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What Is A Biblical Fundamentalist?

Updated: Apr 20, 2022

Chappel, Paul. What Is a Biblical Fundamentalist? Striving Together Publications, Lancaster CA. 2005

This is a helpful little book on the issue of “Fundamentalism.” The work gives a brief overview of the concept and attempts to clarify what Fundamentalism is and what it isn’t (or at least what it shouldn’t be). The author of the book identifies as a Fundamentalist.

Introduction -

The author acknowledges that the term “Fundamentalist" has, for various reasons, become problematic as a designation in the world of faith (5,6,11-12); However, the term doesn’t seem to be problematic in other areas of life.

A Fundamentalist is defined as one:

1. Who simply believes “the basic doctrines and values of the Bible”(7) and

2. Adheres “to the fundamental teachings of the Word of God” (11). Also identified as

3. One who took a strong stand against liberalism and rationalism - This is the historical Fundamentalist related to the Fundamentalist / Modernist controversy. (18)

It is important in this discussion to realize that modern day Fundamentalism does not have to mimic or mirror the Fundamentalism of the 19th and 20th century in every respect. In fact, the term doesn’t even have to be used to describe yourself. The term was basically coined by Curtis Laws in 1920. However, as this topic is considered in its historical context, it is discovered that what was considered “fundamental” to one group was not even mentioned by another group, in their documents (Which we will see later).

This book was written with three purposes in mind as given by the author (6-8):

First, for those Christians, seeking to understand more clearly what biblical fundamentalism truly is.

Second, it is written for those “outside of biblical fundamentalism” who are “attempting to redefine” who fundamentalists are.

Third, it is written to “those within fundamentalism” who are attempting to redefine what a fundamentalist is.

(Author makes a point that the term “fundamental” is being applied to “personal preferences or matters of taste, rather than to the unchanging truth of the Word.” This is actually one of the key problems that has besmirched the idea of “Fundamental.” Another problem is that some modern day Fundamentalists have parroted the negative personality characteristics of the the early progenitors of Fundamentalism to the exclusion of their positive traits).

Let us continue.


The Apostle Paul is identified as one who “claimed the fundamentals of the faith, ” and two of them are identified as being the incarnation of Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection (I Timothy 3:16).

Next, the author mentions something that seems a bit out of context. The author goes from the cardinal doctrines of the incarnation and Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection to “exterior manifestations.” He mentions the idea that “exterior manifestations of inner change” without a clear scriptural understanding makes one a shallow Christian (10, see also the discussion begun on p. 59). He then states that all Christians need a clear understanding of basic Bible doctrines. It appears that there is some conflation occurring with these statements. What “exterior manifestations” are being referenced here? What “basic Bible doctrines” are being referred to? To know what is being referred to would help us make a better determination about what is being said. It is implied that an understanding of basic Bible doctrine will lead to inner change which will lead to outer change. I do not feel that the author is implying the things mentioned next; However, the way in which the text is written will muddy the waters of understanding for some. Although the “exterior manifestations” statement is true, on the surface, it is not universally true that understanding basic Bible doctrine will lead to external change. It is also not true that all “exterior manifestations” will consistently be the same if one has a basic understanding of Bible doctrine. Further, it is also not true that all outer change implies inner change. Finally, there are Christians with a good understanding of basic Bible doctrine and yet their “exterior manifestation” is different than someone else who also has a good sense of basic Bible doctrine. Beyond these reflections, this statement seems out of place in this particular place.

Biblical fundamentalism is identified as being closely aligned with one’s view of the Word of God. If one believes that the Word of God is infallible and that it alone is the final authority, then he is identified as a fundamentalist (12-13).

It is at this point (13-14) that the author begins to speak more specifically about the historical aspects of the modernist / fundamentalist controversy. Post Civil War German Rationalism is identified as the catalyst that brought liberalism to America (Immanuel Kant, Frederick Schleirmacher, Earnst Troeltsch specifically are mentioned. Charles Darwin is brought in as another wing of liberalism that began to permeate the religious institutions of America).

