As a self-titled fundamentalist, I want to present my own side of 10 distinctions between fundamentalists and evangelicals as presented on Thinklings.org.Please note that I’m using “evangelicals” and “fundamentalists” in the way that those terms are used on the site I linked to.
1. Human thought. Fundamentalists in general distrust scholarship and can be very anti-intellectual. Evangelicals on the other hand, believe all truth is God’s truth, that our minds are God-given, and that we insult God when we fail to think and use logic (or science when it is appropriate).
Fundamentalists have no objection to any science, logic, or so on unless it’s set against God’s revealed Word. This is the difference. For instance, an evangelical is more likely to employ psychology and worry about “self esteem” in childrearing, whereas a fundamentalist strives simply to teach children to obey God through instruction and corporal punishment. Evangelicals are far more open to unbiblical interpretations of biology, geology, anthropology, and so on. If taking God’s Word at face value instead of secular science means I’m anti-intellectual, then I guess I must be.
2. The nature of the Bible. Fundamentalists adhere to a literalism so broad, even they are doomed to violate it. (Stott points out: “Not even the most extreme fundamentalist believes God has feathers” (Ps.91:4).”) Evangelicals, however, while believing that whatever the Bible affirms is true, add that some of what it affirms is figuratively or poetically (rather than always literally) true and is meant to be interpreted thus.)
All fundamentalists I’ve ever known are quite happy to figuratively understand particular parts of the Bible, such as Psalms, Proverbs, some prophecy, Christ’s parables, and so on. We believe, however, that those elements are pretty self-evident. The alternative approach is to include passages that don’t appear to be figurative, such as much of the Old Testament, Christ’s miracles, and even plain instruction in the epistles.
3. Biblical inspiration. Fundamentalists belief in this regard tend to view the inspiration of Scripture as having occurred in a somewhat mechanical process (Stott points out, much like Muslims see Muhammad taking dictation from Gabriel) in which the human authors were fairly passive. Evangelicals emphasize, however, that the divine Author spoke through human authors while they were in full possession of their faculties.
It’s very clever the way Stott implies similarity between Christian fundamentalists and Muslims. I’m impressed.
The end result of the particular means of inspiration is irrelevant. Conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists, both believe that the human authors wrote exactly what God intended them to write.
Liberal and moderate evangelicals, however, will use this ambiguous view of inspiration to provide cover for claiming the Bible contains uninspired human opinions. These claims usually include accusing Paul of being a misogynist.
4. Biblical interpretation. Stott writes, “Fundamentalists seem to suppose that they can apply the text directly to themselves as if it had been written primarily for them. They then ignore the cultural chasm which yawns between the biblical world and the contemporary world.” Evangelicals insist on interpretation before application and strive not to let the latter inform the former. Evangelicals struggle more with cultural contextualization than do fundamentalists.
Claims of “cultural context” generally are only launched against passages which restrict women’s roles in church, proscribe modesty, or teach male headship in the home.
Fundamentalists try to take what’s written at face value when possible, and interpret it only when absolutely necessary. We do not “explain away” problem passages.
5. The ecumenical movement. While Stott affirms that there is ample justification for suspicion in the ecumenical movement, he senses an undue paranoia in fundamentalism. He cites fundamentalist lack of critical thinking and abundance of inflammatory rhetoric. Evangelicals, while generally cautious about the liberal tendency in the ecumenical movement, prefer to affirm what is good and reject what is not on a more case-by-case basis.
We will not work with Rome. Evangelicals are more than happy to do so. Guilty as charged, and proud of it.
6. The church. Fundamentalists tend to hold to separatism and to community withdrawal. They can be isolationist, believing “being not of the world” involves to whatever extent possible “not being in it.” They promote schisms between themselves and those who are not as dogmatic about non-essentials in doctrinal matters. Most evangelicals, while affirming the truth in seeking doctrinal and ethical purity in the church, believe that perfect purity cannot be attained in this world. Stott adds, “The balance between discipline and tolerance is not easy to find.”
