Reformed or Fundamentalist?


by Mike Ratliff

In one week not long ago I was called a fundamentalist twice. The first time it was meant as an insult by one person commenting on Possessing the Treasure. The second time it was actually contained in a question by a friend at church asking if I considered myself to be a fundamentalist. This person did not use that word the same way the first person did. In fact, I am positive that he meant it in a positive way. The more I have pondered this, the more I have come to understand that these two people had a completely different concept of what it means to be a fundamentalist. This word is used in the news media in a negative context to describe religious people who commit acts of terrorism or retreat from society into cultic communes. The emergents’ view fundamentalists with anger and resentment. They view them as backward and mired in dead religiosity. However, is that what fundamentalism is?

I hope this doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but I do not consider myself to be a fundamentalist, that is, if the definition of that term describes a form of religiosity that is marked by varying degrees of self-righteousness contained within a theological structure that is shallow. Below is an article by John Hendryx.  Please read it then I will continue below.

Fundamentalism Vs. Reformed Theology

In general, most modern fundamentalists take the Bible at face-value within their own socio-political context, and they usually subscribe to a form of premillennialism. However, since the term fundamentalist is often a vilification when used by outsiders, some fundamentalists now call themselves evangelicals.

Fundamentalists are often those who are reclusive and estranged from the religious establishment, which they sometimes perceive as needing an overhaul or even replacement. The first time that any group of Christians proclaimed themselves to be fundamentalists was in a meeting that took place in the early 1900s in the United States. At the time there was not the clear association of fundamentalists with militant or religious fanatics (an association people might often ascribe to them today). The gathering was merely a response, in the Church, to the huge infusion of modernism and the liberalizing trends of German biblical criticism. This tendency of modernism and unbelief in the Church gave rise to a group resistance, among religious conservatives of various stripes, to the loss of influence traditional revivalism experienced in America during the early years of the twentieth century. At this time, the “Fundamentalists” were Calvinists united together with Dispensationalists and other conservative Christians to do battle with this dramatic theologically liberal turn from historic Christian orthodoxy. They distributed a series of pamphlets, free of charge, among pastors and seminarians (published between 1910 and 1915) entitled “The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth”.

These were a set of basic truths to which all the conservatives were united in agreement and still are to this day. The following is what came out of the meeting and what Reformed Theology and Modern Fundamentalism still hold in common:

Fundamentalism and its Similarities with Reformed Theology

1) The inspiration and verbal inerrancy of Scripture
2) The Deity of Christ and the virgin Birth
3) The substitutionary atonement
4) Justification by faith
5) The physical resurrection
6) The bodily return of Christ at the end of the age.
7) Christ performed miracles

But over time the original reasons for uniting began to fall apart and the differences between the Reformed and other camps began to show. The following are significant differences that we can see today between modern Fundamentalists and those with a Reformed heritage:

Fundamentalism (and its Differences with Reformed Theology)

1) The absence of historical perspective;
2) Ignores the Scriptures highly diverse literary genres;
3) The lack of appreciation of scholarship; aversion toward any secondary theological training; anti-intellectual;
4) The substitution of brief, skeletal, superficial creeds for the historic confessions;
5) The lack of concern with precise formulation of Christian doctrine; highly averse to theology;
6) Pietistic, perfectionist tendencies, often moralistic (i.e., major upon “issues” such as protesting Harry Potter movies; separating with Christians who are not KJV only);Guilt-Centered (Fundamentalism) Vs. Gospel Centered (Reformed) Sanctification
7) One-sided other-worldliness – reclusive: church separate from the culture – the holy huddle (i.e., a lack of effort to impact their communities & transform culture);
8) A penchant for futuristic chiliasm (or: dispensational pre-millennialism);
9) They embrace some form of Manicheanism (or Greek dualism);
10) Often demonize their opposition and are reactionary;
11) Envy modernist cultural/political hegemony and try to overturn the powers that be through political brute force rather than persuasion; Thus are often viewed by outsiders more like a political lobby than representatives of Christ;
12) Arminian tendency in theology (synergistic)

If the definition of a fundamentalist is from the first list only then I have no problem being called one. However, if that definition is also marked by the tendencies in the second list then there is a problem. I had to go through these points one at a time to see if I leaned towards any of these things. I think that most of us have struggled in this area from time to time. The one that glared at me the most was point 3. I really am not anti-intellectual nor am I against men being trained to rightly handle the word of truth. I love Bible study and I love teaching so I highly value the ability to dig into the original languages behind the scriptures and place the books of the Bible into correct context. No, I have no problem with any of that. My problem is when liberal theologians corrupt the process and produce clones of themselves who no longer hold to the authority of Scripture. 

I am Reformed in my theology and I agree with J. Greshem Machen when he teamed up with the Fundamentalists of his day to stand against the rise of liberalism (modernism) in the Church while also being very careful not be identified with them in any other area. He saw the negative influences that the Fundamentalists were having on the Church such as the things outlined in the second list above. I grew up as a Southern Baptist in Oklahoma. When I look back on how my theology developed in all those years and compare it to my understanding now it angers me to some degree. I read an article a few years ago which quoted a Scottish evangelist who had been preaching in the United States and was preparing to return home. He was asked for his evaluation of the American Church. He said it was mostly Protestantism without the historical context of the Protestant Reformation. 

As I became more educated in theology I began to understand what this man was talking about. God saved me in 1986. Thinking back on that time from then until 2006, more than 20 years, if anyone had used the term “Means of Grace” in my presence I doubt if I would have understood what they were talking about. I would have shuddered if they had used the term “Sacraments.” I viewed the Protestant Reformation as just part of history that had little or no impact on the Church now. However, since 2006, as I studied Church History, read the writings of the Reformers, and studied Theology, I finally began to understand why Machen refused to be counted amongst the Fundamentalists. I understood why such gifted theologians such as D. James Kennedy and R.C. Sproul could be Reformed and still preach the Gospel and have ministries that God used in a mighty way. The liberals and emergents may still view them and all Calvinists as Fundamentalists, but they are mistaken if they they are insinuating that we all are wrapped up in self-righteous legalism. In fact, I haven’t yet met a brother Calvinist who I would consider to be in that vein. 

About 18 months ago my wife and I visited a local church in our city for a few Sundays. We were warmly welcomed at first. We could tell that God had some of His people in that Church. However, some of those there held to a form of Christianity that contained many unwritten, extra-biblical rules. When it was discovered that I was Reformed in my theology then the cold shoulder really became obvious. I talked with the Pastor. He is a great guy and I love him, but he told me that the Fundamentalists in that church did not really understand what it meant to be Reformed and were quite hostile towards it. We haven’t been back. 

My brethren, let us not make idols of our religiosity. We must examine ourselves to see if there be any self-righteousness there. If we find ourselves reacting towards other professing believers within the context of some of those things on the second list above then there is a problem. While I am Reformed, I know that I have Arminian brothers and sisters in Christ, therefore, let us not divide from anyone who holds to justification by faith alone apart from works. However, let us contend earnestly against the Pelagians and semi-Pelagians who preach works theology. We must stand firm against these corrupting influences, but we must not allow self-righteous tendencies to become any part of our motivations. 

Let us pursue the knowledge of God and His ways. Let us understand the necessity of being orthodox in our theology because anything outside of that is a corrupt form of Christianity and does not honor God nor does it edify the saints. Let us insist that our Pastors feed the sheep by opening the Word to them as much as possible. Let us resist all wolves in sheep’s clothing. This means that we must know our stuff. To recognize bad fruit we must know what good fruit is. Let us make disciples instead of converts. Let us never forget that Christians are New Creations and this world is not their home. Therefore, let us focus on the Eschaton by living this life in such a way that our treasure is in Heaven rather than here.

Soli Deo Gloria!

28 thoughts on “Reformed or Fundamentalist?

  1. Good post Mike. Let us make disciples instead of converts……..thats good. We need to ‘dig in’ more and learn. That will also be never ending while we are here. I really believe if we humble ourselves to the full sovereignty of God in ALL areas, He will show us more. Until we do that, our eyes may be closed to certain areas. And with me………I don’t want to miss out on anything! 🙂


  2. Pingback: Reformed or Fundamentalist? - Reformata

  3. Interesting read. It seems to me that you feel there is a contradiction in being a Reformed Fundamentalist. I don’t think there is. While your second list is indicative of many who call themselves “Fundamentalists,” it is by no means an accurate description of Fundamentalism overall. FWIW.


