Christian Fundamentalism

Christian Fundamentalism is a conservative movement in Christianity which has its origins both in the pre-millenarian movements of the 19th century and in reaction to major secular or liberal movements in culture or thought. Responding to modern academia's critiques of the authentic accounts of the Bible, Christian leaders began to emphasize the infallibility of the text. Additionally, given the rise of several messianic movements, it was posited that liberal and secular tendencies undermined the good faith and practice of Christian society to the point that it invited God's wrath. The term denoting members of this movement comes out of the association with "fundamentals" of Christianity believed to have been negated by general society in pursuit of vanity and licentiousness. The Niagara Bible Conference, a conference for Christian leaders held annually in the U.S. for several years at the end of the 19th century, identified "fundamentals" to the faith when discussing threats to it. A later series of small publications on Christian theology aptly titled The Fundamentals: a Testimony of Truth by Milton and Lyman Stewart was published in 1910, promoting the term.

Increased dependence on the literal interpretation of Bible stories, plus a decreased emphasis on allegory for fear of its manipulation by academic thinkers, promoted skepticism of modern science. Particularly critical of Darwinism, the Christian community came to distrust evolutionary theory as contradicting the story of the beginnings of the world in the Book of Genesis. In the 21st century, this issue continues to be a lightning rod for educational controversy and the so-called culture wars in the United States. Schools in more traditional, religious areas refuse to teach the theories of evolution and sometimes rely on theories of "intelligent design" which allow for some external manipulator, presumably God for Christians, to have created the earth and its life forms.

One intellectual center for the development of fundamentalism was the Princeton Theological Seminary, where a major goal was the combating of critiques of the Bible and the developing liberal theology. Despite its Presbyterian/Anglican orientation, the ideas the seminary promoted soon found their way into the Baptist area. Baptists had probably already been influenced by similar thinking and were receptive to a clarified ideological stance defined by Presbyterians. However, identification as a fundamentalist Christian became more important as fundamentalists refused to cooperate with other Christian groups. Because of several other disagreements, the fundamentalist movement splintered into many hardened factions: neo-evangelism, various strains of Lutheranism, paleo-orthodoxy and others.

In the United States, Christian fundamentalist movements, most prominently the evangelical divisions, have been prominent in the so-called culture wars that touch on issues of education and state cooperation with religious groups as well as foreign policy. The 1960s saw several court cases that challenged the school mandating of prayer, much to the opposition of these movements. Most importantly, fundamentalist movements seeking to promote conservative values have had a tremendous influence on American politics within the Republican Party. In the 1980s, Californian governor Ronald Reagan won tremendous support from conservative fundamentalist groups in his road to the White House. In the 2000s, the campaigns of George W. Bush garnered heavy support from the evangelical sector.

Foreign policy involvement of fundamentalist Christians tends to be limited and revolves mostly around the Middle East. In conjunction with dispensational beliefs that God's agreements with the Israelites remain binding (in contradistinction to replacement theology), American Christian groups have been historical promoters of a "restorationist" doctrine, whereby the Jewish people would regain control of the land of Israel. That theological position eventually fell into a natural alliance with Zionist groups seeking the creation of a Jewish state in that precise territory. Right-wing Christian support for Israel has thus tended to blend with religious ideas, even among non-fundamentalists. Many Jews are distrustful of Christian fundamentalists' intentions in supporting the country, however, believing them to be seeking converts or eyeing the state as an eventual target of the so-called "Rapture," another millenarian concept developed in the 19th century. Several organizations and political movements exist today that not only deny this but as a priority try to reinforce the political alliance between fundamentalist Christians and religious Zionists. One such group is the International Fellowship for Christians and Jews. Christian fundamentalists, particularly evangelicals, have been known to be high donors to pro-Israel causes and to work with political organizations like AIPAC in the United States to support Israeli interests.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism
Joel A. Carpenter.
Oxford University Press, 1997
Fundamentalism and Evangelicals
Harriet A. Harris.
Clarendon Press, 1998
"Fundamentalism" and the Word of God: Some Evangelical Principles
J. I. Packer.
Eerdmans, 1990
Fundamentalism and Gender
John Stratton Hawley.
Oxford University Press, 1994
Godly Women: Fundamentalism and Female Power
Brenda E. Brasher.
Rutgers University Press, 1998
Religious Sects: A Sociological Study
Bryan Wilson.
McGraw-Hill, 1970
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "The Early Fundamentalists"
Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective: Revival of Religious Fundamentalism in East and West
Bronislaw Misztal; Anson Shupe.
Praeger Publishers, 1992
The Freedom to Do God's Will: Religious Fundamentalism and Social Change
Gerrie Ter James J. Busuttil Haar.
Routledge, 2002
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Re-Awakening a Sleeping Giant: Christian Fundamentalists in Late Twentieth-Century US Society"
Televangelism: The Marketing of Popular Religion
Razelle Frankl.
Southern Illinois University Press, 1987
Necessary Heresies: Alternatives to Fundamentalism
Peter Cameron.
New South Wales University Press, 1993
The Transformation of the Christian Right
Matthew C. Moen.
University of Alabama Press, 1992
Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism, 1870-1925
George M. Marsden.
Oxford University Press, 1980
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