Liberal and conservative fundamentalisms

In my experience, when someone calls someone else a “fundamentalist,” they don’t usually seem to know what they’re saying. It’s become a kind of shorthand for “ultra conservative.”

But since many people think that being a “fundamentalist” in our wealthy, western, liberal society is a very bad thing, name-calling in this way seems to have a specific purpose: to dismiss someone’s point of view without really engaging in meaningful discussion.

So I want to point out that there are both conservative and liberal fundamentalists.

Conservative fundamentalists are those who seem to be worried that things aren’t clear enough in the Bible. Therefore, they create additional rules and regulations to make things more black and white. This, they hope, will make their set of “fundamentals” more undeniable.

In contrast, liberal fundamentalists are those who seem to be worried that things are too clear in the Bible. Therefore, they try to subtract biblical principles to make God’s will seem more lax. This, they hope, will make their set of “fundamentals” more undeniable.*

This isn’t new. Even in the time of the apostles, there were those who wanted to distort the biblical teachings. In fact, according to Alisa Childers, the topic of false teachers and false teaching comes up in 22 of the 27 New Testament books!*

Adding to the Bible—and subtracting from it—are both distortions.

Are you prone to one or the other?

Psalm 19 re-centres us on the perfection and beauty of the Bible: “The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul… The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes” (verses 7-8).

Extremism (on both the left and right) is the idolatry that we know better than God.

If God wanted more (or less) to be a part of the Bible, he would have done so.

Let’s align our views, beliefs and actions with him.


–My latest PODCAST is an interview with Christine O’Reilly called “Keeping composure under strain.” A timely topic! Look for ‘The Pulse Podcast with Matthew Ruttan’ wherever you subscribe to podcasts: iTunes (Apple), Spotify, Google Podcasts, Stitcher or TuneIn. Or you can listen directly here.

–*This concept was explained in similar (but different) terms by Kevin DeYoung at the national conference of The Gospel Coalition called “Jesus is Greater.” It took place from April 12-14, 2021 in Indianapolis, IN.

–*Alisa Childers, Another Gospel? A lifelong Christian seeks truth in response to Progressive Christianity (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2020), 100.

–Bible quotes are from the NIV.

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