Fundamentalism and Other Labels


There’s been an interesting discussion about fundamentalism over on Todd Rhoades’ “Monday Morning Insights” blog. Read it for yourself here.

One individual posted comments at least four times staunchly defending the use of the terms Fundamentalist, Evangelical, Baptist, and Christian, which prompted me to offer the following comments (slightly edited here to in light of the different context):

The first two are a-biblical terms (i.e., they do not appear in the Bible) that have only come to have meaning in our culture in probably the past couple centuries. (The commenter’s own posting of the dictionary definition of Fundamentalism indicates that it is primarily a 20th-century label.) “Baptist” appears in the Bible only in reference to John the Baptist, and the term “christian” appears only three times.

While I applaud the individual’s defense of fundamental, evangelical theology, it seems to me that his emphasis on keeping tight hold on the labels themselves may be misguided. Paul provides us a good example in 1 Cor 9 when he speaks of becoming “all things to all men”. Perhaps a paraphrase of his words is in order: “To the Fundamentalists I became like a Fundamentalist, to win the Fundamentalists.” He goes on to say that among the lawless, he becomes like the lawless – yet without giving up his responsibility under Christ’s law (v. 21). I have a feeling that Paul – like his savior and mine – would likely walk into a bar, pull up a stool, and start a conversation with the guy next to him. He may even (gasp!) order a beer! The Pharisees (of which Paul was one) would certainly never do that, and many of the self-avowed Fundamentalists that I know would be right there with the Pharisees, wagging their fingers and saying, “tsk, tsk”.

So, if a non-believer sees Jesus in my life and experiences something of His grace from me, and still labels me a fundamentalist…or born again or baptist or Christian…I’ll accept that. But if I insist on labeling myself a fundamentalist or born again or baptist or Christian – and they DON’T see Jesus in me and DON’T experience His grace, then I’ve got a problem. I think Jesus is far more concerned with how I live and I how draw others to him than with what arbitrary, 20th- or 21st-century label I wear.

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