Evangelicals and Fundamentalists

The article was quite interesting as it attempted to define an evangelical and explain the difference between Evangelicals and Mormons (it was written for a paper in Salt Lake City).

As I read the article, something stood out. One interviewee stated: “Fundamentalists generally believe that culture is evil and corrosive. Their views usually result in isolation from the culture and/or bigotry. Evangelicals believe the culture is redeemable and can and should be impacted by Christians.”

I thought that it might be wise, for me to explain my position and to explain what I believe the marks of an Evangelical are in relation to the marks of a fundamentalist.

Evangelicals Fundamentalists
1. Sole Sufficiency of Scripture 1. The verbal inspiration of the Bible (as “originally” given)
2. Death of Christ being once for all (His death is not repetitious as some forms of Catholicism teach) 2. The Deity of Christ
3. Justification by Faith Alone 3. The Vicarious Death of Christ
4. The Authority for believers is the Bible, not the Catholic Church 4. The Personality of the Holy Spirit
5. Belief in the Priesthood of All Believers, not Just those ordained by the Catholic Church 5. The necessity of a personal infilling of the Spirit for victorious Christian living
6. A Deep interest in Revival and a Constant Longing for Revival. 6. Belief in the personal return of Christ
7. The urgency of speedy evangelization of the world
8. Interest in Second Coming of Jesus Christ
9. Interest in Revival
10. Biblical Literalism
**I used 3 books to help define each group. First, I used The Roots of Fundamentalism by Sandeen, second, The Rise of Evangelicalism by Noll, and third, Fundamentalism and American Culture: The Shaping of Twentieth Century Evangelicalism by Marsden.

As you can see, Fundamentalists and Evangelicals do share some major beliefs. Further, many people are both Fundamentalists and Evangelicals.


Here is part of a review I wrote on Noll’s book about Evangelicalism.
The Evangelical movement has always been a splintered movement that has a difficult history to discuss succinctly. But all branches of the movement have some similar characteristics. They each believe in the sole sufficiency of Scripture, the death of Christ as being once for all, the Bible is the authority for the believer not the Catholic Church, that a person is justified by faith alone, and that the body is a priesthood of all-believers not just those who are ordained by the church (p. 17). By 1740, Evangelical literature was beginning to be produced in the form of periodicals and magazines (p 118). Soon revival had begun to dwindle, and the longing for revival became a cornerstone characteristic of Evangelicalism (p. 137). In England, the Methodist church eventually split from the Anglicans (Lady Huntington’s group had been split for some time already). In the United States, African American Evangelical slave groups arose, and mission work began for Baptists in England with William Carey, Andrew Fuller, and others.

It is said that the beginning of the movement in revival began with the preaching of Jonathan Edwards. He was the first Evangelical intellectual, and to date the greatest intellectual of Evangelicals (p. 256). Noll points out that by and large, the Evangelical denomination has always been weak in the formation of worldviews (p. 261). Evangelicalism has always focused on the heart and religious experience. It also attracted more women than men (p. 263). The movement has always focused on the potential of ordinary people, this may be one reason that scholarship is often neglected in Evangelical circles (p. 264). The biggest debate in the history of Evangelicalism is that of the debate between Calvinism and Arminianism. This debate continues today (p. 279). Another important feature of Evangelical history is that of hymn writing. Hymns are a great part of the Evangelical tradition and they were a major part of the tradition on both sides of the Atlantic (p. 279). Hymn singing was even a way that women could easily express their faith in public (p. 279). Women also wrote hymns, such as Ann Steele (p. 279). In early days, Evangelicals also ordained women to preach (p. 264).

Over the years, emphasis on spiritual experience has helped Evangelicalism to spread and to survive (pp. 282-3). “At its worst, …evangelicalism neglected, caricatured and distorted the inherited traditions of Reformation Protestantism…and could foster a self-centered, egotistic and narcissistic spirituality and also create new arenas for destructive spiritual competition…But at its best evangelicalism provided needed revitalization to English-speaking Protestant Christianity. It breathed vibrant religious life into stagnant or confused religious institutions. It created dynamic communities of self-giving love and international networks of supporting fellowship” (pp. 292-3). One thing is certain, Evangelicalism is never a static movement.


Here is part of a book review I wrote on Marsden’s work about Fundamentalism.
Fundamentalism was a religious movement in a culture that was turning away from God on many fronts. The Evangelical Christians were concerned for social reforms in this time of turning away, because concepts of social reform flowed from the enthusiasm for revival found in Evangelical life. American Evangelicals looked positively upon the capitalist idea of free trade, and they believed that a Christian society would exist so long as Christian morals were taught in Christian Schools. The philosophy of common sense was the basis for belief in the basic truths of the Bible, and patriotism was on the rise. Darwinism was the first big challenge towards Christianity in America, but skepticism and rationalism were a looming threat. When European ideas such as these finally broke through, it was evident that the wall of these challenges towards traditional Christian beliefs in the United States was one that had been in the process of being built for quite some time.

To combat many of these challenges, preachers like D. L. Moody focused on evangelism and repentance. Worship/singing leaders soon became part of the common revival program and soon found their way into the churches on a regular basis. Evangelicalism had always found a balance between intellectualism and anti-intellectualism (or personal experience), and the music was a way to incorporate personal experience. After the Civil War, postmillennialism was the primary view, but the dispensational view of premillennialism was on the rise, especially as people began to think less and less that the world was getting better. Oddly, while the dispensationalist had little regard for politics (seeing that the world was becoming worse), patriotism grew rapidly among fundamentalist. The dispensationalists who were primarily Calvinists were concerned with taking the Bible literally whenever possible, but their belief system was rather convoluted. Their ideas also lead to the dualism that continues to be rampant in Christian culture today. The dualism is that of separation between secular and sacred which causes Christians to often times forsake what they perceive to be secular in God’s creation. As the 1900s approached, the Holiness Movement began to grow as well, with its focus on the Holy Spirit and the gifts he bestows upon believers.

By the 1920s it appeared that fundamentalism was in decline, several groups had split apart over various doctrinal and cultural issues. By the 1970s, fundamentalist groups were very small, but during that decade leading up to the 1980s, there was resurgence bigger than had ever been seen before.
Fundamentalist ideas have been impacted by culture, politics, traditions, and doctrinal issues. These ideas make it difficult to easily follow the path of the fundamentalist movement, but it is characterized by evangelism and trust in Scripture. The multi-ethnic, multi-denominational aspects of it have helped it to spread as have conservative values in the country. 
Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism Today
So, if the two movements are so incredibly similar, why did the article I read distinguish the two as being different?

And here we return to the quote from the article.

“Fundamentalists generally believe that culture is evil and corrosive. Their views usually result in isolation from the culture and/or bigotry. Evangelicals believe the culture is redeemable and can and should be impacted by Christians.”

Here I stop to ask, “Is this distinction true?” Maybe it is the square/rectangle thing, “I square is a rectangle but a rectangle is not a square.” Fundamentalists are Evangelicals, but all Evangelicals are not Fundamentalists. I do think that in some respects the quote is true.

While Fundamentalists and Evangelicals believe many of the same things, they approach the world very differently. 

The Fundamentalists want to separate from the world, while the Evangelicals want to impact it. The Fundamentalists often go to extremes to prove a point, while the Evangelicals often sit in the middle and confuse people about how they really feel in reference to any given issue. Fundamentalist want to change the world through evangelism, but Evangelicals want to evangelize people and renew culture.

In The Bible Belt, many Christians want to impact the world and remain separate from it, but they do not really know how to both. The result is that some things are condemned, some are embraced, and some are condemned and then imitated from a “Christian” perspective.

It is difficult to know as a Christian how to truly be in the world and not of it, when so much of the world is sinful.

In the World Not Of It

The idea that Christians are to be in the world and not of the world comes from Romans 12:2.

