What distinguishes “evangelical” from “fundamentalist?”

What Distinguishes “Evangelical” from “Fundamentalist?”

Is it possible to be truly, authentically evangelical without being fundamentalist? That’s what I really meant to ask in books like Reformed and Always Reforming, How to Be Evangelical without Being Conservative, and Questions to All Your Answers (and in many of my articles about “postconservative evangelicalism.”

The problem is that, over the last few decades, fewer and fewer people call themselves “fundamentalists.” I think that probably began when the media started using the label to describe terrorists. Who wants to be associated in people’s minds with Ayatollah Khomenei? (Some of you may be too young to remember, but, as I recall, he was the first non-Christian that I ever heard labeled “fundamentalist.”)

These days, people who used to identify themselves as fundamentalists and who still exhibit that ethos call themselves “conservative evangelicals.” Of course, there are people who call themselves conservative evangelicals who are not fundamentalists. So it gets complicated.

So why is this even an important question? Simply that, at least here in the good old U.S., there is a huge network of educational institutions, publishers, mission agencies, world relief organizations, parachurch ministries, etc., etc., that identify themselves as “evangelical.” Most of them at one time or another had some affiliation with the so-called “neo-evangelical” or “postfundamentalist evangelical” movement that was born in the 1940s out of disillusionment with the fundamentalist movement.

The story has been told over and over again by scholars such as George Marsden, Mark Noll and Joel Carpenter (to name just a few). Put simply, “evangelical” includes “fundamentalist” but not all evangelicals are fundamentalists.  Put another way, fundamentalists are evangelicals, but since the 1940s, at least, there are many evangelicals who are not fundamentalists.

Of course, one of my projects has been to point out that in the last three decades many people who are more like the old fundamentalists than like the new evangelicals, in terms of ethos, are calling themselves “conservative evangelicals” and trying to push many of us who are more like the new evangelicals out of the evangelical movement.  An example, in my opinion, is Al Mohler calling me “postevangelical.”

I claim that my ethos is not essentially different from the evangelical ethos I learned and came to embrace in seminary (North American Baptist Seminary) in the 1970s. My evangelical ethos is closer to the original one of the National Association of Evangelicals than to that of many self-identified “conservative evangelicals” who, in my opinion, operate out of an ethos more like the old fundamentalist one against which the new evangelicals rebelled.

What do fundamentalists, conservative evangelicals and postfundamentalist/postconservative evangelicals have in common? Much.

All of us, as evangelical Protestant Christians, believe in 1) the supreme authority of inspired Scripture for faith and practice, 2) basic Christian orthodoxy as embodied in the consensus of the church fathers and reformers about the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, etc., 3) a supernatural worldview, 4) salvation by God’s grace through faith alone, 5) personal conversion as normative for authentic Christianity, 6) the cross of Jesus Christ as the only means of salvation and as vicarious atonement, 7) the virgin birth, resurrection and visible return of Jesus Christ.

The distinctive hallmarks of post-1925 fundamentalism are 1) adding to those essentials of Christianity non-essentials such as premillennial eschatology, 2) “biblical separation” as the duty of every Christian to refuse fellowship with people who call themselves Christians but are considered doctrinally or morally impure, 3) a chronically negative and critical attitude toward culture including non-fundamentalist higher education, 4) emphatic anti-evolution, anti-communist, anti-Catholic and anti-ecumenical attitudes and actions (including elevation of young earth creationism and American exceptionalism as markers of authentic Christianity), 5) emphasis on verbal inspiration and technical inerrancy of the Bible as necessary for real Christianity (including exclusion of all biblical criticism and, often, exclusive use the KJV), and 6) a general tendency to require adherence to traditional lifestyle norms (hair, clothes, entertainment, sex roles, etc.).

Who were these post-1925 fundamentalists? Not all of these embodied all six of the above hallmarks, but they generally functioned within that ethos: William Bell Riley, Frank Norris, Bob Jones, Carl McIntire, John R. Rice and the early Jerry Falwell. And many, many more. Most of them were non-Reformed, but there was a Reformed camp of fundamentalists who shared that ethos without premillennialism. (I would locate Cornelius Van Til there.)

How did the postfundamentalist evangelicals differ from them? Beginning in the 1940s and increasingly throughout the 1950s former self-identified fundamentalists began to shy away from that identity and ethos without embracing liberalism or neo-orthodoxy. They 1) sought to establish ecumenical cooperation and fellowship among evangelicals who disagreed about non-essentials such as eschatology and predestination [“generous orthodoxy”], 2) sought to be cautiously open to secular culture and higher education and its products, and 3) sought to overcome legalism that had become characteristic of much fundamentalism.

In other words, the main difference between the new evangelicals and the fundamentalists was one of ethos—at least from the new evangelical point of view. From the fundamentalist point of view, of course, the difference was more than one of ethos. It was often viewed as one of departure from the gospel.

