The term fundamentalism, though typically used as an all-purpose (anti)religious swear word these days, was originally coined in the late 19th century by Protestants committed to promoting a specific set of doctrines which they considered to be the “five fundamentals” of Christianity. These five fundamentals were:
- Inerrancy of the Scriptures
- The virgin birth and deity of Jesus
- The doctrine of substitutionary atonement
- The bodily resurrection of Jesus
- The bodily second coming of Jesus Christ
It’s an interesting list in many ways. Firstly, it’s curious that the virgin birth features so prominantly, when only two of the four gospels even mention it. Sounds like the apostle John was no fundamentalist! Secondly, it’s far from obvious what is meant by ‘inerrancy’. Inerrant in matters of physics and biology? Or simply inerrant in matters of faith? Or what about inerrant in matters of literary style and spelling? It opens up all sorts of questions. Finally, it’s worth considering what it fails to list as fundamental, such as commitment to the teachings and lifestyle of Jesus. And monotheism!
By these matters aside, I want to ask, how focussed are Christian fundamentalists on these five fundamentals? What do we see them focussing on today? I’d say this. The second coming of Jesus for sure … but not always in the most historically conservative ways! The virgin birth, ahhh, maybe not so much. The resurrection? Well, if apologetics is on the menu, but in matters of ethics … maybe not so much. Inerrancy of the scriptures, well, it depends very much on whether we’re talking about the six days of creation or the command of Jesus to ‘love your enemies’. If the former, yes, if the latter, that’s much harder to see. But you know what I see contemporary Christian fundamentalists focussing on most publically? Homosexuality and abortion! Where are they in the five fundamentals?! I don’t seeeee theeeem.