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (NIV)

The pattern here, refers to the sinful practices of the world. Christians are to live in the world, but they are not to be involved in the sinful practices of the world.

But what exactly does this mean?

Simply stated, it means that Christians are not to act selfishly out of greed, or pride. They are not to lie, steal, cheat, dishonor authority, etc. They are not to do things to make a name for themselves. They are not to be characterized by qualities that are not considered virtuous by the Scriptures.

More practically, then, we ask, “so what does that mean?” If Christians are not to be characterized by the sinful practices of this world, what do they do about watching TV? About going to the movies? About reading books? About listening to music? About playing sports? About being involved in extra curricular activities? About serving in the armed forces? About working in politics? Etc.

Here the fundamentalist is prone to say condemn what is evil in its entirety, or to use actual examples, “boycott Disney!” or “Oppose planned parenthood!” or “no marriage for gays!”

The Evangelical might say “do not support abortion, but love those who have had abortions.” or “I don’t agree with all Disney’s decisions, but some of their work is very good, and I choose to support that” or “I believe that God designed marriage to be between one man and one woman, but I recognize that some faiths practice polygamy and that some people choose life partners of the same sexual orientation.”

How do Christians limit what they support in the world, and how should what they support be limited.

I believe they do it based on conscience and through conversation. The Holy Spirit convicts believers of right and wrong. If they are convicted that something is wrong, they should not support it. If they are not, then it is likely ok, so long as it is not blatantly condemned in Scripture. To know what is condemned in Scripture, one needs to first–know Scripture. So reading the Bible is a good practice to get into if you claim to believe in and follow Jesus Christ. Reading it will also help you make some decisions. By having conversations about political, social, philosophical, and doctrinal topics with other believers, you can share your convictions and learn from different perspectives. Through conversation, your convictions might be strengthened, become more clearly defined, or they might even change.


So I am an Evangelical Christian. I hold to the ideas presented in the table above with a few exceptions. On the Evangelical side, I am not as concerned with Revival. Instead, I am more concerned with a continued commitment. If we always need revival, I wonder how deep the impact of revival is. If it was real, would we need another one every year? I am not saying I don’t support revival, I just think Christians need to consistently live out their faith. On the Fundamental side, we have the revival thing again, and the biblical literalism idea. I believe that we are to read the Bible literarily, not just literally. We do not take any statement as a stand alone truth apart from the rest of the Bible. We must read things in context and search out the meaning of the text. I also do not want to be too literal in reading the Bible as it confines meaning and, I believe, puts God in a box.

I am an Evangelical who desires to live a life glorifying to God and that exemplifies true Christian belief. I don’t have time to get bogged down in boycotts or arguments that don’t seem to matter. I think that it is my responsibility to bring God’s kingdom to the world in all I do and in all that I am a part of. As I go through life, I also am to share the Gospel. It is my hope that by seeing how I live, others will see the truth in what I believe.


For further reading on “in the world not of it,” check out this article: http://www.bible-knowledge.com/in-world-not-of-it/.


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  • Very good, I can now understand some of the conflict I see in myself and the present day church. Often there seems to be an over protective isolation trend with many Christians with slight touch of evangelistic flair.

    From what I have studied natural man is territorial and this flesh instinct can find its way into intellectual rationalizations to support its own cause. This leads into isolation and a selfish protective stance concerning interaction and involvement with outsiders. Then coupled with the American culture’s enforcement of territorial rights, it all gets taken way too far.

    Some parents really think they can protect their kids from the world, but never stop to think the world is already inside of our fallen nature. It is not shocking that divorce and addictions are as common in the church as what we find in the general population. The world as a physical entity is primarily neutral or amoral. Evil comes from the fallen human heart and being “saved” doesn’t mean I am cured and now better than the “unsaved”. But as being saved we are to be more responsible to live out our lives out on a daily basis (that’s what makes us apart from the world) and realize that we must do as Jesus did and engage (not embrace), with His love, the human mess in its entirety.


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