Further, on pages 15-16, the response to liberalism is identified as fundamentalism. The Fundamentalists (like A.J. Gordon, John Duffield, J. Hudson Taylor, W.E Blacksotne, R.A. Torrey, T.T. Shields, J. Frank Norris - 18) preached in their pulpits, began to host Bible conferences (Pre-millennial Bible conferences, Niagara Bible Conferences), publish books and papers to defend the authority of the Word of God, proclaim the literal return of Christ, and encourage witnessing.

Chappell acknowledges that there are about 13,000 Independent Baptist Churches in America. He states that this number of churches is primarily a result of people / churches separating from other people and churches when they became increasingly “rationalistic and allegorical in their approach to the Bible” (19).

Chappell next identifies other religious groups down through the ages that were willing to stand for the “character and principles” that guided the primitive church of the first century(19).

Interestingly, there is no mention in this book of the “Fundamentals” of the faith as defined by the early Fundamentalists.

The Fundamentals: as defined by three separate entities:


What were these early proponents of fundamentalism contending for?

I. The Inspiration and Authority of the Scriptures (23)

II. The Virgin Birth - The issue of the KJV brought in here to emphasize that one of the reasons the author uses the KJV is because it protects fundamental doctrines (25).

III. The Blood atonement (26)

IV. Deity of Jesus Christ (31)

V. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ (33)

VI. The Pre-Millennial Return of Jesus Christ - Chappell states that this criteria was not commonly listed as a fundamental but that the early fundamentalists strongly emphasized the pre-millennial return of Christ (36). Please reference the chart above for more information on this topic.

Because of these “fundamentals,” those who have held to them have always emphasized two things:

1. Christians Reaching the Lost (40).

2. Christians Living Separate From Worldly Practices (Personal Separation) and Unscriptural Churches (ecclesiastical separation - 41).

At this point, Chappell approaches the very real danger of becoming more concerned with the outward (which is important) than with the inward (“heart transformation”). (43 - Also remember the discussion on p. 10)

A discussion of Grace and separation then ensues, which finds its foundation in Titus 2:12. Biblical separation must be motivated by the grace of God at work in our hearts. Grace is not a license to live a carnal life. “God’s grace would never cause us to live according to the dictation of this world, but rather to live more and more like the Lord Jesus Christ.” (43). There needs to be balance in fundamental churches. There needs to be a strong stand for doctrine, but there also needs to be a heart that has been nurtured and cultivated to love Jesus Christ. Our hearts need to be pleasing to God.


Pride and desire to build a constituency are not good motives (45). Envy, jealousy, selfish agendas, competition, and criticism can destroy the good that we hope to achieve (52). The motives of the biblical Fundamentalist are listed as follows:

1. To Please the Savior - II Timothy 2:3-4 (47)

2. To Earnestly Contend For the Faith - Defending the faith is a key characteristic of an historical and biblical fundamental Christian - Not haughty, arrogant, hateful (47-50). The fight is against ungodly men....Jude 3-4; I Timothy 4:1-2

3. To Express the True Love and Heart of Christ - II Timothy 2:24 (50-53).

The word strive means to war and quarrel. The Bible repeatedly warns us of this argumentative spirit - Proverbs 20:3; 25:8; 26:17; Ecclesiastes 7:8; Galatians 5:22; Ephesians 4:2; Philippians 2:3

You can be a fundamentalist and avoid this argumentative spirit, and be gentle. This is one of the negative characteristics that modern Fundamentalists seem to have carried over from the Fundamentalist forbears. Our goal should not be to ostracize people who differ with us. We desire people to move toward the truth (II Timothy 2:25).


How should the truths we believe play out in the Local church?

