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Fundamentalist Christianity, or Christian fundamentalism is a movement which arose mainly within American and British Protestantism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by conservative evangelical Christians, who, in a reaction to modernism (Mostly in the U.S.), actively affirmed a "fundamental" set of Christian beliefs: the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth of Christ, the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, and the authenticity of his miracles.

The nature of the Christian fundamentalist movement, while originally a united effort within conservative evangelicalism, evolved during the early-to-mid 1900s to become more separatist in nature and more characteristically dispensational in its theology. Most fundamentalists have strongly opposed the Roman Catholic Church for theological reasons; in recent years there has been limited political cooperation between individuals in each group on certain social issues, such as abortion.

The secular world's current perception of the term "fundamentalism" is colored by shifts in meaning on two similar fronts since the 1980s. First, the term was used in a negative sense for all Christian groups so deemed by liberal Lutheran theologian Martin E. Marty in his five-volume Fundamentalism Project(although recent social science research has raised questions about his assessment), and (2) during the holding of a number of Americans hostage in Lebanon, some members of the press began referring to the Islamic Hezbollah captors as "Islamic fundamentalists", and consequently the term has increasingly come to have pejorative connotations of extremism and even terrorism.

Brief history[]

A number of evangelicals in the 19th century prepared the way for the movement. American evangelist Dwight L. Moody (18371899) and British preacher and father of dispensionalism John Nelson Darby (18001882) among others propounded ideas and themes carried into fundamentalist Christianity. There is no single founder of fundamentalism.

The term fundamentalist, in the context of this article, derives from a series of (originally) twelve volumes entitled The Fundamentals: A Testimony To The Truth. Among this publication's 94 essays, 27 of them objected to higher criticism of the Bible, by far the largest number addressing any one topic. The essays were written by 64 British and American conservative Protestant theologians between 1910 and 1915. Using a $250,000 grant from Lyman Stewart, the head of the Union Oil Company of California, about three million sets of these books were distributed to English-speaking Protestant church workers throughout the world.

Important early Christian fundamentalists included Baptist pastor William Bell Riley, the founder and president of the World Christian Fundamentals Association, who was instrumental in calling lawyer and three-time Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan to act as that organization's counsel in the famous Scopes Trial. Moody Bible Institute had mainstream appeal, through its presidents R.A. Torrey and James M. Gray. The views of theologian Cyrus I. Scofield represented fundamentalism's antagonism to figurative interpretation, especially as it was used by fundamentalism's liberal opponents to deny basic elements of the Christian faith, such as the virgin birth or the bodily resurrection of Christ, and it was through his Scofield Reference Bible that dispensationalism gradually gained strong adherence among fundamentalists.

The rise of dispensationalism is an important development distinct from the roots of the movement. In particular, dispensationalism played no part in the Old-time religion, as typified by the likes of southern Methodist revivalist Samuel Porter Jones, an elder associate of Bob Jones, Sr., founder of Bob Jones University, who later adopted dispensationalism. B. B. Warfield and J. Gresham Machen were key players in the fundamentalism-modernist controversy but wrote against dispensationalism from the standpoint of the Princeton theology, which many regard as the intellectual roots of the movement before it came under the influence of dispensationalism.

As the movement developed, premillennialism, dispensationalism, and separatism began to overwhelmingly characterize the most popular leaders, which also had an effect on the way that evangelicals as a whole were perceived by outside observers. Dispensationalism's literal approach to the Scriptures was increasingly seen as a main protection against the gradual degradation to theological modernism.


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The original formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897) and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which distilled these into what became known as the "five fundamentals"[1]

  • Inerrancy of the Scriptures
  • The virgin birth and the deity of Jesus
  • The doctrine of substitutionary atonement through God's grace and human faith
  • The bodily resurrection of Jesus
  • The authenticity of Christ's miracles (or, alternatively, his premillennial second coming)[2]

In particular, fundamentalists reject the documentary hypothesis—the theory held by higher biblical criticism that the Pentateuch was composed and shaped by many people over the centuries. Fundamentalists assert that Moses was the primary author of the first five books of the Old Testament. Some fundamentalists, on the other hand, may be willing to consider alternative authorship only where the Biblical text does not specify an author, insisting that books in which the author is identified must have been written by that author.

Fundamentalists differ from Pentecostals in their strong insistence upon "correct" doctrine and often advocate separatism (which often also divides fundamentalists from each other) as opposed to the experiential emphasis of Pentecostals.

