Disclaimer - I'm not saying that you have to be a fundamentalist to be a Christian. I'm simply explaining the Fundamentalist perspective on this issue. it's likely to offend someone. That's not my intent.
Biblical Literalism, from a Fundamentalist perspective dies not mean hyper-literalism. Instead, we tend toward historical-grammatical method of interpretation, which provides guidelines for determining what content is to be taken literally, and where a non-literal interpretation is warranted. Teaching the Word Ministries gives a fairly good set of principles and rules behind the historical-grammatical method. Rather than quoting directly, I'll summarize:
- Because the Bible is inspired, it is inerrant, infallible, and authoritative. No word of fallible man can stand in authority over Scripture.
- Scripture is intelligible. God meant for us to understand it.
- Because it is infallible, the Bible is internally consistent. it can't contradict itself.
- Because God meant to communicate truth, and because Scripture is internally consistent, the words of Scripture have only one meaning in context. There may be multiple legitimate applications of a passage of Scripture, but a passage has only one meaning in context. This is what it means to interpret Scripture according to its literal, or normal, sense.
- We are to employ passages in Scripture that are more clear on a particular subject to interpret those that are less clear, never vice-versa.
- Remember that the Bible we are using is a translation, and inerrancy is not applicable, except to the extent that it has been transmitted accurately through time. Therefore, it is important for ministers of the church to examine the words of Scripture in the original languages (Hebrew and Greek) and in their historical and cultural setting in order to accurately understand their meaning in context and to properly translate them into other languages, thus accurately communicating God's truth
- Extra-Biblical resources, such as language helps, commentaries, the writings of the so-called church fathers, and archaeological and scientific evidences, can be useful resources in correctly interpreting Scripture. But since they are the words and works of fallible men they are not authoritative.
Dr. David L. Cooper, the founder of The Biblical Research Society out it much more simply. Dr. Cooper is known for his “Golden Rule of Interpretation” which is as follows:
When the plain sense of Scripture makes common sense,seek no other
Therefore, take every word at its primary, ordinary, usual, literal
meaning unless the facts of the immediate context, studied in the
light of related passages and axiomatic and fundamental truths
indicate clearly otherwise.
So, from this quote, from Dr. Cooper's perspective, we see that we are to take Scripture at face value (literally) unless...
- The immediate context makes it clear that the passage is not to be taken literally.
- Related passages, the literal sense does not make sense
- The literal sense of the passage would contradict axiomatic, fundamental truths.
A shortened version, which I've heard far more often goes like this:
If the plain sense makes good sense seek no other sense lest it result
For Fundamentalists, this is a core doctrine. It's as central to the Fundamentalist view as the doctrines of Biblical Inerrancy and Infallibility, and Divine Inspiration.
To the fundamentalist, to stray from the rules of sound Scripture interpretation is to stray into pure conjecture, in which we can make up anything we want about God, rather than worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth. We can make up a god to suit ourselves (which is also known as idolatry.)
We want a God that says it's OK to lie? That's OK. We can take that as an allegory. We want a God that allows disobedience to parents? We want a religion that teaches there are "many ways to Heaven"? No problem. Those are just allegorical statements. God didn't Mean those things...
Man is fallible. Even those in charge of our Churches are fallible. Therefore, teachings and traditions can be erroneous, and outright blasphemous. Only God's Word is infallible. Put simply, from a Fundamentalist perspective, the disciplined, literal approach to interpretation of Scripture is the only approach that safeguards us from straying into error.