  4. Jason, I can see where you could get that, but I did say that I have no problem being called Reformed Fundamentalist as long as that is not referring to the self-righteousness that is referred to in the second list…


  5. Amen. Let us examine ourselves and hold fast to Scripture. Make every attempt to restore a brother, even if he claims to be arminian. lol

    Very powerful Mike. I grew up as a fundie of the second sort. Never did hear the Sovereign God of the Bible preached. Now, well, He’s made me a fundie of the first sort.

    Pray earnestly for them, it is more of a cult mentality than you know.


  6. Good article Mike! I am a fundamentalist by the first list. And the definition of a fundamentalist in its negative sense (the second list) is being broadened to encompass and include those who hold to sound doctrine so that they are caricatured as legalistic and narrow minded. Rick Warren said, “Now the word “fundamentalist” actually comes from a document in the 1920s called the Five Fundamentals of the Faith. And it is a very legalistic, narrow view of Christianity…(Source). All of this because those who hold to sound doctrine are an obstacle to the ecumenical movement being unified by a social gospel rather than by truth. So “fundamentalist” with all its negative connotations will be attached to those who stand for truth and stand in the way of the ecumenical movement.


  7. Have you ever been called an “elitist” ? When my “former” pastor heard that I was teaching the Doctines of Grace in my Wednesday night class He cautioned me not turn my class into a bunch of “elitist”. I’m still not sure what he meant.


  8. Thank you for that Mike. I am, like your visiting minister, a Scottish protestant (Church of Scotland). I would subscribe to everything on Hendryx’s first list and recognise much of the second list as describing people that I have always regarded as confused and probably American. On this side of the Atlantic, fundamentalism is a peculiarly American phenomenon.

    This week, I picked up a book from the theology studies that my wife and I are currently engaged in. The book is an Old Testament survey. The chapter covering Genesis made it clear that the American author, Paul N Benware, subscribed to the view that the earth was tens of thousands rather than millions of years old. I have to confess that this left me questioning the credibility of the man. I found myself becoming annoyed at the inference that anyone who did not believe this is somehow not a true Christian. I was also a little disappointed by finding that I was now doubting the authority of a book that I had been looking forward to reading.

    At the heart of the reformation in Europe, and perhaps what the Americans have missed, is the emphasis on Christ (as opposed to the Catholic Church) being the only mediator between an individual and God. More than this, as Christians, we are called to develop this relationship and show it to others through our thoughts, words and deeds.

    So thank you for your post. Our focus should be on Jesus and in following his example. It seems to me that those who seek to spread a fundamentalist agenda are not only confusing Christ’s message, but also giving others who do seek to do this a bad name.


  9. Amen Olan! Yes, I have read that by RW. I am convinced that God allows these people to write and say things like that so we can know who they really are. Our focus must be on Christ and Him crucified and our doctrine must be sound. The way from the NARROW Gate to the Father is down a NARROW and dangerous, difficult path. Let us be Christ focused and obedient to HIm, keeping HIs commandments, until He comes for us. Stand Firm and never stop contending for the Faith.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  10. lifecypha,

    Yes, I have been called an Elitist. Those who use that term are being derogatory implying that any who hold to the doctrine of election are also going to look down their noses at everyone else because they aren’t elect. That is one fleshly attitude. When I became reformed I was humbled and my view of God in His sovereignty was expanded beyond my comprehension. What joyous and humbling thing it is to realize the veracity of Ephesians 1 and 2.

    We don’t know who the elect are. We have no way of know that. Instead, we must freely offer the gospel to everyone with the faith and knowledge that God will draw His people to Himself unto salvation. That is not elitism, that is obeying what we are commanded to do. Our Lord said, “Make Disciples.”

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  11. Gavin,

    Welcome brother! I grew up in churches that were immersed in Fundamentalism. I am so grateful that God has drawn me out of that. In one of those churches, we had a professor from Southwest Theological Seminary come for a week to teach us about archaeology and how it applied to one particular book in the OT. It was fascinating. However, there were a couple of fellows in our class who considered themselves to be experts at Eschatology. They kept trying to move the discussion to that area, but the teacher would not allow it. On the last day of class, on one of our breaks, these two fellows confronted the teacher about his statements that Israel was cursed, etc. I was embarrassed because they were exceedingly belligerent and insulting towards him.