Fundamentalists also criticize evangelicals for a lack of concern for doctrinal purity and for a lack of discernment in ecumenical endeavors in working co-operatively with other Christians of differing doctrinal views, even though some fundamentalists had been accused by their critics for doing the same (esp. embracing doctrines such as dispensationalism, King James Onlyism, the rapture, etc. that critics argue have no biblical basis). American evangelist Billy Graham came from a fundamentalist background, but some Christian fundamentalists repudiate him today because of his choice, early in his ministry (1950s), to co-operate with other Christians. He represents a movement that arose within fundamentalism, but has increasingly become distinct from it, known as Neo-evangelicalism or New Evangelicalism (a term coined by Harold J. Ockenga, the "Father of New Evangelicalism").

Fundamentalist breakup[]

The original 20th century Fundamentalist Movement broke up along very definable lines within conservative Evangelical Protestantism as issues progressed. Neo-evangelicalism, Reformed and Lutheran Confessionalism, the Heritage movement, and Paleo-orthodoxy have all developed distinct identities, but none of them acknowledge any more than an historical overlap with the Fundamentalist Movement. They are fundamentalists in a sense, but there is a more precise definition for each and they do not refer to themselves as fundamentalist. In contrast, today's Fundamentalist Movement looks to the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy for its identity and as its primary historical point of reference.

Thus, many Evangelical groups may be described as "fundamentalist" in the broad sense, who do not belong in the "Fundamentalist Movement" in the narrow sense. Many Evangelicals believe in the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy, a basic issue of difference in the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy a century ago. The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, for instance, was signed in 1978 by nearly 300 conservative scholars, including James Boice, Norman Geisler, John Gerstner, Carl F. H. Henry (founder of Christianity Today), Kenneth Kantzer, Harold Lindsell, John Warwick Montgomery, Roger Nicole, J. I. Packer, Robert Preus, Earl Radmacher, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, and John Wenham. Very few if any of these men fit the definition of or identify themselves with today's Fundamentalist Movement.

Other beliefs[]

No individual or institution speaks for all of Christian fundamentalism, which is a religious orientation, rather than an organized movement. Drawing on their belief in an inerrant Bible and dispensational-literal hermeneutic, many fundamentalists adhere to young earth creationism and universal flood geology and ardently oppose alternate approaches such as old earth creationism and non-theistic evolution, commonly known as Darwinism. Consequently, some fundamentalists have been active in the debate over teaching multiple viewpoints of the origin of humans in science classrooms of public schools in the United States. Additionally, fundamentalists have aligned themselves with the Christian Right, advocating prayer be returned more to public school and Christian messages in other public forums, such as displaying the Ten Commandments in public spaces. Their failure to achieve their goals in the public schools has prompted some to take up homeschooling.

Like many other conservative Evangelicals, some fundamentalists have been vocal in support of the pro-life movement, which opposes abortion, sometimes human cloning, physician-assisted suicide, and embryonic stem cell research, and many have spoken against political measures intended to legalize same-sex marriage or relax sodomy laws. However, there are large segments of the fundamentalist community whose approach to politics is based on some form of a theory of international conspiracy (often fueled by dispensationalist theology) that they believe will culminate in a one world government under the literal Antichrist. This approach inclines these fundamentalists toward suspicion of political power in all of its forms. J. Vernon McGee's famous skepticism of political action still typifies the movement as a whole, "it's just polishing brass on a sinking ship"; and in general, they are much more interested in saving souls, than in political influence. This explains why they oppose the "social gospel" today advocated by liberals, and doctrines such as Dominion Theory advocated by some conservatives. Nevertheless, traditionally, fundamentalists have been very outspoken against communism, the United Nations and the ecumenical movement (particularly the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches), all of which have been called by a few, "Satanically-inspired" notions of false unity.

Some fundamentalists have endorsed strict codes of conduct that prohibit even moderate consumption of alcohol and tobacco, dancing, gambling, or engaging in secular cultural activities such as watching movies or listening to rock and roll music. These codes may also require adherents to dress in certain ways going beyond simple modesty (for example, by prohibiting women from wearing pants or men from having long hair). In most cases, fundamentalists draw a connection between these features of the surrounding culture and the immoral or unbelieving way of life that they feel is represented by them, and by avoiding conformity to the secular world in such small but signal ways, they hope to separate from corruption and call the world to salvation and holiness, by their example and testimony.

Because fundamentalism began as a reaction to views coming out of the academic and political community, some fundamentalists have supposedly become anti-intellectual to the point of looking down on those with higher education from secular institutions, though this is certainly not true of all. As an example of this, some point to what they call the King-James-Only Movement, referring to fundamentalists who speak strongly in favor of the King James Version of the Bible and reject both modern translations and more recently discovered Bible manuscripts because, for instance, those manuscripts do not contain a reference to the Trinity in 1 John 5:7 and the scholars who produced the newer translations omit the Trinitarian part of the verse, which they believe to be corrupted or non-existant entirely.