1. A true fundamental ministry will be guided by God’s Word. The why of ministry should always be answered with a Bible principle. II Timothy 3:16; Acts 17:11

a. Why do we sing the songs we do? Ephesians 5:19-20;

19 Speaking to yourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,

singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord; 20 Giving thanks

always for all things unto God and the Father in the name of our Lord

Jesus Christ;

b. Why do we preach? II Timothy 4:2

2 Preach the word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke,

exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine.

c. Why do we have soulwinning outreach? Matthew 28:19-20

19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of

the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: 20 Teaching them to

observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am

with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.

d. Why Support missionaries? Acts 1:8

8 But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you:

and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea,

and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.

e. Why do we have an offering? I Cor. 16:2

2 Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store,

as God hath prospered him, that there be no gatherings when I come.

2. Our Ministry must be guided by biblical principles. Psalm 119:45

45 And I will walk at liberty: For I seek thy precepts.

Liberty and freedom must be found within the context of the Word of God.

a. Standards must be preached with the underlying biblical principle. To

not do so will produce weak believers that will forsake the standard (59)

b. Illustration about the principle of answered prayer - Luke 11:9-10

9 And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall

find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. 10 For every one that

asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that

knocketh it shall be opened.

c. Illustration about the principle of not participating in ungodly activities

3 I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes: I hate the work of them

that turn aside; it shall not cleave to me.

1 Blessed is the man That walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, Nor

standeth in the way of sinners, Nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. But

his delight is in the law of the Lord; And in his law doth he meditate day

and night.

d. “Defining the standard is where the process becomes more difficult

and personal” (61).

e. Legalism is often defined as having standards, however this is not true.

Legalism is the doing of works as either a means of salvation or a

means of acceptance with God. If I say that “I will not attend Rock

Concerts” because of a biblical principle related to Psalm 101:3 and

Psalm 1:1-2, that is not legalism. If I attended a Rock concert I wouldn’t

lose my salvation or my acceptance with God, but that activity will be

in opposition to God’s intention to transform me into what he wants me

to be. This is not legalism. It is vigilant and circumspect Christian living.

f. Find a church that is not afraid to be specific in preaching against sin.

Establish a lifestyle that conforms to God’s Word, and not because you

are merely “conforming to an environment of standards” (63). We

must not live our lives as men-pleasers (Ephesians 6:6).

g. Your life should be guided by the Word of god in your life and your

should live and make decisions based upon the principles of God’s


3. Ministry Should Not Be Guided By Culture - Romans 12:2

2 And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the

renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and

acceptable, and perfect, will of God.

a. Our goal is to make the Word of God understandable but it is not to

make it palatable (64).

b. We must not compromise the Word of God. Culture driven ministries

are prone to this.

c. Four weaknesses of the culture driven church

i. Little scriptural exposition - more teaching on relationships and

less on doctrine.

ii. Very shallow salvation invitations. Vague invitations to ask for

God’s help.

iii. No biblical approach to soulwinning which involves personally

sharing the gospel

iv. No emphasis on separation from the world - Many of these church

desire to blend in with the culture.

4. Not Guided by Loyalty to Personality. Fundamental churches are loyal to biblical truth first and personalities later (66) - I Cor. 3:4-5

4 For while one saith, I am of Paul; and another, I am of Apollos; are ye not

carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye

believed, even as the Lord gave to every man?

a. Minister = servant I Cor. 3:5-6

5 Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye

believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? 6 I have planted, Apollos

watered; but God gave the increase.

b. Militancy reflected in loyalty to a particular person other than Jesus

Christ is NOT a sign of biblical fundamentalism

c. We should certainly honor elders that rule well I Timothy 5:17

17 Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honour,

especially they who labour in the word and doctrine.

d. The bed slat illustration (68) - Very good illustration about making the

Word of God our pattern.

5. Not Guided by Personal Preferences - Romans 14:4-8

a. Biblical principles help us form convictions from which we form

standards (70). We do not want to become pharisaical (71) - Standards

are not the goal - Jesus Christ is the goal.

b. Standards are not the goal. Personal preferences are not the bedrock

foundation of Christianity. Jesus Christ is the goal! We must refuse to

become judgmental and hypercritical over preferences and standards.

c. Music is listed as an illustration (71-72). Building style, furniture, color of

carpet are listed as “preferential issues.”

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