John D. Woodbridge is research professor of church history and the history of Christian thought at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, where he has taught since 1970. One of his areas of expertise is the history of fundamentalism and evangelicalism. (I benefited from taking a seminar with him on that subject in fall 2007.) His father, Charles Woodbridge, taught at Fuller Seminary (cf. George Marsden, Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism) and later wrote The New Evangelicalism (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1969). So John Woodbridge has had a front-row seat on this issue since childhood.
Trinity Magazine recently published this useful interview:
John D. Woodbridge. “The ‘Fundamentalist’ Label: An Interview with John Woodbridge.” Trinity Magazine (Spring 2009): 7–9, 23.
The subtitle of this evenhanded interview captures its theme: “We regularly hear people from different religious backgrounds referred to as ‘fundamentalist.’ Is this labeling appropriate?” Woodbridge responds to nine questions and statements:
- What do you think the word “fundamentalist” means to people today?
- Where did this concept of “world fundamentalisms” come from?
- Were there any other significant contributing factors?
- Is it legitimate to use the word “fundamentalist” for Muslims?
- How does this usage misunderstand actual American fundamentalism as well?
- I think what happens in the media is that they end up thinking about the kind of people who bomb abortion clinics, then assume that that’s really where this type of Christianity leads.
- What can happen because of this popular misusage of “fundamentalism”?
- Has anyone challenged the assumptions of Fundamentalisms Comprehended?
- There is a challenge in all this for us as evangelical Christians as well.
For a more thorough handling of this issue, see the following:
Timothy George and John D. Woodbridge. “What’s in a Name: Are We All Fundamentalists?” Pages 123–50, 182–83 in The Mark of Jesus: Loving in a Way the World Can See. Chicago: Moody, 2005. 192 pp. This important chapter traces a significant etymological trajectory of the label “fundamentalist” and usefully overviews fundamentalism’s history.