The Self-Identity Of Fundamentalism -- By: Rolland D. McCune

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 01:1 (Spring 1996)
Article: The Self-Identity Of Fundamentalism
Author: Rolland D. McCune


The Self-Identity Of Fundamentalism

Rolland D. McCune*

* Dr. McCune is President and Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.

Dr. William R. Rice was trained for the ministry in the 1930s and 40s at Bob Jones University, a clearly militant fundamentalist institution, and at Grace Theological Seminary, then also an outspoken fundamentalist school. He began his pastoral ministry in the post-World War II era when fundamentalism’s identity was not only self-assured but recognized outside its own confines as well. Over the years he witnessed many of his friends and former classmates leave the ranks of fundamentalism for the more congenial and inclusive camp of new evangelicalism. But his identity as a fundamentalist and that of his ministry of well over forty years were never in doubt nor questioned.

Today, fundamentalism is said to be in an identity crisis. It is allegedly trying to discover what it is. New self-definitions are being heard which say that a fundamentalist is one who is faithful to expository preaching, practices church discipline, repudiates easy believism, and is aggressive in evangelism. Or some imply that a fundamentalist is one who believes in inerrancy and does not cooperate with Roman Catholics, or is one who believes the “fundamentals” but is less militant and separatistic than formerly thought. The truth is that these are things that new evangelicals and self-proclaimed non-fundamentalists also believe and practice, leaving a distinctly fundamentalist self-identity completely vacuous. This all points up the fact that many are simply confused, and this includes would-be leaders as well as followers and well-wishers. Judging by some of the prevalent ambiguity, one is sometimes tempted to ask, Will the real fundamentalist please stand up?

The purpose here is to address some reasons for the present confusion, define fundamentalism as a bona fide religious movement, delineate a complex of doctrine around which the movement has rallied, and demonstrate that there are some other distinctives that make it what it is. In other words, I propose to set forth what I consider to be the real,

historic identity markers of fundamentalism and thus to bring some sense of order out of the developing chaos on this question in certain sectors of the fundamentalist ranks.

Modern Fundamentalist Confusion Over Self-Identity

From one perspective fundamentalism may be difficult to define and identify. One has said, “The term fundamentalism has become the most elusive term on the American (and world) religious scene.”1

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