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The Flag of the World

-G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy

This here blog is a glimpse or two or three at the condition of the 'fortress of our family' through the eyes Timothy Goddard, a Christian writer with an unhealthy interest in politics living in the Puget Sound area.

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Saturday, May 03, 2003


In defense of Evangelicals
In response to Eugene Volokh's spirited defense (take that a bad religious pun, if you like) of Christian fundamentalists, I'd like to offer my own defense of evangelicals. In asserting that fundamentalists are not typically any more anti-semitic than the rest of the population (something I'd say is probably true), he refers to an article stating that "Evangelical Protestants (which generally refers to what many people would call fundamentalist Christians) are not particularly anti-Semitic." Now, that many people would call Evangelicals fundamentalists is probably true, but it is not strictly correct--I suspect Eugene may know this, but I want to make it clear that they are not the same thing.

As "mainline" Protestant denominations (Methodists, Lutherans, Episcopalians/Anglicans) began to become more and more theologically liberal in the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, two different (though sometimes not entirely distinct) strains of American Christianity emerged, intent on keeping the traditional tenets of the Christian faith intact. One of these was fundamentalism, the other, evangelicalism. Often, the most apparent differences between the two are temperment, not belief, but this temperment tends to be derived from certain beliefs. Fundamentalism is marked by a belief that there are specific 'fundamentals' that all Christians must believe in order to be truly Christian. Historically, fundamentalism breaks these fundamentals down into "the five fundamentals," springing out of the Niagara Bible Conference in 1883: literal interpretation of the Bible, the virgin birth and deity of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of atonement, the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ and the imminent second coming of Jesus Christ. If you disagree with any of these things, you are liable to get yourself labeled a heretic.

Many evangelicals believe these exact same things (I might even say most, though many do not), yet they are seperated from fundamentalists by a more irenic, nearly postmodern spirit. Evangelicals tend to also have a list of "fundamentals," but it is typically much shorter (and generally older!)--the Apostles' Creed, perhaps, or Paul's words in Romans 10:9--"if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." Other evangelicals don't even go that far, some tiptoeing into the typically liberal and mainline realm of universalism. While other evangelicals may disagree with them vociferously, rarely will they call them a heretic, and practicaly never will they go so far as to say that someone is "not a true Christian" because of such a belief. The red line for most evangelicals is the divinity of Christ. Again, this may seem like quibbling, and in some ways it is. A liberal, mainline Protestant or non-Christian may call me a fundamentalist for believing in the innerrancy of Scripture, while a true fundamentalist would deride me if I used that term to describe myself, because of how I define the term "inerrancy" (and some would even deride me for calling myself a Christian!). In addition, it could be said that all fundamentalists are evangelicals, but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists. (The marvelous Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals, for instance, says this.) I would disagree, however. Evangelicals are more concerned with, well, evangelism, while Fundamentalists are more concerned with, you guessed it, fundamentals.

And evangelicalism and fundamentalism have distinct leaders, institutions and even traditions. Evangelicals are more likely to look to people like C. S. Lewis or Dietrich Bonhoeffer, while fundamentalists are more likely to look to people like Cyrus I. Scofield or John Gresham Machen (and some would call the former two heretics!). Evangelicals tend to read the New International Version of the Bible, or the Living Bible, or the New American Standard Version, or any number of new translations. The most extreme fundamentalists only read the King James Version ("1611, straight from heaven!" "If it was good enough for St. Paul, it's good enough for me!"), or maybe the NIV, but never the newer, more gender neutral version, the TNIV! Evangelical colleges include schools like my own, Bethel College and the attached seminary, as well as Wheaton College and Seattle Pacific University. Fundamentalist schools include Oral Roberts University, Bob Jones University, Pensacola Christian College and Dallas Theological Seminary (though I've heard the latter is changing slowly). Evangelical leaders include Tony Campolo, Chuck Colson (two men very indicative of the disagreements within evangelicalism!), Phil Yancey and Billy Graham (after roughly 1957). Fundamentalist leaders include Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey and Jerry Fallwell. Churches in denominations like the Evangelical Free Church, the Christian and Missionary Alliance, Foursquare churches or my own Baptist General Conference tend to be (in my experience) more evangelical. Southern Baptists and the Assemblies of God tend to be fundamentalists (but with two radically different lists of fundamentals), and lots of denominations contain various mixtures of liberal, evangelical and fundamentalist churches (more on that later) Fundamentalists, almost to a man, are strict pre-millenialists, while Evangelicals hail from all manner of eschatologies. Fundamentalists tend to be much more strict about male and female roles, whereas Evangelicals are split on the issue. Historically, fundamentalism has been shaped by the temprance and anti-evolution crusades, anti-modernism, pentacostalism and dispensationalism, while evangelicalism has been more affected by the early revivals of George Whitfield and Jonathan Edwards, the evangelical crusades of Billy Graham and the Jesus People movement of the 70's.

One of the reasons that most outsiders looking into Christianity don't notice this difference is because most of us on the inside don't notice. I didn't realize there was a difference between my brand of Baptist-ness and that of the Southern Baptists until I came to Bethel and they told me so--I was remarkably relieved. This stems in large part from the fact that most of the denominations that didn't go the way of the liberal mainline churches were Baptist, or Baptist-ish churches, with a very strong belief in the decenteralization of church power. Others were denominations that split from their parent denominations, and so adopted a similar belief out of nessecity. This means that local churches adopted (often unconciously) either a fundamentalist or evangelical temperment/belief independent of any central power, meaning that First Baptist Church in Mossville, Tennessee might well be a fire-and-brimstone fundamentalist church, but down the road, First Baptist of Lichentown is as irenic and evangelical as the day is long. It also stems from the fact that there is a definite continuum of fundamentalism, and most evangelicals are somewhere in the fuzzy middle, adopting some fundamentalist beliefs and ignoring others, and from the fact that they are both remarkably complex coalitions--far more so than the secular world gives them credit for. (Here's a good chart and description of the complex strands of fundamentalism, which is far easier to pin down than evangelicalism.) In addition, evangelicals and fundamentalists tend to have similar conservative political beliefs (springing both from the conservative morality and the decentralizde nature of their churches--though there are is a large movement of liberal evangelicals), so that the two are often indistinguishable in that realm. This is unfortunate, because the nonsense that Fallwell has a tendency to say is far removed from the beliefs of most evangelicals, of whom Bush is one, but they still end up tarred with the same brush.

So, while many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, are unable to tell the difference between the two, and lump them together, this is bred from a lack of knowledge, one which you no longer suffer from, if you read this whole rant. So, go forth with that knowledge and spread the Holy Word of Why Fundamentalism is Different than Evangelicalism. (See? Evangelical.)

UPDATE: Donald Sensing has his own explanation of fundamentalism up, which is a little more thorough than mine in parts, especially Billy Graham's parting ways with fundamentalism.
Agree, disagree, have more information on the topic? Please, feel free to leave a comment. No profanity!

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