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Contending for the Faith

by Fred Moritz

What is Fundamentalism?

Non-Fundamentalist Descriptions of Fundamentalism

Many scholars who disavow Fundamentalism have objectively analyzed the movement. Their work deserves attention as we consider how unbelievers understand Fundamentalists and how brethren who do not share Fundamentalist convictions see us.

James Barr

James Barr distances himself from the movement and clearly states that he does not believe in the inerrancy of the Scriptures.5 He recognizes three major characteristics of Fundamentalism:

(a) "A very strong emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible, the absence from it of any sort of error";

(b) "A strong hostility to modern theology and to the methods, results, and implications of modern critical study of the Bible"; and

(c) "An assurance that those who do not share their religious viewpoint are not really 'true Christians' at all."6

Carl F. H. Henry

Carl F. H. Henry was an early leader in New Evangelicalism. His 1947 book, The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, revealed dissatisfaction with Fundamentalism that later produced New Evangelicalism. He served on the first faculty at Fuller Theological Seminary and as the first editor of Christianity Today. Henry also analyzed Fundamentalism. Henry sees the movement in terms of its separatism:

Modern prejudice, justly or unjustly, had come to identify Fundamentalism largely in terms of an anti-ecumenical spirit of independent isolationism, an uncritically held set of theological formulas, an overly emotional type of revivalism.7

Henry also sees supernaturalism in the movement:

Fundamentalism was a Bible-believing Christianity which regarded the supernatural as a part of the essence of the Biblical view: the miraculous was not to be viewed, as in liberalism, as an incidental and superfluous accretion.8

Henry further identifies militancy as an ingredient of Fundamentalism:

This is not to suggest that Fundamentalism had no militant opposition to sin. Of all modern viewpoints, when measured against the black background of human nature disclosed by the generation of two world wars, Fundamentalism provided the most realistic appraisal of the condition of man.9

George Marsden

George Marsden has taught at Calvin College, the University of California at Berkeley, and Duke University.10 Presently he teaches at Notre Dame. He describes Fundamentalism as militantly anti-modernist:

Briefly, it was militantly anti-modernist Protestant evangelicalism. Fundamentalists were evangelical Christians, . . . who in the twentieth century militantly opposed both modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernism endorsed. Militant opposition to modernism was what most clearly set off fundamentalism from a number of closely related traditions.11

In another work Marsden reaffirms this definition of early Fundamentalism, adding that it exhibited tendencies toward several elements, including separatism and dispensationalism. He points out that detractors would accuse a Fundamentalist of being "obscurantist, anti-intellectual, or a political extremist. So when I speak of fundamentalism here, I do not use the word in such pejorative senses."12

Ernest Sandeen

Ernest Sandeen is less complete in his definition, but he also begins,

A firm trust and belief in every word of the Bible in an age when skepticism was the rule and not the exception—this has been both the pride and the scandal of Fundamentalism. Faith in an inerrant Bible as much as an expectation of the second advent of Christ has been the hallmark of the Fundamentalist.13

Sandeen, himself a liberal, understands the importance of an inerrant Bible to Fundamentalism. As he describes the advances of the higher criticism and modernism, he puts the issue in clear focus:

When many others carried on, supported by their personal experience or faith in the church, why did some Christians demand an inerrant Bible? This is the central question of Fundamentalist historiography [emphasis mine].14

Sandeen also understands the importance of premillennialism to the Fundamentalist movement. He continues:

The understanding of millenarian hermeneutics—the manner in which the millenarians interpreted the Bible—and the theology of biblical authority developed at Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth century can help to answer this question.15

Grant Wacker

Grant Wacker, writing about Augustus Hopkins Strong and his attempt to balance biblical orthodoxy with invading modernism, understands the issues in a similar way:

Fundamentalism is used in a still more restricted fashion to designate the militant emphasis on the inerrancy of the Bible and the deity and miracles of Jesus Christ that emerged in the early twentieth century in opposition to theological modernism.16

A Summary

Non-Fundamentalists commonly identify several traits of Fundamentalism. They see the following:

  1. An emphasis on the inspiration, infallibility, inerrancy, and authority of the Bible.
  2. An opposition to modernism.
  3. An emphasis on separatism.
  4. A belief in the premillennial return of Christ.
  5. An opposition to sin and the cultural decay produced by modernism.
  6. A militant spirit.

Contending for the Faith. ByFred Moritz. ©2000. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927; web address:

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