Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bad Fundamentalism

This past year I have had some interesting experiences with fundamentalists, particularly as concerns the King James Only movement. This post represents my thoughts on the particular brand of fundamentalism represented by the King James Only movement.

It is my thesis that much of the modern-day movement that is best known a Fundamentalism represents, at best, a caricature of what fundamentalism originally was. The original fundamentalist would not acknowledge many of those who claim the title today – and many who claim the title today would not own those for whom it was originally coined.

This is a strong statement, and it must therefore be supported with evidence. The term ‘Fundamentalist’ is usually considered to have been coined from the title of a series of books published in 1909. These volumes, originally a dozen paperbacks, were collected in four volumes in 1917, and are now available from Baker Book House. They are well worth reading, even though, like most multi-author works, some authors are better than others. It is these volumes, in the four-volume edition, that will be the evidence for what fundamentalism originally was.

First of all, fundamentalism was a movement seeking unity among believers.[1] The evidence for this is the remarkable diversity to be found in the backgrounds of the contributors, who came from all denominations as well as from independent and non-denominational churches. It is not always possible to determine a writer’s denominational background, but most often it is. In the third volume we find contributions from a member of the United Free Church of Scotland, a Southern Baptist, a Canadian Anglican, the Bishop of Durham, England, two men from the Presbyterian Church, USA, a Scottish Baptist, and an English Congregationalist. Not all of these denominations were ‘pure’ in themselves, let alone separatist in their stance. The men differ in their views of baptism and Church government, to say nothing of other matters. Thus The Fundamentals must be viewed as an expression of unity around a doctrinal core – the ‘fundamentals’ of the title. Gail Riplinger has described B.B. Warfield as a "liberal" in Hazardous Materials, yet Warfield contributed the article on the deity of Christ to The Fundamentals, and is one of the men commonly credited with developing the doctrine of inerrancy as presently understood. In the 1900s Warfield was regarded as a Fundamentalist. Any definition of "liberal" that includes B.B. Warfield is so broad as to be completely meaningless.

Nor were the contributors to The Fundamentals agreed concerning the doctrines of grace, except for the one point that they were not among the fundamental points of Christianity. Probably a majority of the contributors came from Churches that are historically Calvinistic, but not all. Thus, again, the intention of the original fundamentalists was to unite Bible-believing Christians in the various denominations to stand for the truth.

So what were the fundamentals? First of all, the fundamentalists held the inspiration and infallibility of the Bible as the foundation of everything else. Secondly, God as revealed in Christ, who is both true God and true man. The resurrection of the dead, the personality and deity of the Holy Spirit, sin as an objective offence against God, judgement to come, and the penal substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ, justification by faith in Christ alone, the providence of God over all, and the personal second coming of Jesus Christ. Interestingly, this final point is without timing, one’s view on the millennium is not considered a fundamental point of doctrine. While all contributors agreed that God is the creator, they were not all creationists in the modern understanding of the word.

What then? It follows that the true heirs to the Fundamentalists are not those separatists who seem determined on ever-narrowing the circle of true believers, but those who seek unity among Bible-believing Christians on the basis of those fundamental doctrines that the original Fundamentalists fought for. It also follows that those who separate on matters other than those fundamental truths of Scripture are not real Fundamentalists at all. Thus those who anathematize professing Christians for not being King James Only, Premillennial, Dispensationalist, Arminian Baptists are not true fundamentalists at all, but false fundamentalists, schismatics and sectarians. Or, for want of a better phrase, Bad Fundamentalists.

[1] Note well, this was unity among Bible-believing Christians in various denominations, not unity with those who did not believe the Bible. It was unity in truth.

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