Fundamentalism is a term to describe a group of Christian people. The term and/or group have changed over the years. Historically it referred to a group of people who believed (correctly) that the church as a whole was drifting into liberalism. This would have been shortly after the turn of the 20th century. They wanted to define what historical Christianity has always believed, codify it and then teach and live by this “adjusted” teaching, the fundamentals of the faith. It was a good idea and I think necessary to define ourselves again as a way of reminding ourselves who we are, what we believe and bringing on-going clarity to our generation as well as the next.
In the 1920’s fundamentalism began to take up cultural causes like prohibition and began preaching against the abuse of alcohol. America at that time was scaling up in its pursuit of hedonism in ways that previous generations had not known. What was traditionally secret, taboo or hidden was being bandied about in the public arena. There was less shame about “sin” and the lines between right and wrong were being blured and needed to be drawn to clarity in the estimation of the fundamentalists. The Christian felt his world collapsing and a stand needed to be made. There needed to be a difference articulated between right and wrong. (I’m well aware I’m simplifying 100 years of fundamentalist’s teaching and application.)
Therefore, in the 40’s and 50’s fundamentalism began taking hard turns from teaching the fundamentals to teaching how we should behave in our world. I don’t think they ever left the fundamentals of the faith, but the point of emphasis changed with the advent of TV, movies and more explicit hedonistic lifestyles. It is as though the teaching (fundamentals) were assumed and the behavior was not so they lightened up on the doctrine and began to draw hard lines on how to live. The danger here is the lines on behavior can drift, much like they did for the Pharisees. The Pharisees held strongly to the law and was so afraid they would offend the law that they created a hedge around the law and lived by that standard rather than the law. In years they erected a second hedge around the first hedge and began to live by that standard and after several generations of this there were laws that had little connection to the bible and the generations that came after were not as schooled in history or the bible so this hedge became the law in their minds and they, too, desiring to be careful created their own set of rules. After many years of this “law morphing” you have things that people believe and practice, but are only faintly tethered to the bible if at all. This is what has happened in fundamentalism. One other major note about fundamentalists is they are some of the most sincere and honest people you would ever want to meet. Many times their character is not the issue. It’s their lifestyle. They have a standard in many areas that the Bible does not necessarily support and the public generally speaking does not understand. This conflict is unnecessary in my view.