In contrast, some other conservative Christians believe that a high view of the Bible's authority leaves them free to consider old earth creationism, or even theistic evolution. Fundamentalists are often criticized by fellow Christians, for attaching spiritual significance to things which are indifferent in themselves, such as old-fashioned standards of clothing, hairstyles, and recreations. The charge of legalism is frequently heard, when cultural scruples are perceived as being elevated to principles of godly living or defacto requirements for recognition as a Christian. Additionally, other Evangelicals usually adopt modern translations of the Bible on the basis, first, that they are in vernacular and therefore understood more accurately by laymen than the antiquated English of the King James Version; and second, that the new versions incorporate recently discovered manuscripts, which some scholars have used to reconstruct what they believe to be a more accurate version of the Bible than was available to the translators of the King James Bible.

Christian Right (USA)[]

Traditionally, Fundamentalist Christians have been wary of involvement in political and public policy matters. However, Robert Grant, Jerry Falwell, and other well-known Fundamentalist clergy members began pushing Fundamentalist Christians to become involved in politics. Beginning with Grant's American Christian Cause in 1974 and Christian Voice in 1997 and Falwell's Moral Majority in 1998, the Christian Right began to have major impact on American politics. By the late 1990s, the Christian Right was dominating the American vote with groups like Christian Coalition and Family Research Council helping the Christian Right to gain control of the White House, both houses of Congress and very possibly the Supreme Court -- largely the result of a widespread public perception of liberal excesses and social experimentation, combined with a certain hostility to traditional American family values perceived to be expressed by many liberals during the Clinton years.

See also[]


  • R. Kenneth Godwin, Jennifer W. Godwin, and Valerie Martinez-Ebers, "Civic Socialization in Public and Fundamentalist Schools," Social Science Quarterly 85 [2004]: 1097-1111 Online source This study compares citizenship qualities of 10th and 12th grade students in schools operated by fundamentalist churches. While 10th grade students exhibited a lack of good citizenship skills, by the 12th grade the students had surpassed public school students on many desirable qualities, except for lack of tolerance of non-traditional lifestyles.
  • Alternative interpretations of "five fundamentals" in online history by First Presbyterian Church of New York City


  • Armstrong, Karen (2001). The Battle for God. New York: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0345391691.
  • Bebbington, David W. (1990). "Baptists and Fundamentalists in Inter-War Britain." In Keith Robbins, ed. Protestant Evangelicalism: Britain, Ireland, Germany and America c.1750-c.1950. Studies in Church History subsidia 7, 297-326. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. ISBN 063117818X
  • Bebbington, David W. (1993). "Martyrs for the Truth: Fundamentalists in Britain." In Diana Wood, ed. Martyrs and Martyrologies, Studies in Church History Vol. 30, 417-451. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
  • Barr, James (1977). Fundamentalism. London: SCM Press. ISBN 0334005035.
  • Carpenter, Joel A. (1999). Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195129075.
  • Elliott, David R. (1993). "Knowing No Borders: Canadian Contributions to Fundamentalism." In George A. Rawlyk and Mark A. Noll, eds. Amazing Grace: Evangelicalism in Australia, Britain, Canada and the United States. Grand Rapids: Baker. 349-374.
  • Dollar, George W. (1973). A History of Fundamentalism in America. Greenville: Bob Jones University Press.
  • Harris, Harriet A. (1998). Fundamentalism and Evangelicals. Oxford: Oxford University. ISBN 0198269609.
  • Hart, D. G. (1998). "The Tie that Divides: Presbyterian Ecumenism, Fundamentalism and the History of Twentieth-Century American Protestantism." Westminster Theological Journal 60, 85-107.
  • Longfield, Bradley J. (1991). The Presbyterian Controversy. New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195086740.
  • Marsden, George M. (1995). "Fundamentalism as an American Phenomenon." In D. G. Hart, ed. Reckoning with the Past, 303-321. Grand Rapids: Baker.
  • Marsden; George M. (1980). Fundamentalism and American Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0195027582.
  • Marsden, George M. (1991). Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. ISBN 0802805396.
  • McCune, Rolland D. (1998). "The Formation of New Evangelicalism (Part One): Historical and Theological Antecedents." Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal, 3, 3-34.
  • Noll, Mark (1992). A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada.. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company. 311-389. ISBN 0802806511.
  • Rennie, Ian S. (1994). "Fundamentalism and the Varieties of North Atlantic Evangelicalism." In Mark A. Noll, David W. Bebbington and George A. Rawlyk eds. Evangelicalism: Comparative Studies of Popular Protestantism in North America, the British Isles and Beyond, 1700-1990. New York: Oxford University Press. 333-364.
  • Russell, C. Allyn (1976). Voices of American Fundamentalism: Seven Biographical Studies (Subscription required). Philadelphia: Westminster Press.
  • Keith Ward (2004) What the Bible Really Teaches: A Challenge for Fundamentalists

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