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The Oxford Handbook of Biblical Studies Provides a comprehensive survey of Biblical scholarship in a variety of disciplines.

Fundamentalism and the World

We have defined fundamentalism theologically and philosophically as biblical foundationalism. However, scholars have suggested a wide range of defining characteristics. Prominent among these are ‘militant separatism’ when discussing the Protestant context, and ‘political activism’ when comparing fundamentalisms across the world faiths. Separatism and activism are almost contrary characteristics: one is quietist, and the other engaged in its policies towards the outside world.

Militant Separatism

Historians of Protestant fundamentalism favour militant separatism as a defining feature of fundamentalism (see esp. Marsden 1980: 4, 102–3, 141, 164–70, 228). This is because of the divergence that developed between fundamentalists and evangelicals in the USA in the mid-twentieth century.

As the fundamentalist–modernist controversies dissipated in the 1920s, the more extreme fundamentalists left their denominations. This fragmented the fundamentalist movement. By the 1940s, a second generation of fundamentalists had grown up and were beginning to question key aspects of their heritage, notably the militant schismatic tendencies and the withdrawal from political and social responsibility. A group emerged who came to call themselves ‘the new evangelicals’. Billy Graham was their key evangelist, and Carl F. H. Henry and Bernard Ramm their leading theologians.

Over time, ‘new evangelical’ identity became simply ‘evangelical’ identity (Ockenga 1978). More militant conservatives retained the label ‘fundamentalist’. They kept themselves separate from non-believers and from other sorts of Christians. Bob Jones, for example, withdrew his support from his former student Billy Graham, when Graham began co-operating with a wide range of Christians in evangelistic rallies. Because Graham accepted sponsorship from people who were not ‘born-again’ and ‘Bible-believing’, Bob Jones senior questioned his very belief in the Bible as the Word of God:

I cannot see how Billy Graham says he believes the Bible is the Word of God (He knows that all we know about Jesus Christ, His Virgin Birth, His Incarnation, His vicarious blood atonement, His bodily resurrection, and His coming again, is what is clearly taught in the Word of God.) [sic] and can be sponsored by preachers who do not believe these fundamentals and give to these preachers the same recognition that he gives to God's faithful, sacrificing servants who refuse to compromise. (Jones 1957: 4)

For their part, the new evangelicals regarded themselves as fundamentalist in theology but not in their attitudes towards intellectual life or social responsibility. Carl Henry delivered one of the first and most direct self-criticisms of the fundamentalist position in his book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947). In it he sought to reassure readers that he was not abandoning a fundamentalist approach to Scripture:

[T]he ‘uneasy conscience’ of which I write is not one troubled about the great Biblical verities, which I consider the only outlook capable of resolving our problems, but rather one distressed by the frequent failure to apply them effectively to crucial problems confronting the modern mind. It is application of, not a revolt against, fundamentals of the faith, for which I plead. (Henry 1947: preface)

He continued to uphold a doctrine of inerrancy, and has been disappointed by the modifications to that doctrine made by his evangelical colleagues over the ensuing decades (Marsden 1987; Dorrien 1998).

Political Activism

In the 1970s a large number of self-proclaimed fundamentalists in the USA modified their separatist principles in order to contribute to the efforts of the newly emerging Christian Right. Older-style, separatist fundamentalists, such as the Bob Jones dynasty, are engaged in a long-standing feud with this newer politicized breed. Bob Jones senior called them ‘fudgymentalists’ for fudging the scriptural command to keep oneself separate:

Scripture clearly enjoins two sorts of separation…; (1) the ecclesiastical separation, which the ‘fudgymentalists’ ignore; and (2) personal separation from sin and the world, which they usually profess to follow. Both are enjoined by Scripture, and no man has a right to profess to obey one but to ignore the other. (Jones 1978)

Bob Jones III labelled Jerry Falwell's movement the Moral Majority ‘neo-fundamentalist’, meaning that it was a new and deviant form of fundamentalism that dirtied its hands by joining with ‘Catholics, Jews, Protestants of every stripe, Mormons, etc., in a common religious cause’ (Jones III 1980: 1).

Both old-style fundamentalists and the new, politicized fundamentalists claim Scripture as foundational for their attitudes towards politics and society. Old-style fundamentalists withdraw from political life out of the conviction that the Christian's duty is to save individual souls from sin, and that conversion of individuals is the remedy for an immoral society. Moreover, most separatist fundamentalists hold premillennialist convictions which de-motivate them politically. They expect the world to become a worse and worse place until Christ returns, and regard the immorality of the nation as a sign of the times.

Politicized fundamentalists, by contrast, treat Scripture as a source-book for political action. They seek to restructure society according to biblical principles. Pat Robertson, who superseded Falwell in Christian Right politics and founded the Christian Coalition, wrote in the early 1980s:

Once we perceive this secret [that the Bible is the Word of God], we realize anew that the Bible is not an impractical book of theology, but rather a practical book of life containing a system of thought and conduct that will guarantee success. And it will be true success, true happiness, true prosperity, not the fleeting, flash, inconsistent success the world usually settles for.

The Bible, quite bluntly, is a workable guidebook for politics, government, business, families, and all the affairs of mankind. (Robertson 1983: 44)

The Bible as textbook has been a favourite metaphor among fundamentalists and evangelicals, but it has classically been restricted to the theological application of Scripture (e.g. Lindsell 1976: 31; Manley 1925: 137; Stott 1996: 17). Robertson views the Bible as encyclopaedic in nature, offering guidance for virtually every aspect of life. This is a logical consequence of a doctrine of plenary verbal inspiration: that Scripture comprises inspired and therefore unerring statements, such that even its inferences and asides will provide at least some truths for almost every sort of theory-making enterprise (Clouser 1991: 94).

This encyclopaedic assumption extends the demands put on Scripture; that it be inerrant even in matters not directly pertaining to salvation. So Francis Schaeffer believed that scripture gives ‘affirmations about that in which science has an interest’ (Schaeffer 1975: 25), and Harold Lindsell claimed that ‘when the writers of Scripture spoke of matters embraced in [history, science and mathematics], they did not indite error’ (1976: 31). Such an outlook underlies fundamentalist educational policies. David Beck, professor of philosophy at Jerry Falwell's Liberty University, holds that a Christian institution gains its distinctiveness from ‘the inclusion of the propositions of Scripture within the hard data of its instructional content’ (1991: 15–16). He advocates incorporating the ‘data of Scripture’ (1991: 11) into the teaching of philosophy, literature, social and natural sciences, and even health and sports. It is therefore not surprising to find fundamentalists also looking to Scripture for guidance on how to run a country.

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