Evangelicals seem quite happy to embrace the world and the things of the world. If you look at an evangelical and his unsaved neighbor, you won’t see much obvious difference. They watch the same movies and TV shows, read the same books (just more John Grisham), send their kids to the same schools, wear the same clothes, listen to the same music, and enjoy the same forms of recreation.
Fundamentalists take 2 Corinthians 14-18 seriously. We sang “be careful little eyes what you see” and took it to heart. We are very picky about what we watch, what we do, where we go, what we listen to, what we read. We homeschool too.
Fundamentalists didn’t get the pamphlet from God explaining which doctrines are essential and which ones aren’t. In our ignorance, we tend to think it’s all pretty important. We wish evangelicals would show us the pamphlet.
We know that perfect purity is not attainable in this world, but unlike evangelicals it doesn’t keep us from trying.
7. The world. Stott writes, “Fundamentalists have tended sometimes to assimilate the world’s values and standards uncritically (e.g., in the prosperity gospel) and at other times to stand aloof from it, fearing contamination. By no means all evangelicals escape the charge of worldliness. Nevertheless, at least in theory they seek to heed the biblical injunction not to conform to this world and are also anxious to respond to the call of Jesus to penetrate it like salt and light in order to hinder its decay and illuminate its darkness.” Evangelicals, I might add, also view changing the culture from within as more valid, more Scriptural, and more effective than shouting at it from the outside.
It has been my observation that evangelicals are far more worldly than fundamentalists.
Fundamentalists believe we are a city on a hill. We believe we are to let our light shine by doing good works. This evokes in us images of lighthouses – apart from the sea, not caught in the crashing waves, showing others the way to safety. We do not believe being light means being a man with a flashlight plunging into the darkness. We’re believe those well-intentioned souls get themselves lost in the darkness they are trying to rescue others from.
We are not “shouting from the outside” at our culture, but are definitely attempting to stand apart from it and hold up the standard God set for us. We’ve never seen the “change from the inside” approach work.
8. Race. Stott here points out that, while racism and bigotry is not foreign among evangelicals, fundamentalists — especially in the United States and South Africa — cling to the myth of white supremacy and defend racial segregation.
This is even better than the Muslim comparison. There’s nothing I’ve ever seen in fundamentalism that supports white supremacy or racial segregation. It’s simply a slur Stott uses to advance his case.
9. Christian mission. Fundamentalists seem to equate mission/evangelism with merely preaching the gospel. Evangelicals, in an effort to live out the merging of faith and works, affirm social responsibility.
Fundamentalists believe the gospel has social implications, but that preaching the gospel is the most important tasks. We are more concerned with hearts than stomachs. Evangelicals seem to forget about hearts. You’ll never encounter a fundamentalist outreach program and leave without a good presentation of the gospel.
10. Christian hope. Fundamentalists tend to dogmatize eschatology, particularly their understanding of it, which often refers solely to the future. (Which, I could point out, usually in their views refers to the present — as in, “We are definitely living in the last days,” a cry Christians have heard for the last 1000 years.) Stott writes, “[Fundamentalists] often go into considerable detail about the fulfillment of prophecy, divide history into rigid dispensations and also espouse a Christian Zionism that ignores the grave injustices done to the Palestinians. Evangelicals, however, while affirming with eager anticipation the personal . . . and triumphant return of our Lord Jesus Christ, prefer to remain [generally] agnostic about the details on which even firmly biblical Christians have differing viewpoints.”
With the popularity of the Left Behind books, it appears that there are a lot more of us nasty fundamentalists than anyone thought.
In my experience, this charge is a lie. Premillenialists are almost always dispensationalists. I’ve contacted all but one of the fundamentalist Baptist churches in this area and asked them about dispensationalism. Without a single exception, they denied being dogmatic about it. They usually said something to the effect of “Yes, we are, but we don’t really make a big deal about it and we think those who do are weird.”
I live in north Texas and these are hard core fundamentalist churches. It may be true in fundamentalist charismatic churches, but not the Baptist churches I’ve contacted.