Christian Fundamentalism - then and now

It can be easy to critique past examples of Christian fundamentalism from our 21st Century perch upon which we view the past. And yes, while aspects of fundamentalism linger to varying degrees, they are often easily spotted - Westboro Baptist likely the most prominent extreme (and perhaps “extremist” is a better term for such groups). Most Christians can distance themselves from fundamentalists fairly easily.

I find it intriguing to observe the development and interplay of identity and culture, particularly in Christian groups. Fundamentalist Christians are often labeled as such due to their critical view of the world around them. As culture changes, however, one would expect the forms of fundamentalism to change as well. You’d think what was a cultural concern in the 1950’s would shift. But then I read this quote from the 1950’s and wonder if Christian fundamentalism has changed much at all:

“Fundamentalism is considered a summary term for theological pugnaciousness, ecumenic disruptiveness, cultural unprogressiveness, scientific obliviousness, and/or anti-intellectual inexcusableness...extreme dispensationalism, pulpit sensationalism, excessive emotionalism, social withdrawal and bawdy church music.”  (Carl Henry, quoted in Moral Minority by David R. Swartz)

Contemporary evangelicalism is diverse movement, and many evangelicals don’t fit the above description of fundamentalism. This is a good thing. Evangelicalism ≠ fundamentalism. But some evangelicals do still fit the above description, if not overtly, at the very least through a lingering distrust of the world around them wrought with aspects of the extremes in the quote above (including the music!).

As an evangelical Christian myself (of the Anabaptist variety), I’m wary of any association with fundamentalism. And so I think it’s prudent for evangelicals to maintain a historical and cultural awareness of Christian fundamentalism’s past and present varieties, and no doubt look in the mirror every once in awhile.


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