The new evangelicalism was to be a broad tent that included everyone from conservative Presbyterians to Pentecostals to Advent Christians to Nazarenes to (recently) the Worldwide Church of God. Fundamentalists were invited to join but declined. Still, formally speaking, fundamentalists are evangelicals and, to liberals, anyway, all evangelicals are fundamentalists.

As an heir of and scholar working within the new evangelicalism movement I have found it necessary to warn fellow new evangelicals about a neo-fundamentalism taking shape and growing among us. Its adherents are not exactly like the older fundamentalists, so it’s not easy to identify them. For one thing, they don’t call themselves fundamentalists. They call themselves conservative evangelicals and attempt to style themselves as mainstream evangelicals, even “confessional evangelicals” and so forth. (Using positive-sounding labels that imply THEY are the “real” evangelical heirs of the postfundamentalist evangelical movement.)

Why does it matter? Why do I and others bother to sound the warning alarm about this? Because much is at stake. First, the nature of the gospel is at stake. These people, like the older fundamentalists (some of whom are still around) wish to “enrich” the gospel and evangelicalism with doctrines not all new evangelicals believe. But they pretend that all “real” evangelicals always believed them. In their hands, the gospel becomes a system of theology virtually identical with that of Charles Hodge and the Old School Princeton Theology of the 19th century. The gospel becomes a new law, system of orthodoxy, that requires adherence without mental reservation for salvation or at least for discipleship. In their hands, for example, being evangelical requires not only right beliefs but right way of believing—that is, foundationalism.

Second, the wonderful network of trans-denominational parachurch organizations (colleges, universities, seminaries, mission agencies, world relief agencies, publishers, etc.) is at stake. The new fundamentalists are out to take them over. There is no doubt about that in my mind. I experienced it “extremely loud and incredibly close.” So have many of my colleagues who spent much of their lives in Southern Baptist institutions and were forced into exile by the new fundamentalists. Now the same people, joined by others, are attempting to do with evangelicalism what they did with the Southern Baptist Convention and its seminaries.

The problem is that these new fundamentalists, who are, admittedly, evangelicals too, are not easy to identify. They pass themselves off as mainstream evangelicals, the heirs of Carl Henry, for example. Henry, however, denied that inerrancy was a litmus test of authentic evangelical faith. And, as strongly opinionated as he was about many matters, he attempted to keep the evangelical “tent” broad and inclusive.

I identify the new fundamentalists by their ethos which I find to be similar in many ways to that of the older fundamentalists. They are evangelicals who TEND to 1) spend much energy searching for and identifying heresies among evangelicals, 2) focus a lot of attention on identifying “evangelical boundaries” and solidifying them by demonstrating that some evangelicals are “outside the boundaries,” 3) add non-essential doctrines to the essentials of evangelicalism (boundaries) such as biblical inerrancy, young earth creationism, monergistic salvation and/or penal substitutionary atonement, 4) find nothing of value in non-Christian culture—especially philosophy, psychology and sociology, 5) attempt to frighten the faithful about “doctrinal drift” and “defection from the faith” where those do not really exist.

Remember, I’m talking about an ethos here, not a set of absolute markers or even characteristics those who display them are fully aware of (they would no doubt deny some of them).

Who am I to talk this way? Am I just someone on the sidelines crying “wolf!” when there is no wolf? I don’t think so. Of course, that’s for you to decide. But I have been in this evangelical movement my entire life and have had very keen interest in it most of my adult life. I have been editor of an evangelical scholarly journal, contributing editor to Christianity Today for quite a few years, chair of the Evangelical Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion, professor of theology in three Christian universities strongly historically identified with evangelicalism, author of numerous articles and several books dealing with evangelicalism. I have seen with my own eyes and experienced directly this attempted takeover of the evangelical movement by new fundamentalists.

An analogy is what has happened to the Republican Party in the United States. I can remember when it included influential moderates such as Nelson Rockefeller, John Anderson, Mark Hatfield and many others. Now moderates are unwelcome in the party. The party has been virtually taken over by people who in the 1950s and 1960s would have been considered radically right wing in their economic views.

People ask me all the time “Roger, why don’t you just give up calling yourself ‘evangelical’ and admit you’ve lost it? ‘Evangelical’ now means ‘fundamentalist’.” Call me stubborn and a champion of lost causes, but even if I go to my grave the only moderate evangelical left that’s what I will be calling myself. I hope others will join me in this and not abandon the label and the movement to the new fundamentalists. (Many of the people who ask me that still call themselves Baptist when, to most people in America, “Baptist” is virtually equated with “fundamentalist.” Why don’t they give up calling themselves Baptist?)

Something I’ve been reading set me off on this post. I’ve been reading articles by a certain, not-to-be-named evangelical philosopher/theologian who finds something good and right and helpful in a postmodern, even deconstructionist, philosopher’s musings. He carefully dissects the philosopher’s thoughts, pointing out the benefit for all Christians, evangelicals included, of exposure of idols, while also pointing out areas of the philosopher’s thought that are theologically weak and probably should be avoided. But he’s very adroit at pointing out the fact that in this particular deconstructionist philosopher’s writings, the non-Christian elements seem to stand in tension with the ideas that are beneficial to Christians. The latter could, if followed out consistently, reform the former and help even this philosopher move closer to the kingdom.

