What Is A Biblical Fundamentalist?

Updated: Apr 20

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: