In this new century, we must distinguish between being fundamental and fundamentalist.
“I am fundamental but I am not a fundamentalist,” said James P. Boyce, the first president and founder of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky.
To be fundamental is to believe in and declare the fundamentals of the faith as stated clearly in the Apostles’ Creed. These fundamentals are embraced by evangelicals and define the content of our faith.
But today’s fundamentalism goes beyond these truths, making it more and more difficult to be fundamental without taking on the garments of fundamentalism.
For example, today the battle is not about the infallibility of the Bible. It is about the fundamentalist interpretation and appropriation of that Bible for a social and political agenda.
John Piper has summarized the fallacies of fundamentalism:
1. the absence of a historical perspective
2. the lack of appreciation for scholarship
3. the substitution of brief skeletal creeds or confessions for historic confessions
4. the lack of concern for precise formulation of Christian doctrine
5. the pietistic, perfectionist tendencies (legalism)
6. one-sided other-worldliness (i.e., a lack of effort to transform culture)
7. a penchant for futuristic chiliasm (pre-millenialism).
Add to this list control, a sense of superiority and arrogance, and one has defined fundamentalism in our day.
Fundamentalism has departed from the fundamentals. It indoctrinates rather than educates. It suppresses the pursuit of truth and substitutes a legalistic formula. It walks in conformity to a dogma that stifles healthy discussion and removes the grandeur of our Baptist heritage. It uses the Bible for ideological coercion.
Fundamentalism does not let the Bible speak as the living Word of God. As Jesus said to the Sadducees, “You are mistaken, not understanding the Scriptures or the power of God” (Mt 22:29).
Fundamentalism is not satisfied until it dominates every sphere of life. It can brook no rival nor tolerate any question that would threaten its position.
Many people in this fundamentalist crusade do not see themselves as disruptive or legalistic. They truly believe they are the “saviors” of Baptists.
May this much be clear: Baptists do not need saviors. We already have one. And it is by him that we must interpret and proclaim the Word of God. He is the criterion, standard and measure by which we must judge all things, live to the glory of God and embrace one another.
So, can you be fundamental without being a fundamentalist? Absolutely. Can you be radically in love with Christ without being legalistic? Absolutely. Can we walk together in unity without being uniform? Absolutely.
Jess Smith is pastor of Mount Zion Baptist Church, Huntsville, Ala.