This evangelical philosopher/theologian’s work in the area of postmodernity and deconstruction is profound. It displays first hand acquaintance and real understanding of postmodern philosophy. He does not rely on other evangelical sources; he reads the philosophers themselves. What he finds is not exactly the “standard evangelical line” about postmodernism and deconstructionism. For that alone, being cautiously and critically open to postmodernism and deconstructionism, he was denied tenure at an evangelical institution of higher education. That’s new fundamentalism at work. At that same evangelical institution of higher education, not many years ago, the governing board ordered the president to stop the faculty from introducing liberation theology to students in any manner or form. They did not want the students even to know what liberation theology is. All teaching about liberation theology was to stop. Of course, the president refused and was fired. New fundamentalism at work.

Do I know about these and similar events merely anecdotally? No. I have them from the primary sources. I know people on both sides personally. And I’ve been there myself—in a similar situation where we (theology faculty) were ordered by an administration to cease and desist all teaching about open theism. New fundamentalism at work. I was told face-to-face by a powerful pastor that he would get me fired for not siding with him in his attempt to get an open theist colleague fired. New fundamentalism at work. I was invited to speak at a conference of new fundamentalists (who, of course, consider themselves mainstream evangelicals). Not once during the several days long conference would one of them sit with me at a meal. “Biblical separation” at work, new fundamentalism at work. (No “table fellowship” with heretics!)

Something truly awful is stirring within evangelicalism. It’s directly analogous to what has happened in the Republican Party. I call on moderate evangelical leaders to stand up and speak out against it. So far most have not. None dare call it fundamentalism.

 

  • Eluros Aabye

    Dr. Olson,
    Thank you for this amazing post. Your way of expressing your argument and your elucidation of essentials was excellent. I’ve long been a fan of your blog and your work, but in this post you’ve expressed something clearly and boldly that I’ve had a hard time putting into words. I live in an area where Christianity itself is considered to be definable as fundamentalism (if you’re not fundamentalist, you’re not Christian), and this post does a wonderful job of explaining the tension this creates. I will certainly be sharing this post with friends and loved ones. Keep up the good work!

  • Luke

    Amen to this. Spot on. We need more courageous voices in evangelicalism to call this for what it is and embrace a mind of unity in the Spirit through the bond of peace.

  • Steve Z

    As someone who left a Calvinistic/charismatic church movement (it shall remain nameless but the sobriquet “Reformed and charismatic” alone may give it away) after 29 years and embraced Arminian theology via the Nazarene Church, I found your work a God send when trying to reformulate my own embedded theology to something more akin to what I studied in the Bible. No happily ensconced in pursuing my theological credentials (BA, MA, and eventually PhD), my orthodoxy has indeed become more generous (thank you Brian MaClaren — Brian was a friend and pastor to me a few decades ago before his ummmm current noteriety). Thank you for your courage to draw a somewhat hard line regarding the so-called young. restless, and reformed movement. I find myself, as an observer once in and nowt out of that particular theological stream, to be as concerned as you are. I heard the stories of the purgings at Southern Baptist Theological Serminary by its current leader of those who disagreed (or at least refused to state their position one way or another) with his position reagarding an arguably non-essential formulation of biblical inerrancy and was naively shocked that this kind of witch-hunt (is that too harsh) still occurred. Thank you again Roger.

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  • Ray Wilkins

    Roger, while I am probably to the Right of you both politically and theologically, I would have sat with you and enjoyed the opportunity to talk with you.

  • http://rwtyer.blogspot.com Rory Tyer

    Roger – I am very sympathetic to your thoughts here. I shared this on facebook and a friend responded along the lines of suggesting that perhaps you are doing the same thing, with a piece like this, that you accuse others of doing – namely, labeling and excluding, and so dividing. Here is part of his message:

    “I have the same problem when I see any evangelical or “new fundamentalist” dismiss someone really helpful like Scot McKnight or NT Wright because they are not conservative enough or disagree on certain points. Instead of getting specific, and addressing the disagreement, we want to dismiss whole groups of people by listing like 8 things we disagree with…and then give them a label that demeans them. In other words, Olson is doing the same problematic thing a lot of new fundamentalists do…disregard someone and treat them as “the other” because of a few points of disagreement. I find both ways of acting to be sub-Christian. There are lots of Christians that Olson would warn others about, it is sad that he feels we need to warn family about other family members. Unless of course he doesn’t believe new fundamentalists are actually Christian.”

    I have a hunch as to how you would respond to this (having followed your blog for some time and being in agreement with you on a number of things), but could you offer your thoughts specifically here?

    • rogereolson

      I said several times that I consider fundamentalists evangelicals. What more does he want?

