What is Fundamentalism?


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

In our book club selection for this month, author and religious expert Phyllis Tickle describes the origins of Christian fundamentalism. On page 65 of The Great Emergence she writes:

Within twenty years [of 1874] the threat of evolution and the kind of biblical criticism and liberal theology it and other concomitant trends were seen as empowering had reached such a pitch that a series of Bible Conferences of Conservative Protestants were held at various sites in the United States. In 1895, the Conference of Conservative Protestants, meeting in Niagra Falls, issued a statement of five principles necessary to claim true Christian belief: the inerrancy of the Scriptures; the divinity of Jesus Christ; the historicity of the Virgin birth; the substitutionary nature of the Atonement; and the physical, corporeal return of Jesus, the Christ. Those five principles of doctrine would become ‘the Fundamentals.

The term fundamentalism evolved from there, and as we all know, has taken on an extremely negative connotation.  In my book, I describe a fundamentalist as being someone who holds nearly all of his or her beliefs about God to be fundamental and absolutely non-negotiable.  This results in a reactionary faith, one characterized by militant certainty and a fear of change.  One of the themes of my book is the importance of shedding away false fundamentals—as individuals and as a Church—so that our faith can survive changing environments.

My question for you today is this:  How do you define Christian fundamentalism? Is it simply belief in the five principles outlined by the Conservative Protestants, or has it evolved into something much different?  What do you think are the most fundamental elements of the Christian faith?  What do you think are some common “false fundamentals”? 

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