I remember when I used to enjoy being called a fundamentalist or call myself a fundamentalist. That was back when fundamentalism meant, “Clinging to unchanging truths.” In that sense, I am still a fundamentalist, clinging to the unchanging reality of what Jesus has done through His death and resurrection and what He is doing in His present day ministry as our exalted King.
The definition of fundamentalist has changed.
In his book, ‘Our Endangered Values,’ former US President Jimmy Carter summarizes what he perceives to be the prevailing characteristics of religious fundamentalism.
A) Authoritarian male leadership subjugating women and dominating fellow believers.
B) A belief that the past is better than the present, while maintaining the benefits of the present.
C) A clear distinction between true believers (the ones belonging to the group) and others who are ignorant or possibly evil.
D) A militant, angry, opposition to anyone who interferes with the implementation of the group agenda.
E) A narrow self-definition, which brings isolation and a view that co-operation with others is a sign of weakness.
I considered these characteristics and reflected on them in view of what I believe, what our ministry stands for and what I see in churches around the world.
Here are the fundamentals, as I see them.
a) The wall of division between men and women has been torn down by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
b) The past is not better. In fact, today has un-paralleled opportunities. I still believe that in the end more people will be in heaven than in hell (see my book ‘The Final Sign’ for more on this topic). No “us four and no more” in my world.
c) Regrettably many Christians treat others (homosexuals, atheists, Muslims, etc.) with contempt and disrespect. Paul treated the Athenian idolaters with kindness and tolerance (Acts 17), mirroring Jesus’ treatment of Samaritans, Jews and the Romans.
d) Paul did not attack the evils in Corinth; he preached only Christ. That’s our example, not aggression towards the world, but an unveiling of Jesus.
e) If fundamentalism means being angry or verbally abusive towards people who disagree with me, then I’m out. Openness towards others is not a weakness; it is a strength. When you are strong in your convictions you are not afraid of the convictions of others.
Isolationism is on the rise among Christians. I recently read some books where Christian writers advocated withdrawal into a monastic lifestyle, saying that we Christians, in view of the evils around us, should look inwardly. The Gospel I know and the Jesus I know is not one who withdraws from society but one who loves people of all races, nationalities and religions. Withdrawing from others will never strengthen our faith; rather my faith is strengthened when I see Jesus revealed in a multi-cultural society, with a variety of philosophies, ideas and theories. Jesus never shines brighter than when He stands side-by-side with the world’s ideas. Am I a fundamentalist? Yes and no. What about you?