      • gingoro

        It used to be that lots of fundamentalists did NOT want to be called evangelical. At that time many/most fundamentalists considered evangelicals to be the same as liberals.
        Dave W

        • rogereolson

          Some of those are still around, but they’re not very noticeable as they tend to keep to themselves. Most of those folks have adopted the label evangelical now.

  • http://thomasjayoord.com Thomas Jay Oord

    Thanks for this post, Roger. You’ve identified well and important issue for we Evangelicals. A big part of this is the issue of absolute inerrancy. Related to it is the anti-intellectualism with our ranks. We refrain from encouraging Evangelicals to love God with their minds at our own peril!

    Tom

  • Aaron

    I have nowhere near the circles or experiences as you (I am only 25 and never had any formal biblical training), but have certainly noticed this same trend just the last year or so, as I never really paid attention to it until just recently. I think your comparison with the Republican party is the perfect analogy, and it seems to me that the moderate viewpoint in all areas (not just Christianity/Evangelicalism) are being squashed down. It is as if compromise has gone out the window and you must either be an extremist one way or the other (same reason our government can never accomplish anything). I think (hope) that we as moderates can break through this trend, as extremism tends to accomplish nothing productive and become irrelevant on a grand scale. I am certainly hopeful that our generation can bring Christianity back to the “big tent” it has been since its inception.

  • gingoro

    Roger Having been an evangelical for most of my life I well understand where you are coming from. However, as I see it, the word fundamentalist is such a dirty word today, that those you refer to as fundamentalists or “conservative evangelicals” will almost certainly never be willing to be called fundamentalists again. Since it never seems wrong to take a more conservative religious position those on the right of evangelicalism are being co-opted into redefining evangelicalism to be what fundamentalism was ten or twenty years ago. In my opinion those excluded from the new separatist form of right wing evangelicalism need to find a new term for themselves that does not involve the term “evangelical”. I feel great sorrow at our loss but IMO the situation looks hopeless. When I read your post somehow I hear faintly, in the background, the orchestra playing “The Impossible Dream” from Man of LaMancha.
    In sorrow and frustration DaveW

    • rogereolson

      Well, I hear that all the time from well-meaning students and friends. Call me Don Quixote. But my question to them is why they still call themselves Baptists? In much of America and the world “Baptist” is a dirty word synomymous with legalistic fundamentalism. I lived in Minnesota for many years. I can assure you there it was not easy to call oneself Baptist and many (most?) Baptist churches changed their names to drop the word. But my complaint is they remained Baptist in belief and practice, so that was a kind of false advertising (IMHO). Even “Christian” is widely interpreted in secular contexts as synonymous with anti-intellectualism and obscurantism. (I know because I earned my M.A. and Ph.D. at a secular university.) Shall we then give up calling ourselves Christians? No, I will keep calling myself “evangelical” while frequently qualifying it with “postconservative” or “progressive” or “moderate.”

      • gingoro

        I live in Canada and Baptists are not necessarily fundamentalists, some of them are liberals, some old time evangelicals and some separatistic fundamentalists. If the term “moderate evangelical” catches on then I might be willing to use that term. When I hear progressive evangelical I tend to think of the openness theology or emergent folks. I don’t like the term post conservative as it implies that one has changed ones views whereas what I see has happened, is that the definition of evangelical is being changed. I understand why those who write books or run blogs etc may want to be known as evangelicals and I don’t disagree when they use a hyphenated modifier. My expectation is that in the future evangelical will be made into a dirty word as we will see the term evangelical terrorists in the news media that today would be refereed to as fundamentalist terrorists. I am glad to see you pointing this issue out and would like to see CT pick up the discussion. But sometimes I fear that Christianity Today has been taken over by the neo fundamentalists and that they in practice include inerrancy as part of their definition of evangelical. I hope I am wrong.
        Dave W

        • rogereolson

          So far not. They know I’m not an inerrantist and I’m still on their masthead as a contributing editor. To me, “postconservative” doesn’t necessarily indicate a change of beliefs but of HOW one believes.

  • Mike McLeod

    Thanks Roger, great post! I came from an IFCA church and attended an IFCA Bible College in Kansas City, MO. many, many years ago. You can’t be more right. As a pastor today, I am certainly not in this camp anymore, and it sickens me to see this mindset re-emerging. Keep up the battle cry!

  • Joshua

    I think the major obstacle in speaking out against this movement is that of influence. For moderate Evangelicals to stand up and speak out against folks like Mohler and Piper could very easily mean their jobs (as you yourself made plain and clear). Men like these not only agree with Calvin’s theology, but his church governance as well. They have no qualms about getting someone fired for no other reason than this: they don’t agree. Off the top of my head, I know of only three American Evangelicals who have both the nerve and the influence to speak up against this movement: Greg Boyd, Scot McKnight, and you. I’m sure there are more, but I can’t remember hearing about this from anyone else that is read widely enough as to have an actual impact. And unfortunately, Piper et al. have such strong personality cults, that it is unlikely this will change in the foreseeable future.

