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Contending for the Faith

by Fred Moritz

What is Fundamentalism?

Moderating Voices

Jerry Falwell

The last twenty years have produced various attempts to change the face of historic Fundamentalism. Jerry Falwell was one of the first who attempted to change the perception of Fundamentalism. His publication at that time, the Fundamentalist Journal, defined the movement solely in terms of the classic "five fundamentals."30 In another place, Edward Dobson and Ed Hindson stated, "Doctrinally, Fundamentalism is really traditional and conservative Christian orthodoxy."31 Later, Falwell did speak of ecclesiastical separation, but only about being "free from hierarchical structures that would tie us down to denominational mediocrity."32 The militant element seems to be missing from Falwell's description of Fundamentalism. In more recent years, Falwell appears to have forsaken the term and the movement.

Charles Colson

Charles Colson defines the term similarly in his book The Body. He tells how he was accused in a New York Times article of being a Fundamentalist. He then says,

There's the dreaded word. It conjures up images of uneducated bigots, backward Bible-thumping preachers, and the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeni. But it's a bad rap.

"Fundamentalism" is really akin to Lewis's "mere Christianity" discussed earlier, or the rules of faith in the early church; it means adherence to the fundamental facts—in this case, the fundamental facts of Christianity. It is a term that was once a badge of honor, and we should reclaim it.33

Colson goes on to describe the birth of the movement and the struggle with modernism. He describes how Bible-believing Christians identified the "five fundamentals" as "the infallibility of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth and miracles of Christ, Christ's substitutionary death, and Christ's physical resurrection and eventual return."34 Setting aside any understanding that Fundamentalism today shows any militance against or separation from apostasy, Colson makes this astounding statement:

These were then, as they are today, the backbone of orthodox Christianity. If a fundamentalist is a person who affirms these truths, then there are fundamentalists in every denomination—Catholic, Presbyterian, Baptist, Brethren, Methodist, Episcopal . . . . Everyone who believes in the orthodox truths about Jesus Christ—in short, every Christian—is a fundamentalist. And we should not shrink from the term nor allow the secular world to distort its meaning [emphasis mine].35

Colson has correctly identified the fundamental doctrines around which early Fundamentalists rallied. Certainly every born-again Christian believes these truths about Christ. He is probably correct that there are believers in many denominational bodies who believe those doctrines. However, Colson either ignores or is unaware of the history of the movement that calls itself "Fundamentalism." He completely ignores the militant aspect in Fundamentalism. He is widely divergent from Curtis Lee Laws' first definition of the term. Harold John Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry, Kenneth Kantzer, and others who split the New Evangelicalism out of the Fundamentalist movement of the 1940s would vigorously disagree with Colson on this point.36 They were frustrated with Fundamentalism because they disliked its separation.

We have looked at serious and thoughtful descriptions of Fundamentalism. The fact emerges that no serious student of the movement, regardless of his theological orientation, will agree with either Falwell or Colson. Those who have studied Fundamentalism universally describe a militant opposition in the movement to false doctrine and to apostate denial of the fundamentals of the faith. Fundamentalism is a doctrinal movement, but it is far more than that. These attempts to redefine or "dumb down" Fundamentalism fly in the face of history and the thoughtful analysis of many students, whether friend or foe of the movement.

Conclusion

Our conclusion in this chapter is quite simple. Liberals, New Evangelicals, and Fundamentalists alike find many common marks in the movement we call Fundamentalism. They almost universally identify Fundamentalism's beginning point as faith in the Bible as God's revealed Word. Militance in opposing religious liberalism (that movement that denies the divine inspiration, authority, and doctrines of the Bible) is a second distinguishing mark. Many writers see a resulting separation from unbelief as a trait that developed within Fundamentalism. Premillennialism and interdenominationalism were other features of this movement.

Ayer seems to have put the issue in perspective. He identifies Fundamentalism as an expression of apostolic Christianity. The rest of this book will turn to the Epistle of Jude. As we see Jude's description of Apostolic and New Testament-era Christianity, the parallels between first-century Christianity and twentieth-century Fundamentalism will amaze us.


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: www.bju.edu/store.)

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