We all hear much about fundamentalism and fundamentalists in the news and on the internet, whether religious, political or from another area. What I'd like to do here is provide a working definition of "fundamentalist" in the context of the Christian religion. So, more specifically, what is a Christian fundamentalist?
I would say that a fundamentalist is: one who reduces the Christian faith to a core set of fundamentals of his own choosing.
While I don't think there is necessarily anything wrong with identifying a set of core beliefs within Christianity, a problem arises when something lies outside of those core beliefs. Can they be viewed as Christian, or can Christians live life outside of those core beliefs? The Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy of a hundred years ago or so saw liberal theology attack certain ideas of historic Christianity. Conservatives reacted by concentrating on five "fundamentals" of the faith: 1) inspiration of the bible and inerrancy of Scripture; 2) The virgin birth of Christ; 3) Christ's death as atonement for sin; 4) the bodily resurrection of Christ, and 5) the reality of Christ's miracles.
While the original intent of defining fundamental beliefs may have had its merits, I believe it had a long term negative effect. Fundamentals came to be viewed as all that was necessary for the faith. One who takes this approach is a fundamentalist, and that is where I get my definition.
But the Christian faith consists of much more than fundamentals. Just as a championship sports team may execute the fundamentals of the game very well, they also do most everything else in the game well. Take music as another example. A fundamentalist ideal might be that all music must be explicitly Christian with religious lyrics. A song on the radio about how a sunny day makes people feel better isn't explicitly religious, and therefore may be viewed as unchristian or even sinful in and of itself. Is it part of the Christian faith to sing about what God has created? Sure. But not necessarily to the fundamentalist.
The key problem as I see it with fundamentalism and fundamentalists is the tendency to reduce the faith, rather than expand it. Different fundamentalists reduce the faith to differing sets of beliefs. This is why fundamentalists don't often agree with each other. One thing I try to do when I read the theological beliefs of others is to determine if any reduction of the faith has occurred in their arguments. This has been tremendously helpful over the years to me as I have developed my own beliefs. Are you a fundamentalist?