    • rogereolson

      Let me add to your list Kenneth Collins (Asbury Seminary) and Doug Frank (Oregon Extension). Among non-evangelicals who have forcefully pointed it out are Gary Dorrien and Randall Balmer (who grew up evangelical and may still be one but doesn’t identify himself with the movement anymore). I find great support in the early writings of Donald Bloesch (who decried fundamentalism among evangelicals), Bernard Ramm and Kevin Vanhoozer (who’s, IMHO, theology is decidedly postconservative). But you are so right. I know many evangelical leaders who could do so much more to expose and fight off the barbarians at the gates but who seem afraid to. That’s usually because large numbers of pastors on whose support they depend have joined the barbarians.

      • Greg D

        Ah, Bernard Ramm. I thoroughly enjoyed his book, “Protestant Biblical Interpretation” that was required reading for my Hermeneutics course at Tyndale Theological Seminary.

        • rogereolson

          Of course, that was written way, way back in Ramm’s days as a conservative evangelical. His later books really reveal his postconservative turn. See especially his After Fundamentalism.

  • Greg D

    In my perspective, and I may certainly be wrong, it seems today’s neo-Reformed camp are eerily similar to yesterday’s fundamentalists. It seems the most vocal critics of anyone who dares to hover outside the bounds of “conservative theology” today are the neo-Reformers. Critics such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and the folks at The Gospel Coalition come to mind. I myself used to be a right-wing, fundamentalist, and thankfully have been delivered from that camp. As a result, it has become easier for me to see what appears to be fundamentalist ideology/theology cloaked in Evangelical/Reformed thought. There will always be fundamentalists in every religious institution. Perhaps this is why the Gospels reveal to us who the Pharisees were; not simply as a part of the Gospel narrative, but to show us an attitude that will always be found amongst us… even 2,000 years later.

    • http://markbyron.typepad.com/main/ Mark Byron

      I think the neo-Reformed crowd that you mention here is a good hunk of what he’s worried about in this piece. He didn’t call them out directly, but the reference to “monergistic salvation” points right at them. I’m surprised it took this deep into the comments for someone to catch that.

  • James Petticrew

    We have a kind of microcosm of this in my denomination, The Church of the Nazarene. We have a group called “The Concerned Nazarenes” who claim they are defending the church from “emerging church” theology. They have tried to get profs at Nazarene universities fired, organised attempts to get pastors ousted. Yet when you actually look at their issues you soon realise that their fundamental problem is not with “emergent theology ” in the church of the Nazarene but with the Wesleyan theology of the church. On issues like 7 day creationism, biblical inherency, rapture, etc they are trying to return us to a fundamentalist past we never had. I don’t think it’s a coincidence many of the organisers have come into the church from other backgrounds.

    The connection is with what you have described is that if you look at their various websites the people whom they quote are these “conservative” evangelicals you describe. It’s more than just theology they seem incapable of understanding the “catholic spirit” inherent in authentic Wesleyanism and instead have, in my view, adopted the ethos of the kind of fundamentalism you are describing here that seeks to demonise and then exclude anyone with whom they disagree.

    Thankfully some in the denominational leadership are taking a stand for our real values and against this groups tactics and agenda but the capacity for major conflict in the States is there.

    Have a look at this response to what is going on http://www.ncnnews.com/nphweb/html/ht/article.jsp?sid=10005084&id=10011292

    • rogereolson

      I would encourage (require?) those to read H. Orton Wiley who was certainly not a fundamentalist but was the leading Nazarene theologian during the denomination’s formative years. But, you are right, that would probably not deter them one bit because, for the most part, as you say, they have come into the church from outside and are under the influence of the Reformed neo-fundamentalists.

      • James Petticrew

        Could you believe that one of their major “beefs” is about spiritual formation and “spiritual disciplines” ? one wonders how they think the METHODist tradition we are part of got its name? There is a serious problem with any group seeking to reform a church in the Wesleyan tradition which quotes John McArthur more than John Wesley!

        • rogereolson

          I assume we’re still talking about Nazarenes? I agree that is shocking. Why did they join the Church of the Nazarene if they’re more interested in McArthur than in Wesley? I will pray that the Church of the Nazarene remains what it has always been and not be taken over by fundamentalists. When I was a kid, my parents always took me and my brother out to the Nazarene campgrounds outside Des Moines for the annual Nazarene campmeeting. Years later, when in college, I went by myself or took college friends with me. I was present the night the Speer Family (or then perhaps just “The Speers”) first sang Bill Gaither’s “The King is Coming.” It was the first public presentation of the song and Bill was there. All holy heaven broke loose. I grew up Pentecostal and I’ve never seen anything like what happened in that tabernacle that night before or since. (Bill even talks about it on one of his Homecoming videos/DVDs. I jumped up and said to my wife “We were there!”) I just can’t imagine those folks sitting around debating the inerrancy of Scripture.

