Had a fascinating conversation with a good friend last night. We were discussing a grouping of Christians known to both of us and my friend commented that they “were getting very fundamentalist”.
And I started to think – that’s a word that’s had it’s meaning completely changed from what it used to be. When the term was originally coined, by Packer in the 50’s in his seminal work Fundamentalism and the Word of God, it referred to normal evangelicalism. The sort of thing that many of you would subscribe to. Essentially, the basis of Fundamentalism was the authority of scripture and a fundamentalist was simply someone who held to certain fundamentals. In that respect we are all fundamentalists. We all hold certain things as axiomatic and build up our view upon those bases.
But now, the word means something different.
According to MerriamWebster online it means:
Main Entry: fun·da·men·tal·ism
1 a often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching b : the beliefs of this movement c : adherence to such beliefs
2 : a movement or attitude stressing strict and literal adherence to a set of basic principles
– fun·da·men·tal·ist /-t&l-ist/ noun
– fundamentalist or fun·da·men·tal·is·tic /-"men-t&l-'is-tik/ adjective
so why is the common usage not this meaning? Why is it that when we say “fundamentalist” we actually mean “bigotted”? We speak of fundamentalists with disdain when the word really means “principled”.
Now, I’m not say that my friend’s comments weren’t correct – he had accurately (at least in part) described what he saw but the word that he used to describe his observation is a word that has been hijacked. It used to be a word that I would have been proud to have been associated with. Now I find myself worried by it.
Same with the word “evangelical”. It used to mean much the same as “fundamentalist”. But now it’s been hijacked. Everyone hangs their hat on the evangelical peg. They claim some allegiance to scripture and demad the right to use the term but then hold to views that are so clearly contrary to scripture that one wonders how they have the audacity.
On that subject, this great article by Mark Thompson on the future of evangelicalism is well worth a read.
So where does it leave me? I want to be known as a fundamentalist but I don’t want to be known as a fundamentalist.
I want to be known as an evangelical but I have to call myself a “conservative” evangelical. What happened? The word “evangelical” used to tell people that we were conservative.