    A few weeks later the leader of that attack had the opportunity to preach on Wednesday night because our pastor was out of town. In his “sermon,” he recounted that incident and tried to make us all see that anyone who did agree with him on Eschatology could not possibly be of God. I believe that this incident is cemented into my memory specifically to warn me not to be like that and never demonize anyone. Yes, contend for the faith, but do not separate from believers who hold to the same “fundamentals” that we do, but who do not agree about other things that can only be attacked from a platform of self-righteousness.

    Thanks for visiting Possessing the Treasure Gavin!

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  12. Certainly we all find ourselves drifting into one or two of the items on list 2 from time to time.

    But, yes Mike, you are definately Fundamentalist. That is not necessarily a bad thing. As you said, it all depends, I suppose, on who is weilding the label. When it comes from someone you are jouryning with, it carries much positive force. When it is leveled as an attack, it makes one defensive.

    I would wonder if you see the striking parallel in this and your attacks on those your label “emergent.” As not all fundamentalists are easily pigeon-holed, neither are all emergents.

    Painting with a broad stroke rarely results in an acurate picture.


  13. Heath,

    Well, you see the difference between my contending with “emergents” and what I am discussing is that I will not compromise on the what constitutes orthodox Christianity and that means I will contend with those who are attempting to liberalize those things.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff


  14. You said,”When it was discovered that I was Reformed in my theology then the cold shoulder really became obvious”
    Personally, I hate ‘labels’. This has done more to divide God’s people than anything else. I lived outside the USA many years. I worked as a Humanitarian Aid Relief Coordinator & Educator for First Responders. This allowed me to enter numerous nations across four continents.

    It’s been my experience as soon as someone asks…what denomination you belong to….they do this to catagorize you. This ‘labeling’ has done great damage to the Body of Christ overseas. Finally, I began teaching that Christianity is ONE religion…but it’s the enemies plan to divide God’s people…which is why “walls” were built. Again…this is only MY own experience. Yet, it was easy to see that the “walls” that were built around one denomination or another…was like an exclusive club. If you aren’t my denomination, you are somehow a “lesser Christian’.

    Then reality hit when I returned back to the USA permanently. The circle of friends I’d associated with for 3 decades…let me know that I could not be a “True Christian” and hold the political beliefs I do.

    To say I was shocked is an understatement of vast proportions. We have all known each other for so long, our lives an open book to one another. However, when they made such a declaritive statement…I decided to distance myself. I should say, that not a single one had ever been outside the USA and only two had been outside the state of their birth.

    While I was in Darfur…I begged for help. No one wanted to leave their personal ‘comfort zone’. These were ministry folks…the ones that stand behind the pulpit and declare “we are our brothers keeper”.

    I was in the USA for several months following Hurricane Katrina. It was decided that a group of us would go to Louisiana and “do what our hands find to do”. Yet, when it came right down to the actual date of departure…the only three people that went, was myself and two from my own travel team.

    When I returned from Louisiana, I needed some my clothes cleaned before returning overseas. When I took them to the laundromat…the man that owns the place, saw all the ‘stickers’ from numerous nations upon the bag I used to bring my clothing in. He asked me “What do you do?” I told him. He said, “I’m a Christian, too”. We talked for a few minutes. He then said that there would be no charge for the cleaning….right about the time I started to tell him “Thank You”…he asked, “What church do you go to?” When I told him where I went, he took back his offer of cleaning my clothes at no charge. Now, it was never my intention to have this done at no charge as “a man is worthy of his hire”…but my point is…that he “labeled’ me as a ‘lesser Christian’ than himself.

    I belong to a main line denomination…evidently, the ‘labeling’ is more prevelant here that I had ever imagined. It ought not to be so.



  15. I am a Reformed Baptist and I attend an Arminian-Dispensationalist Fundamentalist bible school. I see many of things on the second list on a regular basis. I think the list goes a little too far in some of it’s characterizations (manichean??), but it generally has it right.

    I am often frustrated by the man-centered, decision-focused theology that focuses on sanctification from the outside in, rather than the inside out. The theology and understanding of the gospel, as was stated, is generally very shallow and is just scratching the surface.

    The works righteousness I was faced with literally had me on the brink of despair. I would have walked away from Christianity if it were not being introduced to the liberating truths of the docrines of grace. It was so wonderful to realize that, in the end, my salvation and sanctification was not hanging on my shoulders, but in the hands of almighty God.


  16. I read, with interest, your post and several links to Calvinism vs Arminianism. I accepted Christ as my Savior in 1972 (is it all right to say that anymore? – sounds kind of Arminian). In 2000, after 28 years of attending church services, Bible studies, raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and being privileged and blessed to be used by God in the ministry of women I walked away. I just couldn’t take the holier-than-thou, judgemental, “if you don’t agree with us you’re going to hell” attitude any longer.

    Our daughter was in the cafeteria of Columbine High School on April 20, 1999 when Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked through killing 12 students, a teacher and themselves. I praise God that she was spared physically. The emotional toll on her and our family is ongoing. One day, a week or two afterward, one of the men in our church said to me, “Well, those kids who died that day that hadn’t accepted Christ are in hell now.” I could only stare in disbelief.

    Several months later a visiting preacher stood in front of the alter on Sunday morning and opened his sermon by saying, “God created Adam and Eve. He didn’t create Adam and Steve.” People in the audience laughed. I cried. All I could think of was the fact that that “man of God” had just wounded countless numbers of people in the packed auditorium. Whatever happened to “they will know us by our love?”

    I don’t know what I believe anymore. I have to admit I never could swallow Calvinism hook, line and sinker, and chose a melded theology – which apparently makes me a heretic. I’m happy and, quite jealous, that you are so sure of where you stand and that you have the “right vs wrong” thing all worked out. Tragedy and grief have shaken me to the core and have made me humbly aware of just how little of God’s infinite mind and amazing grace I understand.


  17. Susan,

    My hear pours out to you.

    I recommend you do NOT look attend any Church for their Calvinistic believes or Arminian beliefs. These are are all Christian Churches.

    We need to remember that Christ died for all of us sinners, Keep attending a Christ-centered Church and see how the Spirit proceeds with your life.

    In love


  18. As I was reading the first list I could not help but go look at the similiarities of the National Association of Evangelicals.

    I would probably disagree with #12 (second list) being a fundamentalist tendency. I think thats a stretch.

    My interpretation of a fundamenalist is someone who interprets each discrete truth in scripture as if its a 20th century legal document and completely separate from the Cross and Gods Grace and Mercy.

    In other words each “discrete” truth of scripture is exactly that … “discrete” and separate from the Cross and ultimately the knowledge of those discrete truths eventually becomes damaging to the Character of Jesus Christ. It becomes legallistic.

    However, as Mike said, if fundamentalism is defined by list 1 only then let me be fundamentalist. Hard word for me to swallow, however. 🙂

    Thats my .02c worth,


  19. Susan said:

    “you have the “right vs wrong” thing all worked out”

    In the garden the serpent said Eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil and that surely we will not die and be like Gods knowing good and eveil (or right from wrong). (paraphased).

    This is an important verse and it sets the stage for the rest of the Bible.

    Some Christians dont admit this, but what we lost in the Garden is a trust relationship with God. We lost his sense of right and wrong and developed our own sense of right and wrong.

    As Christians we get this “sense” of right and wrong … ummm wrong all the time. Some Christians and people like to pretend they have more of it than others.

    What this points to is that we need to have an intimate trust relationship with God first and foremost. Then be open to how the Spirit proceeds in our lives and God does His work in us.

    Think of the atoning work of Christ, attend a Christ-centered Church, be open to Gods leading.

    IN love,


  20. Samuel Laurence Guzmán I absolutely agree. We should do lunch! :).

    Most of Christianity is focussed on external behavior in an outside-in approach as it focuses on external right and wrong behavior exclusively.

    Christ works inside out. Behavior is a secondary thing being performed in the strength of God. There is a wonderful sermon on this by Tim Keller that I listen to about once a month so I don’t get focussed exclusively on external behavior.

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  21. I have the day off so posting a bit more than nomal. However, the labels of fundamentalism or reformed are not as important as what evolves from our own hearts in our understanding of scripture and whether or not we do it in view of the Cross or in some moralistic power play to make ourselves look good as we spin or repress the truth about ourselves.

    I was thinking of a couple of verses and quotes:

    “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.” – 1 Timothy 1:15

    “I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Mark 2:17

    “Christianity is a hospital for sinners, not a museum for Saints.” – Tim Keller

    Only In view of Gods Mercy can we responds with our bodies as living sacrifices Holy and Pleasing to God. Romans 12:1-4.



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