Christian Fundamentalism Another Look

Fundamentalism is a term popularly used to describe strict adherence to Christian doctrines based on a literal interpretation of the Bible. This usage derives from a late-19th- and early-20th-century transdenominational Protestant movement that opposed the accommodation of Christian doctrine to modern scientific theory and philosophy.

With some differences among themselves, fundamentalists insist on belief in the inerrancy of the Bible, the virgin birth and divinity of Jesus Christ, the vicarious and atoning character of his death, his bodily resurrection, and his second coming as the irreducible minimum of authentic Christianity.

This minimum was reflected in such early declarations as the 14-point creed of the Niagara Bible Conference of 1878 and the 5-point statement of the Presbyterian General Assembly of 1910. Two immediate doctrinal sources for fundamentalist thought were MILLENARIANISM and biblical inerrancy.

Millenarianism, belief in the physical return of Christ to establish a 1,000-year earthly reign of blessedness, was a doctrine prevalent in English-speaking Protestantism by the 1870s. At the same time, powerful conservative forces led by Charles Hodge and Benjamin Warfield opposed the growing use of literary and historical criticism in biblical studies, defending biblical inspiration and the inerrant authority of the Bible.

The name fundamentalist was coined in 1920 to designate those "doing battle royal for the Fundamentals." Also figuring in the name was The Fundamentals, a 12-volume collection of essays written in the period 1910-15 by 64 British and American scholars and preachers.

Three million copies of these volumes and the founding of the World's Christian Fundamentals Association in 1919 gave sharp identity to fundamentalism as it moved into the 1920s. Leadership moved across the years from such men as A. T. Pierson, A. J. Gordon, and C. I. Scofield to A. C. Dixon and Reuben Torrey, William Jennings BRYAN, and J. Gresham Machen.

As fundamentalism developed, most Protestant denominations in the United States felt the division between liberalism and fundamentalism. The Baptists, Presbyterians, and Disciples of Christ were more affected than others. Nevertheless, talk of schism was much more common than schism itself.

Perhaps the lack of a central organization and a normative creed, certainly the caricature of fundamentalism arising from the SCOPES TRIAL (1925), the popularization of the liberal response by representatives like Harry Emerson FOSDICK, well-publicized divisions among fundamentalists themselves, and preoccupations with the Depression of the 1930s and World War II curtailed fundamentalism's appeal.

By 1950 it was either isolated and muted or had taken on the more moderate tones of EVANGELICALISM. In the 1970s and 1980s, however, fundamentalism again became an influential force in the United States.

Promoted by popular television evangelists and represented by such groups as the MORAL MAJORITY, the new politically oriented "religious right" opposes the influence of liberalism and secularism in American life. The term fundamentalist has also been used to describe members of militant Islamic groups.

1992 Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc.


Survey of Christian Right Activists

Table 1: Demography

Gender Male 62%
Race White 97%
Married 85%
Region Northeast 22%
Midwest 20%
West 22%
South 36%
Age Under 35 yrs 12%
35 to 50 yrs 46%
51 to 65 yrs 26%
Over 65 yrs 16%
Education High school or less 8%
Some college 22%
College graduate 23%
Post-grad degree 47%
Occupation New Class professionals 34%
Technical professionals 12%
Business managers 7%
Small business 18%
Clerical/blue collar 6%
Housewife 9%
Retired 14%
Under $25,000 10%
$25,000-$50,000 25%
$50,000-$75,000 26%
$75,000-$150,000 24%
Over $150,000 15%
Chart above © 1998 Institute for First Amendment Studies, Inc.

The above chart came from, which went down in 2001. The similar survey for Liberals included with this original article showed similar upper income activists but differed in three important ways. The Liberal activists also tended to be older than Christian activists and also had higher net incomes above the general public. Second, more non-whites, but the vast majority was white. Third, liberals tended to be less owners and more professionals such as doctors and lawyers. This would make sense because so many of these types tend to be socialist (anti-business) and anti-religious. Neither group overall represents your typical working-class American, but many working-class people tend to be more religious then college-educated types. (Don't get the absurd idea these religious types are stupid.)

Most interesting is the 2004 presidential election where "moral values" seemed to carry the day. While it's easy to say a victory for the Religious Right, in my opinion it's more a failure of the Left and Liberalism. Bush got almost half the Hispanic vote and 56% (according to CNN) of the Catholic vote. So is this a victory for white, fundamentalist' Protestants or changes across the board?

Looking at other stats on this website, as of 2000 76.5% of the US population identified themselves as Christians while estimates of the Evangelical (Protestant) part of the population is between 15-20%. Secular/nonreligious/atheist/agnostic is about 15%. Christianity grew by 5% between 1990 and 2000, secular by 110% Evangelicals do a lot of missionary work, but tend to get people to change churches as opposed to reaching non-believers.

Another interesting stat is evolution. Atheistic evolution claims about a 9% following while belief in God claims 91%. But of that 91% for God, It's an almost even split that half of those that believe in God (40%) believe in evolution as the work of God. I guess it depends on the definition of God. The important thing to note is the shift away from evangelicalism (including Six-Day Creationism) seems to be as adults. 45% of scientists believe in God.