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Life

November 29, 2013

GLOBAL FAITHS: A look at fundamentalism

From 1987 to 1995 the American Academy of Arts and Sciences sponsored a study called “The Fundamentalism Project.” It was directed by Martin E. Marty, noted professor of American religious history at the University of Chicago, and R. Scott Appleby, professor of history at the University of Notre Dame. These two scholars edited the five volumes published by the University of Chicago Press that gathered up the project’s findings.

The term fundamentalism itself arose in American Protestantism in the last part of the 1800s and in the early 1900s when Christians attending some Niagara Bible Conferences thought the Christian faith was getting subverted by people they called “modernists.” They identified articles of faith they considered non-negotiable “fundamentals” of the faith. These basic beliefs were spelled out in 1910 in a series of ten small books called “The Fundamentals,” and thousands of copies of these books were circulated among American ministers thanks to financial support from a couple of California oil men.

The five fundamentals identified by this early 1900’s movement were biblical inerrancy, the virgin birth of Jesus, the substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the historical reality of the miracles of Jesus.

Though starting with positive affirmations, fundamentalists got negative. As one Baptist editor said, they were “ready to do battle royal for the fundamentals.” It wasn’t long before some former fundamentalists became unhappy with the term and decided to call themselves “evangelical.” One of them, the late Edward Carnell, for a time President of Fuller Theological Seminary, wrote in A Handbook of Christian Theology, “Fundamentalism ... sees the heresy in untruth but not in unloveliness. If it has the most truth, it has the least grace, since it distrusts courtesy and diplomacy. Fundamentalism forgets that orthodox truth without orthodox love profits nothing. The more it departs from the gentle ways of Jesus Christ, the more it drives urbane people from the fold of orthodoxy.”

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