“Fundamentalism” is one of those words that for some is a badge of allegiance and to most a term of abuse. As Alvin Plantinga defines the common (and unhelpful) use of the term, it means: “stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine.” (Warranted Christian Belief, p. 245). Quite! Hardly a neutral term!
I confess that I find fundamentalism often infuriating — I can feel my blood start to boil at the utterly silly opinions of some fundamentalists (don’t even get me started on creationism!!!) — and yet . . .
When I first converted to Christianity back in 1984 I guess I was something of a fundamentalist and —here’s the thing — I am glad that I was. Sure, I could be pig-headed and narrow-minded (and I thought I knew a whole lot more about God and “the truth” than I actually did) BUT — I like big “buts,” and I cannot lie — my fundamentalism is what kept me in the faith in a fragile time in my life.
The fact of the matter is that I simply did not understand the Christian faith enough to make wise judgments of my own as to what was “up for grabs” and what was non-negotiable. So I treated everything I was told as “gospel truth” and I held on to the literal truth of every biblical text because I simply had no way of discerning what was central and what was peripheral to the faith.
If I had not done this then I would have opened myself up to a whole load of ideas floating around that would have led me off in all sorts of unorthodox directions. Fundamentalism saved my faith. In all honesty, I have never regretted for a single moment my simplistic and often-wrong-headed beliefs. Because while I held tight to all the muddy bathwater I was also guarding a gospel baby — one that some forms of “Christianity” had thrown out.
As I grew and learned to better discern the heart of historic Christianity (a voyage I will be on for the rest of my life) I left “childish ways” behind me. They had their role and their time and their place. For me that role and time and place has long gone — they were meant to be left behind. But without them I would not be a Christian today.
You know, while I really do think that fundamentalists need to “grow up” and to leave the simplistic faith behind, I also thank God for fundamentalism. It has been a blessing as well as a curse to the church. As with all such things, it has its place in the economy of God.
Having said all that, contemporary fundamentalism still needs a rocket up its arse (for those in America: its ass). My kind words about only go so far . . .