Are Adventists Fundamentalists?
Seventh-day Adventists strongly emphasize the great fundamentals of the Christian faith and the importance of sound Bible-based doctrine. Some decades ago a conservative theological faith was popularly called Fundamentalist and generally Seventh-day Adventists did not object to this categorization as descriptive of their own theological position. Since the development of the so-called Fundamentalist movement in the early twentieth century an increasing disrepute has come upon the term so that its use by Adventists today might, unfortunately, be misleading. Thinking of the term in its original meaning it is still occasionally used by our writers and speakers. Some have even thought of us as "fundamentalists of the fundamentalists."
The conservative reaction to inroads in American theological education by the influence of highly critical liberal philosophical thought and the accommodation of theologians to Darwinian evolution led to the publication of a series of twelve small books called The Fundamentals. This endeavor, begun in 1910, presented the convictions of conservative scholars on what constituted the sine qua non of Christianity, i.e., the infallibility of the Bible; Christ's virgin birth; His substitutionary atonement, resurrection, and second coming. Naturally Seventh-day Adventists subscribe to these essentials of faith and appreciated at the time the clear warnings of other Christians against the vagaries of what came to be known as Modernism. Even so, we would observe that The Fundamentals presented only a partial, if central, statement of the meaning of the Christian faith.
The emphasis on a few major doctrines was sometimes carried too far so that all of Christian doctrine was reduced to a few essentials. Fundamentalists were often guilty, for example, of reducing the Christian message to one of salvation alone."
As time passed far more serious criticism of those carrying the Fundamentalist banner developed. With evolution as the movement's archenemy the Fundamentalists developed a distrust of science generally, and their critics viewed them as a group of anti-intellectual obscurantists. Their apparent depreciation of scholarship marked them as having a zeal without knowledge. Further, they were seemingly unconcerned with the problems of society and practical life in reaction to an objectionable social gospel. These later developments and departures from the distinguished positions of early Fundamentalist champions (notably J. Gresham Machen) led to considerable acrimony within the movement. Fundamentalists became noted for their attacks and counterattacks, suspicions, and accusations, so that they were thought of by some as no longer representing a theological position but rather a particular disposition in conflict and bigotry. The identity with Fundamentalism of "holy rollers" and what appeared as Protestantism's "lunatic fringe" brought additional disrepute upon the name.
Carl F. H. Henry, editor of Christianity Today, in an article entitled "What Is Fundamentalism" stated:
By some fundamentalism is considered a summary term for theological pugnaciousness, ecumenic disruptiveness, cultural unprogressiveness, scientific obliviousness, and/or anti-intellectual inexcusableness. By others, fundamentalism is equated with extreme Dispensationalism, pulpit sensationalism, excessive emotionalism, social withdrawal, and bawdy church music.2
The wide identification of Fundamentalism with the arbitrary and erroneous exegesis of Dispensationalism would of course destroy the usefulness of the term for Seventh-day Adventists. Dispensationalism carries objectionable connotations of a "pretribulation rapture," 144,000 Jews to be saved during a seven-year tribulation period, the dividing of the history of the Bible into seven fixed dispensations, and the concept that the Old Testament is primarily "for the Jews." We thus cannot expect to convey our intended meaning of a people with a faith based upon the Word of God, who constitute God's remnant people, by identification with the Fundamentalist movement of today.
Theological labels frequently distort the spirit and life of a Christian movement. This is surely the case in the use of this term. Those believing in the Bible and the whole Bible, for the preparation of the whole man to meet Christ, represent a prophetic response to world needs in this final hour. This total Christian life expression should be best represented as "Seventh-day Adventist."
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1 Ronald H. Nash The New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids; Zondervan Publishing House, 1963) , p. 24.
2 Quoted by Nash, ibid., p. 28.