Offering my perspective on this may make all three of you who like my blog get downright mad at me, but here goes...
What makes someone a fundamentalist?
The truth is, we're all pretty fundamental about most things. We all have a handful of core beliefs, our own personal fundamentals, that we build our base of faith around. It's completely normal. Some have more fundamentals. Some have less. Some are more pronounced and have more of an impact than others. Still completely normal. Hopefully, Christ is the foremost, prime, and principle fundamental. The threshold, in my honest, southern opinion, is in the level of honesty with which we treat, approach, and implement these fundamentals, where Christ fits in - and whether these fundamentals have morphed into agenda that has little to do with Christ. Often, maybe even more often than not, fundamentalists have fundamentals that have become very twisted, with very little actually connecting them to the original tenet - yet the fundamentalist refuses to look honestly at his or her own beliefs. It's become an agenda.
Fundamentalism in Christianity is technically defined by the "Five Fundamentals". I'm not interested in going into all five. If you're interested, one place you can read a bit about them is here. I want to focus on the one that I believe causes most of the problems...
"The inerrancy of the Scriptures."
It sounds innocuous enough. Yet, it houses the potential for worlds of hurt. In many ways it's a buzz phrase (a dead-ender/a thought stopper/a guilt inducer). In actuality, fundamentalists would be giving a more honest assessment of this fundamental if it read: "The inerrancy of MY interpretation (or my pastor/leader's) of the Scripture."
Here's where I may lose some friends. I don't believe either representation (mine or theirs) of that fundamental to be right. Most human interpretations have some errors. That comes with the territory when humans get involved with something. But to go out into deeper waters...the bible has errors. Theological errors.
Most of the book of Job is flat wrong. Think about it. Most of the theology in that book is flat wrong. It's humanity feebly trying to speak on behalf of God, judge Job, and attribute things to God which God had nothing to do with. God had to come in in the last few chapters and set the record straight.
One of the most quoted phrases from the book of Job, "The Lord gives. The Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord", is theologically wrong. Job went through that entire ordeal, and for all we know, his entire life, without being aware of what had gone on in the heavenlies to bring it all about. He looked at the situation with a human filter and ignorantly summed it up on human terms. The only thing which God "took" from the situation was a measure of His protection. Satan, who comes to steal, kill, and destroy, swooped into Job's life and stole, killed, and destroyed as far as he could reach. Job was guilty of doing what a lot of us do - he blamed God, ignorantly and unintentionally, for the work of the devil. Job had a better excuse than we do, though. He didn't have the Holy Spirit. Job's statement should've been, "The Lord gives. The enemy takes away. The Lord in His mercy restores. Blessed be the name of the Lord."
Unless we approach the scriptures with discernment, willing to be led by the Spirit and discover where God is speaking and where man is speaking, where things were under convicting Law and where things are under forgiving Grace, where things applied culturally and where things apply universally, we'll miss out on a lot, and probably begin to blame things on God that He has nothing whatsoever to do with. Not all of the scriptures are God talking. But, this single paragraph would be just about enough heresy to get me stoned by a group of fundamentalists, probably right next to the church marquee that reads: "You think it's hot here? You won't like HELL." When you take a rigid stand on "inerrancy", it applies across the board, with no leeway, and it's ALL God talking. It HAS to be, or the scriptures have room for error, and fundamentalists can't have that. It has to be in black and white terms that authoritative mouth-pieces and policy makers can control and manipulate or they want no part of it.
Then, with inerrancy, we get into proof-texting. Making mountains out of scriptural molehills based on two or three words of scripture taken entirely out of context. Heck, Gothard has made a career out of such. You can't argue with them, because the scriptures are "inerrant", and those two or three words were God-breathed, and to reject the proof-texting and scriptural gymnastics is to disagree with the God of all Himself! How dare you, you godless infidel?!
Some friends of mine (who came up in an Independent Baptist church) once told me about a message that was preached in their church. It's, at the same time, one of the funniest things I've ever heard and one of the saddest things I've ever heard. The message went something like this (in my best Independent Baptist preacher typing voice)...
"If you have your bah-I-ble, turn with me to the first chapter of Genesis, and let us all stand in honor of the reading of the word of God (I've never understood this - it's unlikely they stand every time they read the bible at home, so why in church?). We'll see that God says to us there, 'In the beginning...Ga HAA duh!'. Do you see that church? That's gettin' rich right there! Now I want you to turn over with me to the last chapter of Revelation. We'll see that it says there, 'Aaaaayyyy-men!' Do you see that church?!
In the beginning Ga HAA duh!...Aaaay-men! In the beginning Ga HAA duh!...Aaaaay-men! That'll preach to ya if ya let it, church!"
He literally based an entire message on the first four words of Genesis and the last word of Revelation. You couldn't argue with him. It's in the bible, and it's inerrant, ya know?
With this one fundamental, the door is opened for the inerrancy of scripture to become the inerrancy of human interpretation, and before long, ancillary aspects of our spiritual lives, ancillary issues in scripture, become the bellcows for entire movements. Mountains out of scriptural molehills. Largely meaningless (in the grand scheme) minutiae becomes a bigger part of the gospel than Jesus Himself. That's how movements like those I write about come to be. In the movements I write about, the family unit, while precious, blessed, and important, has been raised to deity, and it's become the basis of their gospel.
This is the threshold I measure fundamentalism by: Where does Christ fit into the food chain of your gospel?...and if everything else was stripped away, would Christ be enough? Does my behavior or Christ's blood save me from my sin? Is it more important that I conform to a code of behavior or surrender to Christ in a personal way?
What I'm about to write won't sit well with fundamentalists...One of the most beautiful things I've ever read is the "Book of the Secrets of Enoch". It's emotional, powerful, tender, and a compelling look at God. This book obviously isn't in our canon - except that it is. Jude, the half-brother of Christ, quoted directly from it in his super-short epistle. That's right. A chunk of the book of Jude is direct, word for word quotation of the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. This tells me a couple of things. First, it was probably an accepted, maybe even heartily so, writing among early Christians. Second, being that this was the half-brother of Christ, it was probably accepted in Mary and Joseph's home and a part of Christ's upbringing.
Sorry about that, fundamentalists.