I Am Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
You’ve probably noticed regular new labels and terms popping up. One of these, I’ve seen, is “cultural conservative.” I don’t know when that terminology was first used, but I know it differentiates certain conservatives from the “fiscal conservatives.” Whether you would have the “cultural conservative” label or the “fiscal conservative” one probably depends on why you vote for who you do. The latter would vote with his so-called “pocketbook.” Fiscal concerns may bring people together that do not see eye-to-eye on the culture. The two terms, culture and fiscal, divide conservatism.
What Is Cultural Fundamentalism
I believe that this division in conservatism between cultural and fiscal has now become the basis for a new division that I have read only in the last few years, that is, the cultural fundamentalists and the theological or doctrinal fundamentalists. With just a little looking, I have found that “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile as a technical terminology for something entirely different than how Christian fundamentalists have used it. “Cultural fundamentalism” has referred to a usually violent antipathy to a change of culture. That label is often hung on the jihad of Islamic countries who desire one Islamic culture. So “cultural fundamentalism” has been around for awhile, but only recently has it been used, mainly as a pejorative, to color a certain brand of Christian fundamentalism.
In 1999 a professor at the University of Wisconsin, William P. Tishler, referred to “cultural fundamentalism” existing in the U. S. in the 1920s. He described it like this:
The 1920s was a time when many adherents of “Cultural Fundamentalism” attempted to ensure that all Americans followed the right patterns of thought: quest for certainty and predictability in social relationships; an order in human affairs that was at once familiar, comfortable, and unthreatening; and nostalgia for the idealized, non-industrial society of their parents.
Tishler’s syllabus reads like sheer propaganda, assigning motives to people without evidence. David G. Bromley in his 1984 book, New Christian Politics, calls the “new religious right” (NRR) “cultural fundamentalism.” He, like Tishler, would say that “cultural fundamentalism” supports things like right to life and male headship.
The first “cultural fundamentalism” struck me as an identifiable label was when I read what Tim Jordan said at the latest GARBC national conference. He warned:
If we produce ‘biblical’ reasons for cultural fundamentalism, they [the young Fundamentalists] know you are lying. And why do they know you are lying? It’s because you are!
So you see his usage of “cultural fundamentalism,” differentiating himself from that. I started looking for other usages and I read this from Bob Bixby on his blog in January 2008:
These first-generation Calvinists embrace Calvinism in order to embrace what they really want: contemporary worship, a swig of beer, or the sheer pride of life that gratifies the egos of those who, embittered because of everything they could not have in cultural fundamentalism on the basis of dumb argumentation, now have an indisputably better biblical argument for anything they want.
I don’t know exactly who Ben Wright is talking about at 9 Marks in Mar-April 2008 when he says cultural fundamentalists are atheological fundamentalists. He writes:
In addition, the theological Fundamentalism of Bauder and Doran represents a matured strain of Fundamentalism that intends to expose and disassociate from the atheological (sometimes called cultural) Fundamentalism that has dominated many segments of separatist Fundamentalism in recent decades.
Here’s how someone named Charlie defined “cultural fundamentalism” at SharperIron:
I have heard the term “cultural Fundamentalism” applied to those described as hyper-Fundamentalists. I like this term at least somewhat better, because it communicates that the real areas of controversy are not “doctrinal” in the sense of disputes about systematic categories (which some cultural Fundamentalists wouldn’t even be able to explicate), but rather cultural in the sense of affecting the look, feel, and function of church life. For example, you can sing vapid songs, but not CCM songs. You can murder the meaning of a Bible passage, but you have to have the correct initials on the binding. You can preach all sorts of bizarre allegory, but you need to be in coat and tie when you do it.
Kevin Bauder dealt with this way back in 2005 in his essay “A Fundamentalism Worth Saving,” especially in these two paragraphs:
This, I think, highlights the limited usefulness of a distinction between “historic” and “cultural” fundamentalism. Biblical obedience is never acultural for the simple reason that human beings are never acultural. We must always obey God at a particular time, in a particular place, situated in a particular culture. We do not really care whether George Carlin’s words were obscenities in 1560, nor whether their cognates are obscene in German or Norwegian. We care about what they mean in English at the beginning of the 21st Century.
In short, the only way to be a historic, biblical fundamentalist is to be a cultural fundamentalist. The only alternatives are, first, to say that cultures are beyond the Bible’s ability to critique and correct, or second, to argue that fundamentalism is concerned only with doctrine and not with obedience. I doubt that any of us really wants to take either of those steps.
It’s interesting to consider that Ben Wright says that Bauder is not a cultural fundamentalist, and wants to distinguish him from one, when Bauder himself says that a historic fundamentalist must be a cultural fundamentalist. I think I’ll go with what Bauder says about himself rather than what Wright says about Bauder to help his article along. It would do Ben well to also check out a certain paper produced by Mark Snoeberger, who teaches at Detroit, Doran’s seminary, and his words about cultural fundamentalism:
It is often suggested that there are two kinds of fundamentalism—doctrinal fundamentalism and cultural fundamentalism. The former is to be embraced as a defense of the orthodox core; the latter to be eschewed as a counter-cultural set of archaic, arcane, and even pharisaical traditions some of which are downright silly. There is some validity to this distinction. At the same time, since theology always informs our view of culture, it is impossible to completely divorce the two.
We have already noted above that in the specific issue of evangelism, fundamentalists have typically eschewed both the ―Christ of culture‖ approach (practiced broadly by liberalism and new evangelicalism) and also the holistic ―Christ transforming culture‖ approach (practiced in Kuyperian Reformed circles). I would suggest that this understanding has extended beyond evangelism to a whole plethora of cultural issues.
Snoeberger says you can’t divorce the theological fundamentalism from the cultural.
Why are doctrinal and cultural fundamentalism being divided? I believe there are those who want to hang on to the doctrine of separation. They think it’s in the Bible. But they only want to separate over certain theological issues. They want to allow much more room to maneuver on the so-called cultural issues. Therefore, if there exists doctrinal fundamentalism, they can still be a fundamentalist without associating with the fundamentalists who disassociate over violations of the right cultural practices.
Why I’m Not a Cultural Fundamentalist
I really do identify with these people who don’t mind being and being called “cultural fundamentalists.” But I’m not one. Most would make me a poster boy for cultural fundamentalism. I refuse it. I reject it. Don’t lay that label on me. However, I also don’t like that this division is occurring in fundamentalism. I see what it is, and it’s not good for fundamentalism in my opinion, really for the same reasons Bauder states in his “Fundamentalism Worth Saving” article.
But again, I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because, first, I’m not a fundamentalist. Fundamentalism is a movement that gets along and gets together based upon agreement on a short list of doctrines. I don’t see that as scriptural unity or biblical separation. To obey the Bible, I can’t be a fundamentalist.
I add to the above first reason that I’m not a cultural fundamentalist because I don’t separate based upon culture. I don’t unify based on culture. I refuse that designation by others. I will not allow that to stick. The name “cultural fundamentalist” is just being used to discredit a biblical belief and practice. It is sliding that scriptural doctrine and practice to something that is just cultural, really only opinion. That isn’t the case. I don’t believe and practice opinions. I am sanctified by the truth. My church will be sanctified by God’s Word to every good work.
Male headship isn’t cultural. It is biblical. Heterosexuality isn’t cultural. It’s scriptural. Gender designed distinctions in appearance isn’t cultural. They are biblical. Modesty isn’t cultural. It’s in God’s Word. Complementarianism isn’t cultural. It’s in the Bible. Spiritual, sacred worship isn’t cultural. It is scriptural. Dress that is distinct from the world isn’t cultural. It’s biblical. Patriarchy isn’t cultural. It is Scripture. I’m to preach the whole counsel of God’s Word. I’m to teach the saints whatever God has said in His Word. I’m not going to have those teachings diminished for the convenience of those who prefer to fit into an unbiblical way of life. Take the world, but give me Jesus.
The Bible is lived in the real world. The Bible reacts to culture. The Bible guides how we will live. The Bible tells us what is the right music, the right art, the right marriage, the right fashion, and the right family.