Fundamentalist. Just saying the word evokes any number of negative responses, from disdainful sneers to incredulous rolling of the eyes to sighs of frustration and exasperation. Try it some time: bring up some topic of conversation where you can slip in the word fundamentalist, and watch what happens.

In the academic circles I frequent, if one gets tabbed with the fundamentalist label, it is a fast track to disrespect and disregard within the havens of critical thinking. The first time I went to the American Academy of Religion's annual meeting in 1995, I overheard a fellow Drew University student refer to Drew theologian Thomas Oden, whose book Requiem challenges the orthodoxy of mainline seminaries, as a "fundamentalist heresy-hunter." This shocked me, because while Oden is certainly conservative in his theology, he is hardly a "fighting fundy." In fact, in hardcore fundamentalist circles he might be considered a liberal.

Yet to those outside evangelicalism, the "f-word" is a convenient term for any Christian who votes Republican and who takes the Bible just a little too literally. And for many mainstream evangelicals, the term denotes a narrow-minded, anti-intellectual camp of believers who resist the inevitable march of progress and perceive themselves as a kind of higher spiritual caste, too holy to sully themselves by engagement with others. Regardless of who it is, there are few I've met—evangelical, liberal, or otherwise—who find anything favorable in fundamentalists.

The joy of fundamentalism

But does fundamentalism really deserve this kind of dismissal? I believe some significant value can be found in fundamentalism, at least the Christian variety. In fact, there is a kind of comfort within the fundamentalist world. ...

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