The term ‘fundamentalist’ has many meanings to many different people. If it means belief in the historic doctrines of a faith tradition (like Christianity), then many evangelicals and Catholics are fundamentalists. Originally, in the fundamentalist-modernist controversy of the early 20th century this was all it meant. After all, the leading fundamentalist, J. Gresham Machen, was an true intellectual being a professor at Princeton and New Testament and Greek scholar. So much for fundamentalism meaning anti-intellectualism. Further, Machen enjoyed (in moderation) whiskey, cigars, and a new sport, American football. So much for being socially backwards or legalistic. But after the Scopes ‘Monkey’ trial, the term fundamentalist took on a different sense (the anti-Christian journalist H.L. Mencken was perhaps the leader in transforming the image of what a fundamentalist is). It became associated with anti-inellectualism, backwardsness, cultural withdrawal and isolation, simple-mindedness, close-mindedness, legalism, and so on. In particular, a fundamentalist was increasingly thought to be someone who was unwilling to ever read or listen to another viewpoint.
There are at least two ironies here. The first is that there are many critics of Christianity who are fundamentalist in this latter sense. They only read one side, assume their own side is the gospel, and won’t entertain notions to the contrary. A liberal, theologically and politically, can be just as fundamentalist in this sense as an evangelical. In fact, seminary education is a great example of how this is so. In most evangelical theological seminaries, evangelical professors and students teach, read, and interact with higher critics of the bible (those who think the bible is replete with error, isn’t basically reliable, etc.). But in liberal theological seminaries, traditionalist orthodox viewpoints and scholars are simply trivialized and given scant attention, if at all.
The second irony is that for some evangelicals who consider themselves fundamentalists, who relish the fact that they ‘waste no time’ reading and interacting with non-Christian viewpoints, they actually show that they aren’t fundamentalist enough After all, if your model is ‘the bible only’ and if one would at least consider the Apostle Paul to be as fundamentalist as they come, and if you think we should obey the Apostle’s commandment to imitate him (1 Cor. 4:16), one might want to consider Paul’s approach to ministry in Acts 17. One must ask of this passage, how much reading, interaction, with non-Christian viewpoints does Paul call for and demonstrate? It seems here alone that Paul is both knowledgeable of and willing to interact with Epicurianism, Stoicism, Judaism, and even Greek poetry.
Paul in Athens
16 Now while Paul was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit wasprovoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. 17 So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. 18 Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus and the resurrection. 19 And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20 For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.” 21 Now all the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there would spend their time in nothing except telling or hearing something new.
Paul Addresses the Areopagus
22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,3 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him.Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for
“‘In him we live and move and have our being’;4
as even some of your own poets have said,
“‘For we are indeed his offspring.’5
29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
32 Now when they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some mocked. But others said, “We will hear you again about this.” 33 So Paul went out from their midst. 34 But some men joined him and believed, among whom also were Dionysius the Areopagite and a woman named Damaris and others with them.