What is a Fundamentalist?
There honestly may not be a more controversial term in Christianity today than "Fundamentalist". It is a word that has undergone a vast change in meaning and connotation in the past few decades.
The word "fundamental" means "foundational". When applied to Christian doctrine, it describes the core beliefs that are essential to true Christianity. The term "Fundmentalist" was probably first used in 1920 by Curtis Lee Laws in an article in the Baptist Watchman-Examiner. The term "Fundamental"'s most famous early association, however, is in connection with The Fundamentals, a series of books produced around 1910. This work was a compilation of articles and sermons by many different men exposing and combating modernist views that had crept into mainstream Christianity. Some of the more famous names associated with this endeavor includes R.A.Torrey, A.C. Dixon, B.B. Warfield, James Orr, James Gray, A.T. Pierson, and J.C. Ryle.
The Fundamentals did not attempt to define a clear list of Fundamental doctrines. In fact, there really isn't an authoratative list in existance. A simple list that I have compiled is:
- The Trinity - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
- Plenary, Verbal Inspiration and Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- Incarnation, Virgin Birth, Deity, Humanity, Sinless Life, Death, Burial, Resurrection, Substitutionary Death, and Second Coming of Christ
- Salvation by Grace through Faith
- Reality of Heaven and Hell
Fundamentalism has changeg quite a bit since those early battles. Today, a Fundamentalist is though of in more "social" terms than in religious terms. A Fundamentalist is thought of being a backwards hick who thinks the Neil Armstrong never set foot on the moon, that credit cards are Satanic, and that anything other than bluegrass music is evil. This description is so far off base from what historical Fundamentalism is.
The original Fundamentalists were men of varied denominations who sought to preserve and defend historic Christianity from an onslught of criticism and revision. These men did so through writing, debating, and preaching. They never sought to form a new denomination in their labors, just to preserve their own.
As far as I can tell, few of these early leaders were Baptists. A major reason for this is because Baptists have proven to be largely immune to the prevailing winds of modernist thought. Also, a Baptist's general tendency toward independence of thought and practice did little to propagate these new teachings. However, Baptists did rise up to carry the banner of Fundamentalism. Three very influential Baptists were W.B. Riley, T.T. Shields, and J. Frank Norris.
Although the media often uses the term in describing Christians, there are few Christian groups who claim the name Fundamentalist. Much of this is due to the general acceptance of the teachings Fundamentalists fought against, and much also is due to the fact that most people don't want to be branded as with what is seen as a derogatory term.