The Good and the Bad of Christian Fundamentalism

Contributing Writer
The Good and the Bad of Christian Fundamentalism

Christian Fundamentalism. When you hear these words, I am sure different thoughts go through your mind. Some are probably good, and some are probably bad, all depending on your perspective. That is what you should expect, because both realities are true about Christian Fundamentalism.

My goal today is to give you some things you should know about Christian Fundamentalism, and regardless of how you feel about it, to show you what is far more important.

What Is Christian Fundamentalism?

Fundamentalism is a strict loyalty to the essential doctrines of any subject or discipline, and this is true of Christian Fundamentalism. A person who identifies as a Christian Fundamentalist is making a commitment to adhere to the core doctrines that are essential to Christianity. That sounds good in theory, but I told you there were good and bad things to know about Christian Fundamentalism, so let’s start with the good.  

2 Good Things to Know about Christian Fundamentalism

1. Christian Fundamentalism Is Built on a Solid Foundation 

There are five tenets that are core to anyone who holds to Christian Fundamentalism. 

- A literal interpretation of the Bible that is coupled with the belief of the complete inerrancy of the Scriptures. The Bible is true as we have received it, inspired by God, historically accurate, and free from error or contradiction.

- The virgin birth of Jesus Christ. Fundamentalists believe Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, without human intervention, and was born of the virgin Mary. Because he was born of a woman yet conceived by the Holy Spirit, this made him fully human and fully divine. Jesus was God in human flesh.

- The necessity of the substitutionary atonement of Jesus Christ on the cross as the only means of salvation. For anyone to obtain salvation, it can only be done by God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. His death paid for the sins of humanity and provided a way of redemption back to the Father.
The physical and bodily resurrection of Jesus. Though Jesus died, three days after his death he rose from the grave. Many were eyewitnesses to the fact of his resurrection. He eventually returned to heaven and now sits at the right hand of God the Father.
- The reality of all of Jesus’ miracles we find in the Bible and the belief in his literal, physical second coming and return to the earth, which takes places before his millennial reign on the earth.

2. Christian Fundamentalism Was a Response to Changing Cultural Ideas

Christian Fundamentalism began as a movement in the 1800’s as a response to theological modernism. The ideas of modernism challenged many of the traditional doctrines that are core to the Christian faith. Some of the modernist ideas being introduced included challenging the age of the earth and the human species, theories surrounding evolution, and a movement away from individual salvation and conversion to a more social gospel that emphasizes radical social change. Social change was the gateway to building God’s kingdom on the earth.

These new modern ideas also led to a critical analysis of Scripture, leading some to question its authority, its inerrancy, and its historical accuracy.

In response, the founders birthed Christian Fundamentalism to combat these modernist ideas, which were not just infiltrating the society but also infiltrating the church. The goal of the movement was to bring people back – especially those in the church – to the correct understanding of Scripture and the role it should play in shaping what we believe.

Two Not So Good Things to Know about Christian Fundamentalism

1. Christian Fundamentalism Sometimes Has a Poor Reputation 

As a Christian, when you read the tenets that are core to Christian Fundamentalism, you are probably thinking what is wrong with these tenets? The answer is nothing. These tenets are core to the Christian faith and most people who profess to be Christians would agree with them. The only one where there may be room for debate is the last one, because there are differing opinions to when Christ will return. 

I would also add that everything in the Bible is not meant to be taken literally because there are some things that are symbolic in nature. For example, Jesus said if your right eye causes you to sin, cut it out (Matt. 5:29). Obviously, he didn’t mean to literally cut your eye out. So while Scripture is inerrant, we must recognize everything is not always literal.

If the core beliefs are good and agreeable to most Christians, then why does Christian fundamentalism seem to have a poor reputation? The simple answer is to just blame the media for painting anything related to Christ or Christianity as bad. While that may be part of it, that is not all of it. Unfortunately, those who hold to these ideals have not always done a good job of living up to them, so we who carry the name of Christ must shoulder some of the blame.

2. Christian Fundamentalism Has Not Always Represented Christ Well

Here is one example which highlights where Christian Fundamentalism has not represented Christ well. Consider the story of Bob Jones University. Bob Jones was a noted Christian Fundamentalist who founded his college in 1926 in Panama City, Florida. While it may be commendable to have a Christian college or university, it is hard to call it Christian when you hold on to ideals that don’t identify with Christ. Bob Jones University was a segregated university and did not allow blacks into the university until the 1970’s. Even after that, they did not allow interracial dating until the 2000’s. Here is a quote on the issue from Jonathan Pait, a spokesperson for the school:

“God has separated people for his own purposes. He has erected barriers between the nations, not only land and sea barriers, but also ethnic, cultural, and language barriers. God has made people different from one another and intends those differences to remain. Bob Jones University is opposed to intermarriage of the races because it breaks down the barriers God has established.”

Obviously this flies in the face of Scripture, which teaches there is one body and in Christ all ethnic divisions are put aside. I know this may be an extreme example, and thankfully the university has changed this policy, but it is situations like these that have often been connected to Christian Fundamentalism.

Should Christians Today Adhere to Christian Fundamentalism?

When you gather all the things to know about Christian Fundamentalism, a very logical question arises. Should Christians adhere to Christian Fundamentalism today? The answer to that question is yes, but there is a caveat.

When you think of the doctrinal positions of Christian Fundamentalism, these are positions we should hold on to. Holding dear to the authority of Scripture, who Christ is, and his atonement for salvation are positions we cannot afford to let go. However, we must do more than just believe the truth, we must live the truth. When all we do is believe these positions, but don’t live them out, then we become nothing more than modern day Pharisees and teachers of the law. Here is what Jesus said about them.

“Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: ‘The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must be careful to do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach’” (Matthew 23:1-3).

What is far more important for us is to live right and not just believe right. That is why Jesus calls us to be salt and light. Salt preserves the way, which is akin to believing right. However, light shows the way, which is akin to living right. If Christian Fundamentalism is just a set of beliefs, then it will have no impact. When Christian Fundamentalism becomes how we live, then we will make a difference. 


I want to leave you with one thought which sums up the matter. Here are the words of Jesus.

“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:13-16).

You should only want to be labeled a Christian Fundamentalist if it means you love like Christ, you act like Christ, and you let his light shine through you. Let's not just be fundamental in words, but fundamental in actions. When we do this, we will bring honor and glory to the name of Jesus and shine a light for all the world to see.  

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Brian A Jackson

Clarence Haynes 1200x1200Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club.  He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit