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Fundamentalist Christianity

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Fundamentalist Christianity is a fundamentalist movement, especially within American Protestantism.

Typical beliefs are that literal interpretation of the Bible is appropriate, for example that God literally created the world in 6 days; that God created Eve from Adam's rib; that the Garden of Eden was a real place; that Noah was a man who actually lived, built an ark and survived a great flood, and so on. Many other fundamentalists, however, insist that the Bible should instead be interpreted as the original readers would have interpreted it - literally where the context makes it literal, as in the gospels, and figuratively where the context makes it figurative, as in the apocalyptic books.

Table of contents

Christian Fundamentalism in the United States

Within the United States, the term fundamentalism often refers specifically to Christian fundamentalists, and to a movement beginning in the late 19th century of Christian evangelical conservatives, who, in a reaction to modernism, insisted on adhering to a set of core beliefs. Fundamentalists, in this sense, have engaged in criticism of more liberal movements. The original formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference in 1878. In 1910, these beliefs later became distilled into what were known as the "five fundamentals", which were:

The dispensational movement, although only a small part of the Evangelical community, has managed to influence evangelical thinking and practice; it has also had an effect on the way that Evangelicals as a whole are perceived by outside observers. Probably the most famous modern dispensationalist theologian (among the laiety) is Tim LaHaye[?], co-author of the popular Left Behind series, and author of several non-fiction books about apocalyptic prophecy.

Important early Christian fundamentalists included William Jennings Bryan, John Nelson Darby, Cyrus I. Scofield, Charles Caldwell Ryrie[?], Lewis Sperry Chafer[?], John Walvoord[?], B. B. Warfield[?]. Modern Christian fundamentalists include Hal Lindsey, Jerry Falwell, Jack Chick, Bob Jones, Sr.[?]

Christian Fundamentalists argued that the Bible must be accepted as the literal word of God, correct not only in its religious or moral teachings, but also in its scientific and historical claims.

Almost all fundamentalists believe that macroevolution does not occur, since it contradicts their reading of the Bible. Thus, for example, William Jennings Bryan became an icon of fundamentalism for his part in prosecuting a teacher for teaching evolution in the Scopes Monkey Trial. Though the trial was viewed as publicity stunt by the people of Dayton, Tennessee, Bryan would represent a new and emergingly political, and legalised incarnation of religious fundamentalism.

Many fundamentalists tend to oppose the conclusions of modern scholarship that call into question traditional beliefs about the Bible. For example, they accept the traditional ascriptions of Biblical authorship, which presuppose that individual books had a single author. They may also believe that to suggest that a given book of the Bible was a compilation or the result of an editorial effort would compromise fundamentalist assertions about biblical inerrancy and divine inspiration. They are generally hostile towards higher criticism, a form of literary analysis that attempts to discover the origins and sources of Biblical material. Thus, fundamentalists continue to assert that Moses was the primary or sole author of the first five books of the Old Testament against the documentary hypothesis of modern scholarship of that the Pentateuch was composed and shaped by many people over centuries. Some fundamentalists, on the other hand, may be willing to consider alternative authorship only where the Biblical text does not specify an author, insisting that books in which the author is identified must have been written by that author.

Similarly, fundamentalists categorically reject any scholarship that undermines their belief in the inerrancy of the Biblical text but tend to be open to scholarship that attempts to resolve apparent contradictions.

A subset of fundamentalists also tend to reject recent versions of the Bible in favor of the King James Version. This is called the King James Only Movement[?]. This movement sprang from the fact that most modern translations of the New Testament come from texts based on Alexandrian manuscripts, and there is some doubt among certain Evangelical scholars as to the veracity of this text. Alexandrian manuscripts have come into wide use because they are among the oldest New Testament texts available. Critics counter that this is because the climate in Egypt lent itself to the preservation of papyri (as opposed to the climate of Turkey and Syria) and also because immediately before the oldest Byzantine manuscripts we have found there was major persecution by the Romans in the region in question which included the burning of many churches and Bibles. At any rate, many fundamentalists prefer the Byzantine manuscripts (called the "Majority Text" tradition or the "Received Text" tradition although these are not strictly identical) over the Alexandrian ones (called the "Critical Text") and so favor the King James Version and New King James Version[?] over other popular translations such as the New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation[?] (NLT).

Christian fundamentalism within Christianity

Within Christianity, fundamentalism has been a source of controversy. For example, the Southern Baptist Convention has had persistent conflicts between fundamentalist and liberal factions.

Christian fundamentalism and US public schools

In some American school districts there is still controversy over whether public school students should be taught evolution, creationism, or some mixture of the two. There has been ongoing opposition to the legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. Arguably, an even wider array of issues than these are deeply informed by Fundamentalist religious views in the U.S. Currently, biology textbooks in Georgia are labelled with stickers advising that they contain the "controversial theory of evolution".

Christian fundamentalism and US politics

An important part of the political discourse of the United States (and some other countries) is the notion, often touted by political liberals in the U.S., that Fundamentalist political activity in some cases contradicts the doctrine of the separation of church and state. The abortion debate is an example of a still-active issue where religious-based beliefs motivate a desire to change the law, which often elicits a response from abortion rights advocates that religious beliefs should have no place in political discourse.

Reading

Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism by George M. Marsden, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.; ISBN 0802805396, 1991

Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism, by Joel A. Carpenter, Oxford University Press, ISBN 0195129075, 1999

Noll, Mark. A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada. Eerdmans, 1992. (pages 311-389)

Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture by John Shelby Spong, Harper San Francisco; ISBN 0060675187, 1992



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