To address what I mean when I call myself a fundamentalist, I’m going to have to take a little time off from my busy schedule of political ranting, working on my AK-47 spray-and-pray form, and building bombs. Having to take time off from angry destruction to have rational discussion makes me mad enough to blow something up!
Oh, wait. I don’t mess much with politics, especially in my role as a pastor; I don’t own an AK-anything; and I’ve never built a bomb. (Well, that egg-drop project back in high school might have come close… but nobody got hurt, aside from the smell. The fire wasn’t really all THAT big.)
Despite the impression you may have gotten from media (which often does’t make careful distinctions – it’s hard to clarify who really is what in a 600-word article or 2-minute television news report, even if you’re inclined to, let alone a Tweet or Facebook post), Christian fundamentalists have virtually nothing in common with the Islamic fundamentalists or Hindu fundamentalists who have done such violence in recent years.
The reason people can apply the term “fundamentalist” to some Christians, Muslims, Hindus, and more is that we each have people who take what they believe seriously enough to put it into action and are deeply attached to core tenets of their faith. But our faiths with their core tenets are radically different, which means that when we put them into action, they are much different from one another.
I don’t know of a single self-professed or accepted-by-the-community Christian fundamentalist who has committed any act of violence in the name of his faith. We don’t kill people for God, and we don’t blow things up for God. We’re willing to die for our faith – but we would never kill for it. That would be a denial of the very fundamentals we stand for.
So if I’m not defined by crazy politics or violence, what makes me a fundamentalist?
A Christian fundamentalist is one who holds to and stands up for the basic truths of Christianity. The exact list of fundamentals and their implications may differ from person to person. (The Fundamentals, a collection of 90 essays which helped define the movement in its early years, was written by 64 different individuals representing nearly every major Protestant denomination at their time.) But all the lists from all the early fundamentalists pretty much boil down to the essential truths for salvation, and those revolve around Jesus Christ: how we know Him, who He is, what He did, and how we respond.
Even though the name is only about a hundred years old, it’s a biblical idea. The Apostle Paul repeatedly told people to know doctrine and to be willing to separate from (not work with or fellowship with) people who denied core truths or who lived in blatant sin. The Apostle John nailed it down in I John 4:1-3. The person who believes the truth about Jesus Christ, whatever else they may be wrong about, has a relationship with God. The person who hasn’t believed the truth about Jesus Christ, whatever else they may be right about, has no relationship with God. When a person teaches the truth about Jesus Christ, whatever else they may get wrong, they are helping the cause of Christ in that at least. When a person teaches error about who Jesus is and what He did, whatever else they may get right, they are hurting the cause of the gospel of Christ.
Am I a fundamentalist because I hate people? No! I’m a fundamentalist because I love God and want to do what He says. (This is the test of love for Jesus, after all: “If ye love me, keep my commandments,” Jesus said.) I’m a fundamentalist because I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ to be the most important truth this world has ever heard – so important that I can’t pretend my faith is the same as someone’s who rejects it.
That’s what makes me a fundamentalist – believing the fundamental truths of Christianity and being willing to take a stand for them. In recent years, many people in fundamentalism have gotten tangled up in a lot of other things, some of which I agree with and some of which I don’t, and too often, the movement gets defined both from within and without by those other things. Because the movement sometimes seems to have lost its way, or at least its clarity, I’ll occasionally use the term “historic fundamentalist” for myself. I’m defining the name more like its inventors than some of its modern adherents. At its heart, though, fundamentalism is about the gospel of Jesus Christ – and so am I.
Now I think I’ll go and make another … sandwich, a sandwich! What, you thought I was going to put together something explosively dangerous, just because I’m a fundamentalist? Well, okay, that description might suit any food item I make. But as a fundamentalist shaped by the identity and message of Jesus Christ, it doesn’t describe me or my ministry.