What sources could one appeal to if trying to argue if a doctrine was or was not consistent with fundamentalism?

The question What is fundamentalism? identifies the historical source and some of the main characteristics of fundamentalism. I am more interested in the current usage of the word an identifying when to label something as fundamentalist and when to use a different label.

There seems to be a lot of overlap beftween the scope of fundamentalist and that of other labels. The media these days bandies the word around* in a way that is generally derogitory, but it isn't exactly clear why. Sometimes it seem to refer to a very specific group as if it were a denomination. Other times it seems to mean just a general theological bent. One minute it is used to pigeon hole far out groups like Westboro Baptist Church, other times it seems to encompass most of mainstream Christianity.

Hoes does this wide ranging usage affect how Christians use the word for themselves? Particularly among those who take this label on themselves, do they refer to any authority or standard in order to do so? Is there an official authority on when one is a fundamentalist and not just somebody who holds most of the same beliefs?

For example, in the Reformed tradition there are specific creeds such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, and identifying yourself as Reformed is commonly understood to that place you somewhere close to to these creeds. What sources would a fundamentalist turn to to show that their beliefs were or were not consistent with the way they label themselves?

* "Evangelical" and "conservative" are viable contenders in the race for meaningless labels.

  • 4
    Please reserve the answer space for serious answers. Jokes inspired by my very dubious question title should be contained to comments or taken to Christianity Chat.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 7:29
  • I recently heard a series of lectures on the history of Christianity in America, and the Scopes Monkey Trial was pointed to as the beginning of the Fundamentalists. The trial was a serious setback for conservative Christianity, which then tended to split into 2 (still conservative) groups: Fundamentalists, who chose separation from the world and were characterized by anti-intellectualism; and Evangelicals, who chose to engage with society and learn new ways to bring Christianity to them. The primary difference seemed to be their response to society and its teachings.
    – Matt White
    Oct 1, 2012 at 13:13
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    @MasonWheeler: I agree. Most people's ideas of "conservative" have no bearing on Christianity and it doesn't belong as a label for religious belief. I included it in that list because it gets missused quite a lot.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 17:50
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    ;) I like the edits. Just the idea of being able to cast 1 vtc on a question of yours made me smile. How can I undo my vtc, now that the issue has been resolved? Oct 1, 2012 at 18:36
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    A fundamentalist is anyone who takes the Bible more literally or seriously than I do ;)
    – Dan
    Dec 13, 2013 at 20:41

4 Answers 4


This is going to be a difficult, if not impossible question to answer to everyone's satisfaction for precisely the reason you say it should be defined. It's bandied about so much, not only by the press, but by just about everyone,that I doubt there is a universally accepted definition.

There are, however, certain characteristics that could be listed that Fundamentalists share in general. Even there, there is not universal agreement. Not all "fundamentalists" agree with all tenets, and plenty of those tenets are shared by those who would not identify themselves as Fundamentalists.

I don't think we can throw a list of absolutely unique individual fundamentalist beliefs, as most of the beliefs are shared with non fundamentalists.

Rather, Fundamentalism appears to being defined as a recognizable combination of beliefs and traits.

I wouldn't normally just throw a list out there without backup, but this is a unique question, and the format of the question does lend itself to just presenting a list of traits that can fill in that blank. So here goes:

  • Belief that the Bible is the divinely inspired, and therefore inerrant and infallible Word of God.
  • Belief in the doctrine of Sola Scriptura
  • A strong tendency toward Biblical Literalism
  • Reject the notion that fallible man has any authority over infallibe Scripture
  • Belief in salvation by grace through faith, and not of works. (Sola Fide)
  • Belief in a literal Hell
  • Evangelical in nature

The above three are held to to such a degree that we also, in general: (In other words, the following are not definitive Fundamentalist qualities, but rather commonly held, but not universal beliefs based on the above three qualities.)

  • Have a general disdain for any extra-Biblical teachings. We see them as man "adding to" the Scripture.
    • We don't discount all extra-Biblical teaching, however. If the teaching can be backed up by applying Biblical principles, as in it's implied by the Scriptures, or in line with the teachings, we will generally accept it, or at least not denounce it.