          • James Petticrew

            Thankfully these people don’t really have any traction among the institutional leadership of the church ( leadership are compromised, comfortable with heresy etc according to them) but they can create enormous conflict in local congregations and of course among donors and supporters of the denominational educational institutions.

            Interestingly I had a similar experience I was brought up Pentecostal and saw the Spirit at work but mainly on “individuals” while most others in the congregation were observers, it was among the holiness people I first experienced just about a whole congregation being deeply moved by the Spirit.

  • Steve Rogers

    Roger,
    I agree with your analysis and admire your tenacity. But I have concluded that the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist ethos is so contrary to Christlikeness that I prefer not to share any label with it.

  • J.E. Edwards

    Yeah, there’s no reason to treat another brother with disdain. Sorry that happened.

  • Jesse Reese

    As a generally paleo-orthodox Anglican evangelical, I stand with Ray on this one. The behavior of these neo-fundamentalists is often apalling, and I say that as one who probably has a *tad* bit of a smaller “tent” than you, Dr. Olson. What pains me more, as one who is friends with many Reformed Southern Baptists, is how they don’t seem capable of seeing the damage that they are doing to the Body of Christ.

  • David Rogers

    Dr. Olson,

    This is possibly off-topic for this particular post, so you certainly may choose not to allow it here, but it does have some tangential relevance as a case study for navigating the morass. I was wondering whether you were aware of the (Baptist) Conference on Sexuality and Covenant that is going on now (April 19-21) at FBC Decatur, GA. Would this be a part of the big tent of evangelicalism or would it be edging outside the canvas and into the field? (I do not mean this question as sarcastic or condescending in any way, but as a genuine discussion starter. I recognize that some questions are made with some accusation behind them, this one is not.)

    Here is a link to the prospectus
    http://www.thefellowship.info/cbf/files/60/60899485-72c4-49f8-9353-3dc29a3f6c66.pdf

    Here is a link to an Associated Baptist Press article on one first night speaker.
    “Christians lack consensus on sexual ethics, conference speaker says”
    http://www.abpnews.com/content/view/7325/53/

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know very much about it except what I’ve seen in advertisements and posters for it. I think sexuality is a fair topic for discussion among evangelicals and, like anything else, evangelicals should be able to explore it guided by Scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I know the pastor of the church where the conference is being held and consider her an evangelical. (I don’t know if she would use that label or not. We never discussed that so far as I can remember.) Simply having the conference, holding the discussion, certainly doesn’t edge outside the canvas and into the field. (And, even if it did, I’m not sure what that exactly means.) In my own opinion of what being “evangelical” means, what would cause such a conversation to become less than evangelical would be if it were guided by something other than Scripture (first), tradition, reason and experience. I know someone is not being evangelical at the point when they say “I don’t care what Scripture says….”

  • http://patrickfranklin.wordpress.com/ Patrick

    Hi Roger,

    Thanks for this helpful post.

    I wonder if a commitment to pursuing the social ethical implications of the gospel (without being liberal social-gospel) should be added to your list of distinguishing features? I re-read Carl Henry’s “Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism” recently and he makes this point repeatedly.

    Thanks again!

    • rogereolson

      I like to keep the evangelical “tent” large and I know lots of evangelicals who just don’t see the point in that. I wish they did, but I don’t consider them not evangelical. I agree with Henry (and Sider and Campolo, et al.) that working for social transformation is a good thing and something evangelicals ought to do.

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Joshua wrote: “I think the major obstacle in speaking out against this movement is that of influence. For moderate Evangelicals to stand up and speak out against folks like Mohler and Piper could very easily mean their jobs (as you yourself made plain and clear).”

    Let’s be honest here: when it comes to mean-spiritedness in response to ANY attempt to question the entrenched and enshrined dogmas of “moderate evangelicals,” there is very little difference with those dreaded “fundamentalists.” Case in point: Rob Bell’s book, LOVE WINS. He dared to question (gasp!) the concept of a traditional hell. “It may be tolerable these days for a minister to conscientiously avoid the subject of hell in his sermons, yet, if he dares to publically express doubt about its questionable reality he will almost certainly have hell to pay, i.e., ‘shall be in danger of the council.’” (Quote taken from my new book, “DROPPING HELL AND EMBRACING GRACE.” Available from Amazon.com, also on Kindle).

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger,

    The attitudes, behaviours and ultimate goals you describe, on the part of extremists, surely grieve the Holy Spirit greatly. Of course, the solution to all of this will take a massive work of the Holy Spirit, for which we can all pray. Better put, we should pray that all involved will follow the Spirit, who we can be sure is already at work. 

    In the meantime, can some solace be taken in Kenneth J. Stewart’s observation that outbreaks of extremism of the neo-puritanical kind have been occurring at about 50 year intervals for more than 200 years? Like all extremist positions, they eventually fade, if not fail, from the weight of their internal inconsistencies, and the awfulness of extremism itself. see Stewart’s “Ten Myths About Calvinism”.

