Thursday, May 31, 2007

Ten things on Fundamentalism & the Reformed Faith

1. Fundamentalism began as a reaction against theological Liberalism. The Reformed faith started as an attempt to bring the Catholic Church back to the doctrine and practice of Scripture.
2. Fundamentalists tend not to respect tradition. The Reformed hold to the supreme authority of Scripture, but value what the church has taught about God's truth in the past.
3. Fundamentalism has a minimalist approach to creeds and confessions of faith. The movement can be suspicious of theological scholarship. The Reformed faith is expressed in elaborate, all-embracing documents such as The Westminster Confession, The Savoy Declaration and The 1689 Baptist Confession. Typically, Calvinists have a high regard for theological study.
4. Fundamentalism makes little distinction between secondary issues and foundational gospel truth. This can make the movement unnecessarily divisive and sectarian. The Reformed insist on the essential gospel truth of God's saving grace in Christ. But they allow for liberty of conscience on adiaphora (things indifferent).
5. Fundamentalism is often stridently dispensationalist and premillenialist in its eschatology. The Reformed faith teaches covenant theology and is usually amillenialist. But some prominent Reformed theologians are postmillenialists and even premillenialists. It should be noted that Calvin said of Chilialism (premillenialism) "This fiction is too puerile to need or deserve refutation." Institutes III:XXV:5. (Sorry, John "All self-respecting Calvinists are premill" MacAthur and followers, but there it is).
6. Fundamentalsim reads the Bible in a literalistic way. Reformed expositors hold that Scripture should be interpreted in the light of the analogy of faith, taking into account grammatical, literary and contextual concerns.
7. Fundamentalism tends to be legalistic, teaching that the Christian life is largely about keeping the rules. Reformed theology has sought to develop a Biblical doctrine of sanctification that is rooted in the believer's union with Christ and the work of the Spirit. The law is a guide to right conduct, but the dynamic of the Christian life is the Spirit of Christ in the life of the believer.
8. Fundamentalism often has a very negative view of culture and the arts. Reformed teaching recognises that all human life is affected by sin, but God, in his "common grace", blesses society with many good things. These good aspects of culture and the arts are to be valued and enjoyed to the glory of God.
9. Fundamentalism is usually allied to right-wing politics. Reformed believers may be found supporting many different political parties. Reformed Christians have campaigned against slavery and racial intolerance. They have worked for a better society, including improved conditions for workers and free education and healthcare for all. The Reformed theologian, Francis Schaeffer was an early advocate of ecological concerns.
10. Fundamentalists share many important truths in common with Reformed believers such as a commitment to the authority and inerrancy of Scripture and salvation through Christ alone. Theological liberalism is a much greater danger to the church than fundamentalism. We may disagree with Fundamentalists, but we should respect and love them as fellow-Christians.


W. Travis McMaken said...

This is a very nice comparative list. Well done!

Aric Clark said...

Excellent stuff! I could use something like this when going before my committee for preparation for ministry - they accuse me of being unReformed using Fundamentalist categories. This nicely points out how they are not identical. (though not entirely incompatible)

Anonymous said...

For the last couple of years I've
wondered why fundamentalism as
I've known it for the last 40 years
seemed to be dumbing down. Today's
fundamentalism is unrecognizable
compared to what I experienced as
a young believer. That is why
I recently migrated from a Baptist
mega-church to a Reformed
Presbyterian one.

I've been Sola Scriptura all my
Christian life, I just never heard
the term before.

Bob Mechler

Anonymous said...

and you shouldn't respect and love theological liberals?

Guy Davies said...

Thanks for your comments. And for the record, Christians should love and respect all human beings, even sneaky anonymous liberals. :-)

Anonymous said...

The really interesting thing is that though fundamentalists give church tradition little creedance, they load great emphasis onto their own traditions such as total abstinence and often the KJV Only debate...the attitude seems to be that there is no place for tradition unless it's our traditions in which case if you don't follow it your soul is in danger.


Guy Davies said...

Good point, JP!

Looney said...

Well, being a fundamentalist who attended a reformed church for a few years, I would note the following:

3) and 4) are mutually exclusive. In the reformed church, I was told I could not teach because I did not believe in infant baptism and was a bit dodgy on some elements of TULIP.

7) Um, is legalism a problem anywhere in the West other than Islamic ghettos? If I complain about the worship team leaving for McDonald's when the sermon starts the here-he-goes-again rolling eyes expressions start going. Seriously ...

Guy Davies said...


Thanks for your input here. As you know, I'm a Reformed Baptist, so I sympathise with your feeling excluded from some aspects of the life of a Presbyterian church. I don't think that a believer's convictions on baptism should be a bar to full involvement in church life. But if you didn't agree with some aspects of the church's doctrinal basis, then they are hardly going to allow you to teach.

I would sympathise with your position on the Lord's day too. But when I moved in what might be described as Fundy circles, they were legalistic. "Don't go to the cinema. Don't drink alcohol etc" The theological basis of the Christian life was not clearly taught.

Looney said...

"Don't go to the cinema. Don't drink alcohol etc"

I have never heard a fundy preach salvation by sobriety. A poor presentation of moral discipline isn't automatically legalism.

Guy Davies said...


By legalism I meant a rules-based approach to living the Chistian life, not salvation by works.

michael jensen said...

Very instructive. I tend to think that Anglicanism, whatever its other faults, has protected my evangelicalism from fundamentalism. Fundamentalism has done as much damage as liberalism, I would wager, however...

Mark Noll's book 'The scandal of the evangelical mind' should be compulsory reading for thinking evangelicals IMHO!!

Guy Davies said...


Fundamentalism has done a lot of harm because it makes evangelicalism seem anti-intellectual and unduly restrictive. This often makes people react against evangelicalism when they start studying theology! But at least Fundy's believe the essentials of the gospel, unlike many Liberals.

I found The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind helpful in many respects. But it didn't seem to have done D.W. Congdon much good. It freaked him out and now he's a Barthian universalist! (See his contribution to Ben's tradition thread at Faith & Theology.

David W. Congdon said...

Superb list. As you know, I grew up on the fundamentalist side of things. There's a lot to learn from the Reformed tradition.