Evangelicals and Fundamentalists

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.

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9 Responses to Evangelicals and Fundamentalists

  1. Jared says:

    While you really misinterpreted and misunderstood several of the points I (and Stott) were making, I will only quibble with one.
    You said you’ve never seen a change from the inside work. I only refer you to Jesus, who, unlike the Pharisees who remained outside the sinner’s circle and demanded they “act right” before they could come to God, got right on in there with the sinners, meeting them where they were.

  2. I don’t know what exactly you mean by Jesus “got right on in there with the sinners, meeting them where they were”.

    He did not demand that they clean up their lives before they could approach God, you’re right. Neither do fundamentalists.

    Like Jesus, fundamentalists do call lost sinners to repentance. We call them out of their sinful lives and in to righteousness.

    The worst way to save a drowning man is to jump in there with him. The best way is to throw him a rope from the shore and drag him out of the water. Least helpful of all might be the Pharisaical approach, which is to berate him for being in deep water and tell him to swim for shore.

  3. Jared says:

    “He did not demand that they clean up their lives before they could approach God, you’re right. Neither do fundamentalists.”

    Many outsiders would contest this point of yours.

    I think what your reacting to is the idea that Stott is (or I am) speaking for every single individual fundamentalist. We are only mentioning tendencies, general distinctives. These are undoubtedly at least a little true, since they seem to resonate so much with people who have seem them in “real life.”
    I’m not sure what “fisking” means, but I am not sure Stott’s points warrant it. His distinctions are part of a three-page discussion in a larger book that has nothing to do with fundy vs. evangy. It has to do with the essential tenets of evangelicalism, which btw, are “mere” enough to include fundamentalists.

    And btw, you seem to have misunderstood the point about cultural context. It has nothing to do really with “problem passages,” as you seem to assume. It has to do with the popular way of interpreting that asks “what does this passage mean to me?” before asking “what does this passage mean?”. It’s a subtle difference, but a significant one.
    When someone looks at, for instance, Jesus’s allegory in John 15 about the vine and the branches, cultural context allows the reader to see the meaning through the eyes of the immediate audience of Jesus. In this case, the listener sees that Jesus may be distinguishing between national Israel’s insistence on race and rote religion and spiritual Israel’s dependence on Jesus as the new Way, the Truth and the Life. A reader who cares nothing for cultural context, sees only himself first and foremost in the passage and may end up wondering how believers in Jesus will end up pruned and burned up, when that is not at all what Jesus means.

    Another point: If you do not want to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, and you think it is all important, how does this jibe with your take on the churches in your area(!) being open about dispensationalism? Isn’t it all important?

    “The worst way to save a drowning man is to jump in there with him. The best way is to throw him a rope from the shore and drag him out of the water.”
    This only evidences the inherent flaws in illustrations. What I mean by Jesus got right in there with the sinners is that he didn’t boycott or picket them, he didn’t write tracts denouncing them, he didn’t propose legislation to correct them, and he didn’t go set up shop to preach to his disciples, hoping some sinners might show up eventually. He ate with them, drank with them, partied with them, mourned with them, laughed with them.
    If a man was drowning literally, you’re right, I wouldn’t jump in. But when a man is drowning spiritually, how Christian it would be to jump in next to him and swim him to shore, like a lifeguard sure of his skill and training!
    The Bible says it is not what goes into a man that makes him unholy, but what comes out. Christians need to give up this isolationist holy huddling we have invented so we don’t catch “sin.” We should mature our faith, wise up our spirit, and trust our God to protect us so that we can change the world from the inside out. That is what works. No one’s ever been argued, picketed, or condescended to into the kingdom.

    On the racism thing: I too disagree with Stott on the level of this prevalence among fundamentalists. And he is even quick to point out that prejudice is no stranger to Christians of all stripes. But surely you cannot deny that the so-called churches that explicitly practice white supremacy self-identify as fundamentalist. Or that fundamentalist institutions have a history of racial injustice — what of Bob Jones University’s racial rules, the “Christian” KKK, the churches in the late 19th/early 20th centuries who preached segregation and bigotry from the pulpit? These all fall under the fundamentalist umbrella.

