Fundamentalism currently has a bad name. I see two reasons for this. Firstly, no one can define what the term objectively means. So you hear people call a militant Islamic group, like ISIS, fundamental.
This is because they believe (and act) on their gnostic version of Islam and are (correctly) seen as extreme. Extreme is, therefore, grouped synonymously with fundamentalism.
The problem comes when people apply this logic, incorrectly, to anyone that believes in something with conviction. For example, a Christian that believes Jesus' words "to follow Him." Are they also fundamental / extreme? These two examples get defined as "fundamentalism"
Secondly, in a culture that believes in everything, to then believe in something specific is seen as extreme. Let me unpack that: Many people think it is okay to believe in god or gods or God, perhaps even Jesus as God. But many would see an exclusive belief in Jesus as THE way to God as fundamentalism (a.k.a. extreme).
Belief in everything is seen as okay but belief in one thing is not okay. Or to put it another way, many people in our culture believe in everything and therefore believe in nothing.
"I Believe in the Historical Jesus"
As an example, Christian pastor and scholar 'I. Howard Marshall' was labelled a "fundamentalist" because he says "I Believe in the Historical Jesus" (book published 2001). He examines the way the gospel authors get their historical information about the life of Jesus.
His argument is that the gospel books on Jesus life, death and resurrection are historically reliable. So what do you think? Does his research and conclusion about the Bible make him a fundamentalist?
Fundamentalism: Now and Then
The word was been used in the past as a positive term. Theological giant J.I. Packer described fundamentalism as believing that God is not mute. That God communicated His message of salvation clearly. And that this message is revealed in the Bible (i.e. God's message is without error).
Packer described fundamentalism as the twentieth-century name for historic term "evangelical." Historically, evangelical simply means believing the "good news" - that despite our rejection of God and resulting judgement, Jesus came to take our judgement on Himself.
The result gives us a living and restored relationship with God. That's joyous news! Packer's pivotal book, "Fundamentalism and the Word of God" (1958) outlines what the term means in its historical Biblical context: Jesus rescue plan for humanity.
This message is the foundation for the Christian faith and puts the fun (i.e. "Good News") back into fundamentalism.
So are you a fundamentalist if you believe Jesus' "good news" message? Is it a "bit extreme" to think Jesus meant it when He said that you must lose your life to follow Him? Or that He died so you might live? He says you can only have one master: Jesus or yourself.
The whole concept of repenting means turning from your own ways to follow Jesus. Or as Australian pastor and scholar, Leon Morris, illustrated it - like the volume one of your life entitled "I live for myself" and opening volume two entitled "I live for Christ." Is this too radical, extreme or "fundamental"?
The true essence of the term is that it is the foundation of the good news about Jesus.
The final word: The Bible
The core of the problem with the fundamentalism issue is the Bible. If it is just a book then people who hold to Jesus' good news could be negatively regarded as fundamental. But that includes Jesus. His interpretation of the Old Testament put Him in this category as believing God loves us so much that He sent Jesus to die in our place. That's full on!
Is He a fundamentalist in a negative sense? Or is being fundamental a positive term pointing to the joy of the good news?
If the Bible's message is true then surely to be restored into a living relationship with our Creator is worth it?!
Surely, when we consider what He has done for us then the call to love God with all our heart is not "fundamental" as many negatively define it.
The reader might determine these issues by reading the end of Romans chapter 8. If this picture of living with God 'is not' the best thing you ever imagine then go ahead and believe in everything or nothing.
If you sit and read this and think it demands action, regardless of the cost or the label, then explore the fun of fundamentalism by making the decision in Two Ways to Life.
Jeremy Dover is a former sports scientist and Pastor
Jeremy Dover's previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/jeremy-dover.html