Biblical Fundamentalism refers to a large and growing number of Christians who tend to interpret the Bible literally. throughout history there have been many who taught doctrines similar to the teachings of today’s Fundamentalist preachers, but we can trace the roots of today’s Fundamentalism to the beginning of the twentieth century.During the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, there arose deep divisions among some of the Churches concerning the findings of biology, psychology and the other sciences when explaining the Scriptures. These Christians were called “Liberals” or “Modernists.” “Conservatives,” on the other hand, saw no need to rethink their understanding of basic doctrines.
One small group of Conservatives became intensely opposed to what they called Modernism. Between 1909 and 1915, they published a series of pamphlets entitled The Fundaments: A Testimony to the Truth. The term, “Fundamentalist,” began to be used in reference to those conservatives who agreed with the teachings outlined in The Fundamentals pamphlets.
What are several typical Fundamentalist beliefs?
One such belief is that the Bible was verbally inspired by God. Therefore, they tend to take the words of Scripture in their literal sense. They also believe that if something is not found in Scripture, then it cannot be important to religious faith. However, the Second Vatican Council document on Divine Revelation points out the importance of considering history, culture, literary forms and the intentions of the sacred writers when interpreting Scripture.
Most fundamentalists stress the importance of an emotional experience of being born again. Many of them say that a person cannot be considered a Christian unless he or she has had this kind of experience and that those who have not been born again in this manner will go to hell. this belief accounts for the zeal with which Fundamentalists preach the Gospel and try to persuade others to be born again. the Catholic Church affirms the value of emotional experiences of conversation, but the Church does not teach that hell awaits those millions who have not had an emotional born-again experience.
In addition, most fundamentalist preachers are critical of basic Catholic beliefs and practices. For example, they deny the Real Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, the authority of priests to forgive sins in the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the power of intercessory prayer to Mary and the Saints.
There are several differences among Fundamentalists concerning the meaning of certain Scripture passages, e.g., the time of the Second Coming, the method of Baptism and the necessity of speaking in tongues.
Fundamentalism tend to disregard the Church’s long history of discerning the meaning of Scripture. They deny the teaching authority of the bishops and the Pope, while Catholics believe this teaching authority is necessary for the unity of the Church and that it was basic to Christianity from the beginnings of the Church.
The Church has defined biblical fundamentalism in a variety of ways. The Pastoral Statement for Catholics on Biblical Fundamentalism by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops has this to say:
- Fundamentalism indicates a person’s general approach to life which is typified by unyielding adherence to rigid doctrinal and ideological positions;
- it presents the Bible, God’s inspired word, as the only necessary source for teaching about Christ and Christian living;
- it tends to interpret the Bible as being always without error or as literally true;
- it extends inerrancy even to scientific and historical matters;
- it tries try to find in the Bible all the direct answers for living; and
- it eliminates from Christianity the church as the Lord Jesus founded it.
The Pontifical Biblical Commission, in its document The Interpretation of the Bible in the Church, defines biblical fundamentalism in a similar manner:
- Fundamentalist interpretation starts from the principle that the Bible, being the word of God, inspired and free from error, should be read and interpreted literally in all its details;
- it understands, by “literal interpretation,” a naively literalist interpretation that excludes every effort at understanding the Bible that takes account of its historical origins and development;
- it demands an unshakeable adherence to rigid doctrinal points of view and imposes, as the only source of teaching for Christian life and salvation, a reading of the Bible which rejects all questioning and any kind of critical research;
- it seeks to escape any closeness of the divine and the human;
- it shows a tendency to ignore or to deny the problems presented by the biblical text in its original Hebrew, Aramaic, or Greek form and is often narrowly bound to one fixed translation;
- it separates the interpretation of the Bible from the Tradition, which, guided by the Spirit, has authentically developed in union with Scripture in the heart of the community of faith; and
- it invites people to a kind of intellectual suicide and a false certitude.
Granted, the Church’s understanding of biblical fundamentalism is not entirely negative; she does acknowledge at least some good qualities. However, her assessment is overwhelmingly condemning, and more is said to condemn it beyond what has been listed here.