    I’d also like to mention that in your reaction to the apparent stereotyping of fundies, you do quite a bit yourself of evangies.

    Well, I guess I had to quibble with more than one point. Sorry.

  4. Jared, if we’re just supposed to hop right in there, then whatever happened to the admonitions in Proverbs against keeping company with fools and the admonishments about choosing wise friends?

    It’s debatable that Jesus just hopped right in there with the sinners. Personally, I don’t believe that’s quite the case. However, even if He did…notice that He was God. Jesus was incapable of sin and we are very capable of sin. Jesus could stand against temptations that might crop up when He hopped right in there with the sinners…but can we? Like I said, Jesus was God. We’re fallible, fallen, sinful humans.

  5. I’d also like to mention that in your reaction to the apparent stereotyping of fundies, you do quite a bit yourself of evangies.

    Yes, and it was intentional. Did you like being caricaturized and generalized? Did you like me using only the worst characteristics of the most liberal evangelicals to describe all evangelicals? Did you think it was fair for me to use only the most positive characteristics of fundamentalists to paint that “us vs. them” portrait?

    We didn’t like it either.

    I don’t think all evangelicals are a bunch of liberals who interpret away the Bible, embrace the world, and like women preachers. I go to an evangelical church! My Christian friends are almost universally evangelicals! I only have a few friends who are more fundamentalist.

    I know that evangelicals and fundamentalists don’t fit my caricaturized generalization. I know that fundamentalists tend to be too isolationist and too judgmental, and I know that evangelicals tend to be too worldly. But I would never initiate a round of evangelical-bashing, because I know it is inaccurate and hurtful.

    In retrospect, I should have focussed more on an accurate portrayal of evangelicals and fundamentalists, rather than fighting fire with fire. I apologize for that to anyone who was hurt by my retaliatory caricaturization of evangelicals.

    “He did not demand that they clean up their lives before they could approach God, you’re right. Neither do fundamentalists.”

    Many outsiders would contest this point of yours.

    Many outsiders would also contend that preaching Christ as the only means of salvation is hateful. I won’t permit the response of outsiders to caricaturized versions of my beliefs define me.

    I think what your reacting to is the idea that Stott is (or I am) speaking for every single individual fundamentalist. We are only mentioning tendencies, general distinctives.

    This is the no true Scotsman fallacy. It makes your points virtually irrefutable, and it’s unfair. To refute you, I’d have to interview every single fundamentalist Christian in America, and then you’d probably quibble with me over which ones actually fit the “fundamentalist” label. If you define “fundamentalist” as “people who fit these tendencies” then by definition, you win.

    These are undoubtedly at least a little true, since they seem to resonate so much with people who have seem them in “real life.”

    It is a caricaturization of fundamentalists, which is what many people react to. People also have a tendency to only recall the outstanding examples, without considering if it’s fair to characterize people based on those events.

    I used to go to church with a really nice, moderate guy. A situation arose, and he was very mean. His meanness stands out in my mind a lot more than the 95% of the time when he was very nice. It would be unfair to characterize him, or moderates in general, of meanness. But emotionally, my memories of his nastiness still jump out when I remember that painful situation. It’s understandable, but not fair.

    I’m not sure what “fisking” means, but I am not sure Stott’s points warrant it.

    I didn’t want to use that term, but I didn’t have a better title in my head at the time. Fisking something generally means a detailed, point-by-point refutation. Generally it’s excessively nasty, which I tried to avoid. I’ll change the title.

    It has to do with the essential tenets of evangelicalism, which btw, are “mere” enough to include fundamentalists.

    It is logically impossible to distinguish fundamentalists from evangelicals at one point, then define evangelicalism in such a manner that includes fundamentalists.

    point about cultural context. It has nothing to do really with “problem passages,”

    Surely you will agree that it is used frequently in the cases I referred to. Evangelicals, as Stott defines them, over-emphasize “interpretation” and give it priority over the plain meaning of the text.

    “what does this passage mean to me?” before asking “what does this passage mean?”.