The following may or may not be as commonly held, but in my observation:

  • We have a tendency to be Creationists, and in particular young-earth Creationists. (Literal reading and rejection of fallible man's scientific understanding can override God's clear word. Yeah, that's been debated ad-nausem on the site, but I'm not defending it here, just listing it.)
    • We have a tendency to prefer traditional Hymns like "Amazing Grace", "How Great Thou Art" to more contemporary Christian music.
    • And in general we see "Christian Rock" as an oxymoron.
  • At least in the U.S.A., we tend to be conservative in our politics.
  • As a result of our belief in the strict interpretation of Scripture, the belief that Christ is the only way to avoid an eternity of suffering in Hell, we tend to come off as "pushy". We refuse to shut up and stop witnessing, and annoy our loved ones, relatives, friends, and total strangers in our attempt to get them to see their need for salvation.

    This earns us the labels as being pushy, rigid, legalistic, zealots, judgmental, and a whole host of synonyms. (Even though that's now how we see it.)

  • It kills me that I saw this just before I have to leave for work and don't have time to answer this better right now! Bah! Oct 1, 2012 at 12:15
  • This is a pretty good draft! If you get to revisit it I'd like to see the issues that are also common to non fundamentalists at least tagged but maybe even defined with local definitions. Your link to the related question of how does a fundamentalist see inerrant is great. By the same token, Sola Scriptura is hardly an identifying characteristic. Does it have a different shade of meaning inside the circle?
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 12:20
  • I was taking the time for one minor edit before rushing to work that addresses that question. Short answer, no. Same meaning. Oct 1, 2012 at 12:26

You might be a fundamentalist if …

… you're mean.

The term fundamentalist has a broader usage even beyond Christianity or even Theology in some circles. I've been hearing some people (tending towards the liberal end of the spectrum) trying to label Al Qaeda as Islamic fundamentalists. The not-so-transparent idea is that if terrorists are fundamentalists, then eventually people will associate fundamentalists with terrorists. Its already a perjorative, especially on the left.

Even John Piper and his followers have been quoted as saying "Evangelicals are really just nice fundamentalists"

… you're just a strong traditionalist.

It makes sense to label anybody who has a strict faith and a seeming intolerance for change as a fundamentalist. Fundamentally, the term originates from a movement called "The Fundamentals" whose sole purpose was to rollback the liberal critiques and scholarship of the late 1800s.

… you know who Francis Turretin is.

A belief in Biblical inerrancy, perspecuity, and sufficiency are all pretty much tied in with the connotation of fundamentalist. Grant you, these are techinical terms differentiating between certain theological points of view, but in the end, if you know who Turretin is, you're probably a fundamnetalist.

  • Way to match the meme!
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 15:26
  • Does that mean I'm "Fox-"worthy? Oct 1, 2012 at 15:29
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    [shakes head sadly] Punbelievable. Just...punbelievable. Oct 1, 2012 at 18:35

This is due to fundamentalist having acquired a notion for "a guy with all the right answers" amongst some groups. No one wants to be labelled as fraudulent.

My personal belief is that the labeling is misapplied by the media, Churches, and individuals.

I refer to the Dictionary:

often capitalized : a movement in 20th century Protestantism emphasizing the literally interpreted Bible as fundamental to Christian life and teaching.

Any Church that literally interprets the Bible is by definition a fundamentalist movement and/or Church.

  • This is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn't address any of my sub-questions or clear up the confusion.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 8:02
  • Updated answer. You are asking a dictionary question which makes it hard to answer thoroughly.
    – dongle26
    Oct 1, 2012 at 8:14
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    I'm actually looking for a lot more than a dictionary answer. It's a decent supplement, but is no authority on Christian affairs. Common usage is clearly scrambled enough that identifying to different usages would be useful. In fact to anybody with knowledge of hermeneutics, the phrase "literal interpretation" is itself very problematic and does not actually carry the kind of weight some people think it does. If that is the definition of fundamentalist, then the questions we have tagged fundamentalism are not focused enough.
    – Caleb
    Oct 1, 2012 at 8:19
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    Furthermore, beware of the etymological fallacy. The meanings of words can change.
    – TRiG
    Oct 1, 2012 at 12:50
  • @TRiG Then we need a new label.
    – dongle26
    Oct 1, 2012 at 20:09