    Taking a longer perspective (let’s say optimistically, two academic generations) some form of self-unshackling from traditional presuppositions about how God must be and act, in our or Plato’s opinion, will eventually end these cycles. From the point of view of the truths uncovered by science, the traditional view of how God ‘must’ exercise his sovereignty needs a serious reworking. As long as this is delayed, the orthodox evangelical message of the Good News will be seriously, and in my view, willfully, compromised.

     Blessings and bon courage!

    • rogereolson

      I think these outbreaks of extremism tend to wane with the help of critics who call for moderation. :)

  • Dr. Ed Cook

    Good read, as always. Are you aware of a relatively new (2011) book called “The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family” by Andrew Himes? Andy is the grandson (great grandson?) of John R. Rice. The book was a fascinating read for me as it gave an “insider’s” perspective on the Fundamentalist ethos and the rational for and path of Andy’s subsequent withdrawal from Fundamentalism. -e.

    • rogereolson

      I reviewed it here about a year ago.

  • http://christianchildrensbooks.net Fred Karlson

    Well, now that we have Mitt Romney giving the Commencement Address at Liberty University, I am speechless! I would love to hear how he is going to win over the evangelicals, especially since his policies go against the Book of Mormon 8:36-41.
    http://www.alternet.org/story/154985/when_mormons_were_socialists:_why_the_mormon_church%27s_founders_would_be_very_disappointed_in_mitt_romney?page=entire
    Wonder what Walter Wink would say about that one!
    Or how about Lt. Col. Oliver North giving a fundraiser at my alma mater fundamental baptist seminary? Now that was rich as even Nancy Reagan called him a liar.
    Last but not least, the CI Scofield Reference Bible was once the sine qua non of fundamentalism, despite the fact that he remarried before his divorce was finalized and he bamboozled his former mother-in-law from her property, which then left her, his former wife and child penniless. He went on to accept a pastorate and pen his famous dispensational writings, which so many have taken as the last word for the end-times, not to mention unquestioning support for modern-day Israel.
    Looked at from this perspective, NT Wright doesn’t look that bad.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know about those biographical details about Scofield. And, of course, his lifestyle doesn’t speak to the truth or falsity of his ideas. However, I do think SOME neo-fundamentalists are choosing to ignore the failings (doctrinal, behavioral) of some of their heroes when, if one of their pastors or professors espoused the same ideas or lived the same kind of lives, they would be rejected. I do think it was appalling that so many in the Religious Right who so loudly proclaim “family values” embraced Newt Gingrich.

      • http://christianchildrensbooks.net Fred Karlson

        Two links follow that deal with the somewhat controversial biography of CI Scofield, written by Joseph Canfield:
        http://poweredbychrist.homestead.com/files/cyrus/scofield.htm
        http://www.gospeltruth.net/scofield.htm
        Suffice it to say that the influence of the Scofield Reference Bible has been immeasurable, especially within the fundamentalist Christian camp.

        • rogereolson

          I know. I grew up with it. We treated the study notes as inspired (except the cessationist ones!).

      • Jeremy

        I think that Mark Driscoll is a prime example of this. People love him because he’s a conservative Calvinist despite all of the completely inappropriate and flat out wrong things he says. It amazes me that some of the bigger names in the conservative Evangelical (or whatever you wish to call it) movement who will not hesitate to crush a “heretic” under their boot still like Driscoll.

  • http://sentimentsassuch.wordpress.com Brendan P. Burnett

    DR OLSON,

    I’m sorry because this is not related to this post, but I can’t find your email. Could you list for me some Calvinist theologians who do not agree with the classical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9? I’ve read you say it, but I can’t remember where. Thanks.

    • rogereolson

      I have said there are many Reformed theologians who do not agree with the classical Calvinist interpretation of Romans 9. I’ve mentioned them in Against Calvinism. Among them are G. C. Berkouwer and James Daane. Not all Reformed are Calvinists.

      • Bev Mitchell

        There are many great Reformed authors who may consider themselves in some sense Calvinists, but who give little indication of believing anything like TULIP. One, poorly understood, giant in this regard is Thomas F. Torrance. Paul D. Molnar has written the most complete, and easily understandable account of Torrance’s theology entitled “Thomas F. Torrance: Theologian of the Trinity”. More popular, and at times inspiring adaptations of Torrance’s approach are available in C. Baxter Kruger’s “The Great Dance” and “Jesus and the  Undoing of Adam”. 

        Christopher Wright, though not a theologian but an OT scholar, is another Reformed author who writes very well. His “The Mission of God” will likely become a classic. And on theodicy issues, his “The God I Don’t Understand” is very helpful.

        It would be interesting to know why the adherents to TULIP don’t appear to read or cite these people with impeccable reformed credentials.

        • rogereolson

          Hopefully they will eventually find their way to them when they mature and still want to be Reformed without being TULIP Calvinists. It tends to happen as younger people marry and have children. It’s hard to be Stoic when you have kids.

