What is a Fundamentalist Christian?

What is a Fundamentalist Christian? April 20, 2012

The word fundamentalist gets thrown around a lot in reference to certain types Christianity. Most of the Christians who are called fundamentalists by the media would never refer to themselves as such. Now the word has gained such pejorative connotations, I doubt many people would claim it for themselves.

I am happy to use it here because when I was a Christian, I called myself a fundamentalist. Even then, it was not in common usage among the Christians I knew. I don’t recall seeing the term in any Accelerated Christian Education texts. I first saw it in Frank Peretti’s novel This Present Darkness, where the hero is approvingly described as a fundamentalist pastor. Since I agreed with the important points of that book, I guessed I was one too; I was about 11 when I read it.

When I left my fundamentalist school for an effectively secular one, I started seeing the term in Religious Studies textbooks. On each matter of belief or morality, they gave the Catholic response, the Anglican response, and the Fundamentalist response. I invariably agreed with the Fundamentalist position, so I began to think of myself that way.

I only ever heard the term used in church once, by a guy who said that God was “calling us to be fundamentalists.” I think this was after 9/11, which certainly puts a frisson on things. [Side note: this man later left his wife for the teenage friend of one of the girls in his Sunday School class. He put the “fun” in “fundamentalist.”]

Strictly speaking, Fundamentalism refers to a specific strand of conservative Protestantism, usually Baptist. The Wikipedia page is fairly informative on this, although if you really want insight into doctrinal conflict, you should read the disputes in the Talk page.

In this website, I will use the term fundamentalist as I believe it will be understood by the majority of my readers, to refer to Christians who believe the Bible is literally true in its entirety. As a rule, that’s any church whose statement of faith claims the inerrancy and/or infallibility of the Bible.


For the purposes of this site: Any Christian who believes the Bible literally,* in its entirety, and that it is without contradictions, will be called a fundamentalist.

*[Apart from the bits of Bible which are meant to be metaphorical. Of course, not everyone can agree on what those bits are…]

In practice, this refers to most Baptists, Pentecostals, Charismatics, evangelicals, and Word of Faith members, even though their actual beliefs may differ quite a lot. I had dealings with all of them in my fundamentalist childhood. Baptists generally think the Word of Faith gang are outright heretics. Many Charismatics are sympathetic to the Word of Faith, but plenty of them are critical of it. As a Word of Faith member, I viewed Baptists as having an inferior version of Christianity. As you can see, there’s a lot of fun to be had here.

Still, there are important points (the fundamentals, one might say) where all these people generally agree. Some are obvious, and some are surprising.

Eleven Things Fundamentalists Tend to Agree On

1) Creationism (although not necessarily Young Earth Creationism; some, for example, think the days in Genesis may not have been literal 24-hour periods)

2) Corporal punishment of children is Very Important.

3) Salvation through grace alone, so Catholics are at best wasting their time Hailing Mary, and at worst not even going to heaven.

4) Jesus is the only way to God and heaven; all other religions are false and inspired by the devil (who literally exists). Their followers will go to hell (which is a real place).

5) The Virgin Birth really happened, as did the physical (not just spiritual) resurrection of Jesus.

6) Abortion is always murder.

7) Wives should submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22).

8) Right-wing political views (Pat Robertson is associated with the Word of Faith, but plenty of Baptists supported his run for the Republican presidential nomination).

9) Jesus is coming back very soon (most believe that true Christians – ie fundamentalists – will suddenly disappear at the Rapture).

10) The Noah’s Ark story is a matter of accurate historical record.

11) Sex outside of marriage is Bad.

Welcome to Biblical Literalism, where everyone is wrong except you.

Postscript, 11th May 2012

Following the discussion in the comments, it’s perhaps worth clarifying that what I am calling Biblical literalism is more commonly called inerrancy. The problem here is that people take “inerrancy” to mean different things. Some Christians treat large swathes of scripture as myth or metaphor, but would still say the Bible is inerrant. They might say that Genesis 1 is poetry, but it’s not an error, because it’s meant to be that way. Generally speaking, fundamentalists aren’t much for textual criticism and tend to take everything at its most face-value interpretation.

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