I think because of Islamic terrorists being called 'fundamentalists' the term will eventually phase out among Christians, as fewer Christians will say 'I am a fundamentalists' as the media demonizes the term, more and more. The term probably has its original real meaning in the U.S. and that partially related to the conservative right in American politics. In this sense a fundamentalist is just an American evangelical who always votes conservative. (How they will vote with a Mormon running the conservative seat must be a real dilemma. I guess that virtually guarantees Obama will have a second term).

The reality is Evangelical and Fundamentalists have a huge overlap. They all believe in the inherency of scripture, salvation by faith, respect for the reformers, belief in a literal devil, new birth or personal conversion, belief in miracles, the virgin birth, resurrection, second coming of Christ, etc.

The difference in my view is that Fundamentalists, or the extreme right, will be less ecumenical than evangelicals and denounce sin more publicly. Possibly seem to cranky. Fundamentalists will seem more 'negative' as they have less patience for liberal movements such as feminism, gay rights, evolution or some guys new fancy view of the Bible, especially a new documentary on A&E that question traditional biblical views on the Bible. The man still more or less runs the family, women should not dress to sexy. Conservative views and values color theological application everywhere. Of course no abortion. Home schooling is probably more popular among the conservative right. People should not expect handouts if they are not willing to work hard! There is possibly a more stoic connotation among the far right. The subject of hell is more common among the fundamentalist, with an emphasis on its eternity and literal suffering. There is less patience for philosophy and hardly any interest in that at all. All of these conservative elements may be found among evangelicals, but it is more rigid on the far right.

The media often lumps evangelicals and fundamentalists together as 'just fundamentalists', as they do not see the slight differences that make fundamentalists proud to imagine themselves as more ruthlessly Cross-centered, and evangelicals proud to imagine themselves more loving and open-minded, they all just seem like pig-headed and stubborn Christians who take the Bible literally.

In the end, I do not think for the most part we can really distinguish between them, but those on the most conservative or liberal ends of the spectrum will probably disagree. Therefore there still is some meaning to the terms.

Personally I seem to fit the profile of fundamentalist in many ways, but I am not dispensational, love Christian Rap and Rock music and so I am probably somewhere in the overlap where evangelical meets fundamentalist and everything else is a blur.

  • (a) Please tidy up the to/too confusion. It makes this hard to read. (b) In what sense is evolution a "liberal movement"? Politics does not drive science. (Ideally, the other way round, but this sadly seems not to be the case.)
    – TRiG
    Oct 1, 2012 at 18:50
  • Islamic fundamentalists are terrorists because the Quran is a Book that encourages the murder of unbelievers if you interpret it literally. Christian fundamentalists interpret the Bible literally which does not encourage the murder of anyone. So fundamentalism should mean "to take literally" in which case both labels are correct.
    – dongle26
    Oct 1, 2012 at 20:14
  • @dongle26 - I do not disagree with you. I think there is nothing wrong with the term, or taking it to represent a valid biblical view, I just meant that it has more negative connotations in the world and the media than evangelical has. Fundamentalist in the media is usually is a buzz word for irrational extremest. But technically I think you are right, it just means taking the Bible for what it is by faith. In many cases it may even just mean being a Christian and the world considers that to be extreme and irrational.
    – Mike
    Oct 2, 2012 at 1:26
  • @TRiG - Evolution is generally considered liberal in that it is not conservative and traditional in thought and does not comply with biblical and traditional views. I am not saying 'it is liberal' I am saying it is usually seen as liberal by a fundamentalist. Mind you, I may not be a fundamentalists, but I do not believe in Evolution. Even as a non Christian I never believed in Evolution, I always considered it unscientific and irrational. I guess I am tipping more towards the fundamentalists again. Not sure what I am. Actually don't care.
    – Mike
    Oct 2, 2012 at 1:32

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