners such as Frank Norris have in reinventing Fundamentalism in the 1930s and popularizing it in a part of the United States known for its extreme suspicion of all things Northern?

What caused Evangelicalism to finally split from Liberal/Modernist churches and theologies in the 1950s and 1960s?

How did a movement dedicated to defending the inspiration of Scripture and the possibility of miracles slowly become hijacked by Landmarkists, Hard-Shellism, and Peter Ruckman’s King James Onlyism through the 1950s and 1960s? How did it develop tendencies that could cause otherwise traditionalist churches to make a long and slow drift away from a historical understanding of Christian theology? (see here) Why were Fundamentalists given to cut off their historical moorings?

Given the theological correction occurring in Evangelical churches on one hand, and the growing theological problems of Fundamentalist churches on the other, how was it that many people began to distance themselves from Fundamentalism and identify more with Evangelicalism? What distinctions began to develop between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism?

How was the Southern Baptist Convention wrestled away from liberal theological control to become theologically conservative? Should the SBC more properly be understood to be Fundamentalist or Evangelical?

What influence did the burgeoning Charismatic movement have on the development and self-conscious of Fundamentalism?

How did rapprochement of the wounds between Fundamentalists and Evangelicals begin in the late 1970s? In what ways was this rapprochement permanent, and in what ways was it fragile and tenuous at best?

What was the relationship between Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in the formation of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy? In what ways did the Neo-evangelical response of Fuller Seminary to the ICBI parallel the response of Modernists in the 1920s?

How did the rise of the Moral Majority, the Christian Coalition, and Pat Roberts’ ‘The 700 Club’ solidify the popular conception of Fundamentalism as a political phenomena in the 1980s? While the popularity and influence of these movements has declined significantly, how is it that this popular view of Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism prevails even to the present?

How did the subtlety of the distinction between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism lead to the categories being conflated in both the popular understanding and among Evangelicals themselves?

What parallels exist between the rise of Creationism after the Scopes trial in 1925 through its resurgence in the 1980s with the history of Fundamentalism? What differences exist? How does the Intelligent Design movement’s relationship to and differences with Creationism parallel the complex relationship between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism?

How did the innovative and unprecedented use of the term ‘Fundamentalist’ in the context of Islamic terrorism permanently add a taboo and paranoia to perceptions of Christian Fundamentalism both throughout the 1990s and particularly in the post-9/11 media environment? How has this paranoid view of Fundamentalism continued to dominate the political rhetoric of the Democratic Party, the ACLU, Americans United for Separation of Church and State? How was this paranoia distorted into a full-blown conspiracy theory after the 2000 and 2004 United States Presidential elections?

In what ways does the popular understanding of Fundamentalism both parallel and differ from the reality of Christian Fundamentalism in the United States?

Within the Christian church, in what ways has Evangelicalism become seen as a synonym with Fundamentalism rather than a distinct category? How has this affected the self-conscious of Evangelicals such as Mark Noll? How has the emerging church and in particular the Emergent church blurred or even abused this tendency to see Evangelicalism as merely a synonym for Fundamentalism? How has this confusion in definition influenced and altered the trajectories of emerging and emergent theology, particularly in those ways in which it considers itself in reaction against either Evangelicalism or Fundamentalism?



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Evangelical Resources » On Landmarkism, Campbellism, and Fundamentalism

Pingback on May 22, 2006 @ 8:57 pm

[…] In an earlier post, I had asked a number of questions for understanding Fundamentalism, its history, and its place in contemporary culture. Specifically, I asked, “How did a movement dedicated to defending the inspiration of Scripture and the possibility of miracles slowly become hijacked by Landmarkists, Hard-Shellism, and Peter Ruckman’s King James Onlyism through the 1950s and 1960s?” […]

Evangelical Resources » Controversy at Cornerstone 2006

Pingback on July 22, 2006 @ 10:35 pm

[…] Unfortunately, Jon Trott’s responses to events at Cornerstone is somewhat less than charitable, effectively putting Jon and Dwayna at odds with each other, generating more heat than light. In using the word ‘fundamentalist’, Jon also steps on one of my pet-peeves, using the word ‘fundamentalist’ flippantly as a word of derision, even calling Dwayna at one point an “ultra-fundamentalist”. It is disappointing that Jon Trott has responded to Dwayna Litz by going on the offensive against her. While peace and reconciliation were important themes at Cornerstone, particularly with the Christian Peacemaker Teams as speakers in the Cornerstone yoU tent, apparently peace and reconciliation still does not apply to Christians that we disagree with. […]

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