    This is not particular to any flavor of theology; it’s just good Bible study. I agree that you must put SOME things in a proper cultural context to understand them. For example, Jesus said He’d make us fishers of men. The implications of that vary greatly with your understanding of fishing. The (evangelical, non-fundamentalist) members of my small group Bible study were recently discussing this passage. We have 3 avid fishermen, who went on to make deep spiritual observations about using the right bait and cast, setting the hook, etc. Unfortunately that is not the type of fishing Peter did, which involved casting big nets out and seeing what came up (I know that is probably oversimplified, but you get the picture).

    If you do not want to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, and you think it is all important, how does this jibe with your take on the churches in your area(!) being open about dispensationalism? Isn’t it all important?

    Sorry, I should have been more clear. I am dogmatic about that which is Biblically clear, and not dogmatic at all about that which is Biblically ambiguous. That is why I am not dogmatic on some points of Calvinism, on eschatology, etc. It’s not that it’s unimportant, just that it’s not clear enough to me.

    he didn’t boycott or picket them

    He did with some of them. He didn’t cozy up to the self-righteous scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees. He actually waited for them, like Nicodemus, to come to Him. He threw the money changers from the temple. He confronted the woman at the well, getting right to the point about her sinful life. He spoke a whopping three sentences to the woman caught in adultery. One of them was telling her she was forgiven, the last was telling her to repent.

    he didn’t go set up shop to preach to his disciples, hoping some sinners might show up eventually.

    Well, you do have to be careful to keep Christ’s actions in the proper context. He had three years to turn Judaism on its head, train the apostles, get Christianity started, and die. His mission was different from ours. “What would Jesus do?” is a lousy question. “What does Jesus want me to do?” is a better one.

    But I do agree that evangelism does not mean inviting people to church, or hoping they show up. To the extent that fundamentalists limit themselves to that, they are wrong. But that is not a charge Stott levied against fundamentalists (in your post anyway), just that we focus more on “preaching the gospel” than on doing social work.

    He ate with them, drank with them, partied with them, mourned with them, laughed with them.

    There are exceptions, but generally, He let them come to Him, or they invited Him. He rarely “partied with” unrepentant sinners as far as I can tell.

    If a man was drowning literally, you’re right, I wouldn’t jump in. But when a man is drowning spiritually, how Christian it would be to jump in next to him and swim him to shore, like a lifeguard sure of his skill and training!

    A skilled, trained lifeguard would first try to throw him a rope, or a float, or reach to him with something, or row out to him. Only an unskilled and untrained lifeguard would leap in first.

    No lifeguard training teaches that the first approach is to “jump in next to him” – that’s a last ditch effort.

    Similarly, no Biblical passage that I’m aware of teaches us to embrace the world and join ourselves to it in order to convert it. We’re a lighthouse, not fireflies. We invade, not infiltrate. I’m not an undercover agent.

    The Bible says it is not what goes into a man that makes him unholy, but what comes out.

    Which you’ve taken completely out of context.

    Christians need to give up this isolationist holy huddling we have invented so we don’t catch “sin.”

    2 Corinthians 6:14-18 disagrees with you. So do many passages in Proverbs, and elsewhere.

    We should mature our faith, wise up our spirit, and trust our God to protect us so that we can change the world from the inside out. That is what works. No one’s ever been argued, picketed, or condescended to into the kingdom.

    So those who disagree are immature in their faith, have foolish spirits, and don’t trust God to protect us? I disagree.

    Nothing short of boldly preaching the gospel to the lost, letting our good works shine before men, and living lives of personal holiness as an example, will work. It’s the only Biblical approach.

    Please provide clear scriptural support for “changing the world from the inside out”. I don’t accept inferences; I want clear Biblical commands that this is the approach Jesus wants me to use.

  6. paul adam terry jones says:

    You’re supposing there’s a historical Jesus. As most people believe there isn’t, isn’t this all just about superstition? I could write a load of jibberish tonight, hide it under a rock for three thousand years, and then someone would find it and say, wow, words to live by, guys! In fact it would be the same old tripe it is today. You’d all be better off kissing your children, watching some soccer on the TV and having one or two drinks, in my opinion.

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