Fundamentalist Christianity

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Fundamentalist Christianity, or Christian Fundamentalism, in the scope of this particular article, refers to the movement within American Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by conservative evangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to modernism, actively affirmed a core set of Christian beliefs: namely, the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of his miracles. This core set of beliefs was the "line in the sand" drawn by conservative Christians as they battled against the rise of rationalism, higher biblical criticism, and Liberalism within Protestant denominations.

The nature of the Christian Fundamentalist movement, while originally a united effort within conservative evangelicalism, evolved during the early-to-mid 1900's to become more separatist in nature and more characteristically dispensational in its theology [See Brief History below].

The secular world's perception of "Fundamentalist" today is colored by a shift in meaning that arose during the 1980s. During the holding of a number of Americans hostage in Lebanon some members of the press began referring to the Islamic Hezbollah captors as "fundamentalists" and the term has increasingly come to have pejorative connotations of extremism, even terrorism.


Brief history

The term "fundamentalist", in the context of this article, derives from a series of (originally) twelve volumes entitled The Fundamentals. This publication outlined historic Christian theology in an attempt to stem the rising tide of theological liberalism in mainline denominations of the day. It was comprised of essays written by 64 British and American conservative Protestant theologians between 1910 and 1915.

Thanks to a $250,000 grant from Lyman Stewart, the head of the Union Oil Company of California, about three million sets of these books were distributed to ministers across the United States.

Important early Christian fundamentalists included Dwight L. Moody, William Jennings Bryan, John Nelson Darby, R.A. Torrey, James M. Gray, Cyrus I. Scofield, Lewis Sperry Chafer, B. B. Warfield, Carl McIntyre, and J. Gresham Machen.

Originally the term fundamentalist referred to all Protestants who held to biblical inerrancy. However, as the movement developed, dispensationalism and separatism began to overwhelmingly characterize the most popular leaders, which also had an effect on the way that Evangelicals as a whole are perceived by outside observers, and many evangelical, pentecostal, and charismatic have adopted dispensationalusm. Dispensationalism became so predominate in the movement that Fundamentalism has practically become identified with its theology, even though many of the first and most influential Fundamentalists, like B. B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen, were strongly opposed to dispensationalism.

Perhaps the modern dispensationalist with the greatest name-familiarity (though not a fundamentalist) is Tim LaHaye, co-author of the popular Left Behind series, and author of several non-fiction books about apocalyptic prophecy.


The original formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference (1878-1897) and in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which distilled these into what became known as the "five fundamentals"1 (

  • Inerrancy of the Scriptures
  • The virgin birth (or, alternatively, the deity) of Jesus
  • The doctrine of substitutionary atonement through God's grace and human faith
  • The bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The authenticity of Christ's miracles (or, alternatively, his premillenial second coming) 2 (

In particular, Fundamentalists reject the documentary hypothesis -- the theory held by higher biblical criticism that the Pentateuch was composed and shaped by many people over centuries. Fundamentalists continue to assert that Moses was the primary author of the first five books of the Old Testament. Some fundamentalists, on the other hand, may be willing to consider alternative authorship only where the Biblical text does not specify an author, insisting that books in which the author is identified must have been written by that author.

Fundamentalists differ from Pentecostals in their strong insistence upon "correct" doctrine and separatism (which often also divides fundamentalists from each other) as opposed to the experiential emphasis of Pentecostals.

Fundamentalists also criticize evangelicals for a lack of concern for doctrinal purity, and for a lack of discernment in ecumenical endeavors {working co-operatively with other Christians of differing doctrinal views}, especially with non-Christian religions. Evangelist Billy Graham came from a Fundamentalist background, but many Christian Fundamentalists repudiate him today because of his choice, early in his ministry, to co-operate with other Christians. He represents a movement that arose within Fundamentalism, but has increasingly become distinct from it, which Fundamentalists refer to, derisively, as Neo-evangelicalism.

Other beliefs

Fundamentalists usually subscribe to young earth creationism and universal flood geology. Some Fundamentalists view all modern versions of the Bible as corrupted and are thus referred to as the King-James-Only Movement.

Additionally, most Fundamentalists oppose human cloning, abortion, same-sex marriages, homosexuality, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research.

See also


  • Armstrong, Karen ‘The Battle for God’ Ballantine Books; 1 Ballanti edition (January 30, 2001).
  • Bebbington, David W. ‘Baptists and Fundamentalists in Inter-War Britain.’ In Keith Robbins, ed. Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America c.1750-c.1950. Studies in Church History subsidia 7, 297-326. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 1990.
  • Bebbington, David W. ‘Martyrs for the Truth: Fundamentalists in Britain.’ In Diana Wood, ed. Martyrs and Martyrologies, Studies in Church History Vol. 30, 417-451. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. 1993.
  • Barr, James. Fundamentalism. London: SCM Press, 1977.
  • Carpenter, Joel A. Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195129075, 1999.
  • Elliott, David R. ‘Knowing No Borders: Canadian Contributions to Fundamentalism.’ In George A. Rawlyk and Mark A. Noll, eds. Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States, 349-374. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1993.
  • Dollar, George W. A History of Fundamentalism in America. Greenville: Bob Jones University Press, 1973.
  • Harris, Harriet A. Fundamentalism and Evangelicals. Oxford: Oxford University, 1998.
  • Hart, D. G. ‘The Tie that Divides: Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism and the History of Twentieth-Century American Protestantism,’ Westminster Theological Journal 60 (1998): 85-107.
  • Longfield, Bradley J. The Presbyterian Controversy. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.
  • Marsden, George M. ‘Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon.’ In D. G. Hart, ed. Reckoning with the Past, 303-321. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1995
  • Marsden, George M. Fundamentalism and American Culture Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980
  • Marsden, George M. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN 0802805396, 1991
  • Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Eerdmans, 1992. (pages 311-389)
  • Russell, C. Allyn. Voices of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1976. Subscription access for this at
  • Rennie, Ian S. ‘Fundamentalism and the Varieties of North Atlantic Evangelicalism.’ In Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington and George A. Rawlyk eds. Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles and Beyond, 1700-1990, 333-364. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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