On Calling Oneself a “Fundamentalist”

Let me be frank; my goal in this post is to inform you that “fundamentalist” and “fundamentalism” are pejorative terms and connote things with which I hope many of us would not want to associate. Therefore, to those whom it applies, unless you want to associate with the things these terms connote, at best I would like to convince you to stop calling yourself a fundamentalist; at minimum I’d like you to at least realize what your doing if you choose to call yourself a “fundamentalist.”


But let’s start out by getting a few things straight.

First, some of you reading this will find what I’m about to say quite obvious, so obvious that you’ll be taken back that I am even addressing this. You may even look down on me for writing this post because in so doing I am seemingly acknowledging that I have some sort of connection with individuals who call themselves fundamentalists (why else would I bother to write this?). If this is you, I just ask that you try to be understanding.

Second, in writing this post I fully realize I’m going to offend some people. Let me assure you, this is not my goal or intention; but I write this post knowing thats it’s going to happen (and apparently I’m okay with that). So, let me make it clear that I’m not intentionally trying to be offensive. Nonethless, the content of what I am about to say or show you (i.e., the audio below) will offend some. But sometimes one of the kindest things you can do is inform someone that their pant zipper is down or that they have a piece of spinach between their teeth. I guess you could say, friends don’t let friends call themselves fundamentalists. … Hello, friend.

D.A. Carson

Now, what Carson says in this clip I’ve been saying for years. So, I’m not presenting anything new. I guess my hope in sharing this audio is to demonstrate that this isn’t just my opinion; as you’ll see, Dr. Carson affirms what I’m saying as well. And in case you think the two of us are just in a fog, I would add that my experience both growing up in evangelicalism (generally) and currently attending Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, a self-proclaimed “broadly evangelical” seminary, affirms that this perspective is quite the consensus outside of self-proclaimed fundamentalism. In other words, we’re not alone. What Carson says (and what I’m saying) is not some pessimistic marginal minority view. … I suppose you can watch the news and see for yourself.

Original link now void.

Now some of you, having heard that, are surely offended and maybe even mad. Let me assure you, if you call yourself a fundamentalist but don’t fit that description, Carson is not saying that everyone who calls themselves a fundamentalist is characterized by these things. He’s saying that these things characterize what people think of when they think of a fundamentalist. From his perspective, people who don’t fit this description would obviously not call themselves a fundamentalist. So, don’t take his words as a personal assault or something.

A Totaled Vehicle

Let me end with an illustration I’ve used many times before.

The term “fundamentalism” is like a vehicle that over time, much wear and tear, and several minor accidents has met the “end of the road” (no pun intended). It’s undrivable. It’s unrepairable. It’s totaled.

Now when you have a totaled vehicle, as long as you intend to keep on driving, you don’t insist on sitting in your totaled vehicle pretending like it’s as good as new; you buy a new car (given your finacial capability of purchaisng one). Now, buying a new vehicle doesn’t imply that your previous vehicle wasn’t a fantastic car in its day. Maybe it was! Maybe it was the best thing on the block. But, it’s just not what it used to be. Neither does buying a new car mean that you’re compromising and giving up driving altogether (my analogy is breaking down). You’re just moving on and buying a new car that can actually get you where you need to go.

A similar thing has occurred with the term “fundamentalism.” Unless one has grown up in fundamentalism and is still heavily engulfed in its culture, when one hears or uses the word “fundamentalism,” it doesn’t mean what it use to. Further, it connotes things it didn’t connote originally. Being called a fundamentalist is not a good thing anymore. It’s become a pejorative term. And I’m not talking about being a so called “man-fearer” and compromising when our culture finds genuine Biblical truths to be offensive. Not at all! I’m saying “fundamentalism” has come to mean things with which I hope most of us would not want to be described.

I realize that for some people, “fundamentalist” is still good description. Some people genuinely fit the bill (e.g., Westboro Baptist Church or the Hyles-Anderson type churches). If that’s you, then I guess this post isn’t for you. But for those of you who don’t fall within these ranks and yet still call themselves fundamentalists, I ask you to reconsider.

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