Many mean­ings of ‘fun­da­men­tal­ist’ la­bel

The Daily Observer - - NEWS - JOHN VAUDRY John Vaudry is the pas­tor of First Pres­by­te­rian Church in Pem­broke.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in rather a scorn­ful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean — nei­ther more nor less.” Lewis Car­roll, Alice in Won­der­land

We fre­quently hear the word ‘fun­da­men­tal­ist’ used to­day in ref­er­ence to one group or an­other. There is no ques­tion that it is mostly used pe­jo­ra­tively, that is, it isn’t meant to be a com­pli­ment! Many peo­ple use it rather loosely and ap­ply it to a wide va­ri­ety of peo­ple.

Thus, at one time it was a term that de­scribed cer­tain types of folk within the Chris­tian Church, but now it gets used as a la­bel for radical Is­lamic be­liev­ers (of­ten ter­ror­ists) as well, and to al­most any­one who has a strong be­lief in some­thing or takes a strict in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the mean­ing of some re­spected text or tra­di­tion, and seeks to pro­mote that be­lief with en­ergy and zeal.

So, these days, you might be called a Marx­ist fun­da­men­tal­ist if you hold to tra­di­tional Marx­ism, or a fun­da­men­tal­ist athe­ist if you dog­mat­i­cally and zeal­ously try to pro­mote the be­lief that there is no God. Maybe you could even be a fun­da­men­tal­ist Green, though I haven’t heard that one yet.

Where does this word come from and what did it mean orig­i­nally?

To an­swer that we have to go back to 1910 and two broth­ers, Mil­ton and Ly­man Ste­wart, who made a lot of money in the oil busi­ness in Cal­i­for­nia. Be­liev­ing that his­toric Chris­tian be­lief was un­der fire in their day, they fi­nanced the dis­tri­bu­tion of a set of book­lets de­fend­ing the tra­di­tional Chris­tian Faith to all Protes­tant clergy in North Amer­ica. These book­lets were en­ti­tled The Fun­da­men­tals.

This se­ries of book­lets con­tained ar­ti­cles on a va­ri­ety of top­ics by min­is­ters and lay­men of dif­fer­ent de­nom­i­na­tions in the English-speak­ing world, in­clud­ing six from Canada. Canon Dyson Hague, who later taught at Wy­cliffe Col­lege in Toronto, rep­re­sented the Angli­cans along with W. H. Grif­fith Thomas and G. Os­borne Troop; E. J. Stobo, a Bap­tist from Smith Falls, wrote on St. Paul; Pres­by­te­rian John McNi­col con­tributed; and a piece by Wil­liam Caven of Knox Col­lege on `The Tes­ti­mony of Christ to the Old Tes­ta­ment`` was in­cluded posthu­mously.

The Fun­da­men­tals was un­even in qual­ity. Some of the ar­ti­cles were of high cal­i­bre and some were more medi­ocre. But it was far from a mere rant, with a num­ber of the ar­ti­cles be­ing writ­ten by lead­ing the­olo­gians like James Orr of Glas­gow and B. B. Warfield of Prince­ton.

A bit later, some in the churches be­gan to stress five fun­da­men­tal or ba­sic teach­ings over against the mod­ernists or lib­er­als of the time. These doc­trines were: the vir­gin birth and de­ity of Christ, the in­spi­ra­tion and in­fal­li­bil­ity of the Bi­ble, the cross as an atone­ment for sin, the bod­ily res­ur­rec­tion of Christ, and the sec­ond com­ing of Je­sus.

The ac­tual word `fun­da­men­tal­ist` was coined in 1920 by a Bap­tist editor, and was ap­plied to the­o­log­i­cal con­ser­va­tives. It even­tu­ally came to be used in a neg­a­tive sense as a la­bel for those who were of­ten per­ceived to be closed-minded and an­tag­o­nis­tic to mod­ern cul­ture. Some of these folk could be ex­tremely mil­i­tant and were pretty good at name-call­ing them­selves, which prompted fa­mous preacher G. Campbell Morgan to re­mark, `Whereas, in many ways I agree with their the­o­log­i­cal po­si­tion I abom­i­nate their spirit.`

When I was grow­ing up, `fun­da­men­tal­ist`was a put-down used to re­fer to those who were more tra­di­tional than the per­son do­ing the la­belling!

To­day, in Protes­tant cir­cles, those who up­hold the his­toric Faith, stress­ing the au­thor­ity of the Bi­ble and sal­va­tion by faith in Je­sus Christ, tend to call them­selves `con­ser­va­tive evan­gel­i­cals.`A sub-set these days still likes the name `fun­da­men­tal­ist.` This group usu­ally also prefers the King James Ver­sion of the Bi­ble, be­lieves that Christ`s re­turn will be­gin a thou­sand-year reign in Jerusalem (the `mil­len­nium`) and stresses sep­a­ra­tion from all who do not hold their pre­cise be­liefs.

More lib­eral peo­ple in the Church tend to lump the above two groups to­gether and brand them all ‘fun­da­men­tal­ists.’

And now the mean­ing of the word has been so ex­tended that we even have Mus­lim fun­da­men­tal­ists, mean­ing those who hold a strict un­der­stand­ing of the Qu’ran and the tra­di­tions of Is­lam.

Ev­ery Chris­tian ought to be­lieve the fun­da­men­tals or ba­sics of the Chris­tian Faith and I would be proud to be as­so­ci­ated with the orig­i­nal au­thors of The Fun­da­men­tals. But if some­one calls you a fun­da­men­tal­ist, ask them what they mean by the word. They may have in mind a stereo­type that doesn’t fit. Chris­tians come in dif­fer­ent stripes, so rather than just la­belling others (who­ever they may be) in or­der to dis­miss them out of hand, let’s try to un­der­stand what they re­ally be­lieve and why.

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