An improper use of the term fundamentalism will create a false narrative that anyone who is opposed to critical race theory, intersectionality, or views Marxism as a threat to the church is merely an unlearned and overzealous right-winged Christian Nationalist who gleans theology from Tucker Carlson rather than Jesus Christ.
The way in which we use words matters. For instance, when we look at the way words morph in the sense of cultural usage, such etymology is indicative of the difficulty to anchor word meaning and word usage. That’s why it’s essential to study words when studying the Bible to understand how those words were being employed in the specific era and context of that biblical text.
In recent days, there has been a resurgence of the word fundamentalism or fundamentalist in blogs and social media as a means of describing or labeling people who oppose social justice or the whole deconstructive agenda within evangelicalism. Some voices are attempting to marginalize people by using the “F” word as a pejorative. David French, in an article that described the 2021 annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention referred to a specific group of conservatives as “fundamentalist pirates.” He also used the language of “toxic fundamentalism.” In a similar vein, Thomas S. Kidd writing for The Gospel Coalition concludes:
And our current problems reflect yet another instance of people in churches being discipled far more by cable news and social media than by the church. The “spirit” of fundamentalism tells us that no difference, politically or theologically, is tolerable, and that our enemies must be destroyed. The spirit of Christ offers a better way: robust truth and robust kindness.
If such voices are left unchecked, it will mainstream the narrative that such groups are irrelevant or irrational in our present era of church history. An improper use of the term fundamentalism will create a false narrative that anyone who is opposed to critical race theory, intersectionality, or views Marxism as a threat to the church is merely an unlearned and overzealous right-winged Christian Nationalist who gleans theology from Tucker Carlson rather than Jesus Christ.
In short, it’s a smear campaign used as a power-grab agenda in order to control the narrative and retain power in specific circles of evangelicalism. To be clear, such a narrative will never win the day. Truth will prevail.
Fundamentalism was originally a term that described men who held to the fundamentals of the faith and opposed the modernist movement that attacked holy Scripture. When the tsunami of German higher criticism swept through the church, a band of scholars took up their swords for war. They sought to prove that modernism and Biblical Christianity were not in the slightest means compatible. This historic stand was viewed as the fruit of the Reformation, and men like J. Gresham Machen (the New Testament scholar) were men who became known as fundamentalists. To be clear, Machen didn’t embrace the title “fundamentalist” in the fullest sense. He explained:
Thoroughly consistent Christianity, to my mind, is found only in the Reformed or Calvinist Faith; and consistent Christianity, I think, is the Christianity easiest to defend. Hence I never call myself a “Fundamentalist”…what I prefer to call my self is not a “Fundamentalist” but a “Calvinist”—that is, an adherent of the Reformed Faith. As such I regard myself as standing in the great central current of the Church’s life—the current that flows down from the Word of God through Augustine and Calvin, and which has found noteworthy expression in America in the great tradition represented by Charles Hodge and Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield and the other representatives of the “Princeton School.”1
Although he attempted to define his positions apart from the fundamentalist movement, Machen is remembered historically as a fundamentalist for his valiant stand for truth. Over time the very term “fundamentalism” morphed into a banner for legalism rather than a banner of truth, and still to this day if you call someone a fundamentalist—it’s likely used as a term of derision rather than a compliment, much like the word Pharisee moved from a title of respect to a banner of legalism.