  • M. 85

    Dear Dr. Olson, would you consider David Pawson “fundamentalist” in his theology or is he simply “evangelical”? I’ve been reading about him recently and some of his positions would seem to me to be quite “fundamentalist” (Divorce and remarriage, role of women, also his understanding of water baptism and his soteriology). Thanks.

    • rogereolson

      He might be fundamentalist in terms of doctrine but not in terms of ethos. I don’t know him or anything about him.

      • peter

        David Pawson is quite an interesting figure in this context. He holds a very conservative line in relation to the role of women, divorce, atonement, hell etc. but he is an arminian, who is quite outspoken in his criticism of the concept of sovereign grace. He also wrote a book called “Once Saved Always Saved?” where he critiques calvinism and speaks positively of Clark Pinnock’s contribution to the openness of God. In his autobiography he describes himself as an unorthodox evangelical and speaks movingly of the loneliness he feels in the current UK evangelical scene due to his inability to embrace calvinism amongst other things. Definitely wouldn’t get an invite to speak at a Gospel Coalition conference.

        • rogereolson

          Sounds like someone I should know more about.

    • http://shoesoffatthedoorplease.blogspot.com/ Matthew C

      David Pawson’s views on baptismal regeneration would hardly get him a welcome in most fundamentalist and conservative evangelical circles. He is just too idiosyncratic to fit in with the evangelical mainstream fundamentalist or otherwise.

      Crucially separatism has never been a part of Pawson’s teaching.

  • kmad

    Roger, a request here for a couple of technical explanations regarding some of your points from a non-professional theologian (all Christians are theologians in as much as they study to know who God is, yes?). (1) What is the difference between ‘vicarious atonement’ (in the list of ‘required for evangelical orthodoxy’) and ‘penal substitutionary atonement’ (in the list of ‘extra requirements of the new fundies’)? I thought those were the same––I’m sure there’s a more subtle difference that I’m missing. (2) What is the difference between Scripture being a Supreme authority (again, on the list of ‘required for orthodoxy’) and Scriptural inerrancy (on the list of ‘extras’)? I’m not clear how something can be ‘supreme’, ie, an authority above all other sources and not be inerrant. Doesn’t errancy imply a higher authority which criticizes it? Just honest questions…not trying to be argumentative. I want to understand these issues. Thanks!

    • rogereolson

      “Vicarious atonement” is more open and flexible than “penal substitution.” The former only means Jesus died in our place. That could include, for example, C. S. Lewis’ (and McLeod Campbell’s) perfect penitent theory and it definitely includes the governmental theory. Penal substitution is one version of vicarious atonement and not the only one. I’m sure that when the National Association of Evangelicals wrote their statement of faith they wrote into it “vicarious atonement” to accommodate Wesleyans, many of whom hold to the governmental theory. The U.S. Constitution is the supreme authority for American jurisprudence, but nobody I know calls it “inerrant.”

  • Mark Denning

    I’ve always found John Stott’s comments about the difference between Evangelical and Fundamentalist to be a helpful explanation but, I will admit, one that is too nuanced for our media sound bite world. This was written more than ten years ago now but is still helpful. Pages 18-21 specifically.

    Evangelical Truth: A Personal Plea For Unity, Integrity & Faithfulness
    http://www.amazon.com/Evangelical-Truth-Integrity-Faithfulness-Perspective/dp/083083303X/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1203219730&sr=1-2

    • rogereolson

      Somehow that book didn’t get on my radar screen! Thanks for recommending it. I always enjoy reading Stott. He will be greatly missed by moderate evangelicals. An example of what I am calling “neo-fundamentalism” is the way he was treated by “friends” when he espoused annihilationism.

  • http://chrismcalister.com Chris McAlister

    As a pastor and adjunct prof it saddens me to see what you are forecasting.

    I teach at a fairly liberal institution and I have more freedom than I would at a seminary I graduated from.

    I frame everything for the students in 3 camps to give them options: fundamentalist, evangelical, and liberal. I leave a trail of breadcrumbs to the evangelical perspective and I position this “conservative evangelicalism” in the camp of fundamentalism. I am not giving up the big tent dream.

    • rogereolson

      Just you and me, maybe. :)

      • http://chrismcalister.com Chris McAlister

        awesome :-)

  • gemmie

    Am I the only one who got a few paragraphs in then had to turn to google because I couldn’t understand the terminology? I liked where this post was heading but gave up at “premillennial eschatology”. Is there a glossary somewhere I can refer to?

    • rogereolson

      There are several good (but none exhaustive) theological dictionaries in print. I recommend the one by Justo Gonzalez. Don McKim’s is also good.

  • Steve Dal

    Roger
    It seems to me that this type of thing is right throughout the history of the Church. This constant battle for orthodoxy. What might be called orthodoxy to day is fundamentalism in the future and vice versa. It is ofcourse, relative and to me, political in nature. I have seen this so many times and it repulses me. People fighting over what they feel is correct Biblical interpretation and the attempt to force that to be what everyone should believe. I do believe that people in general recognise extremism and ultimately move away from it. If not physically move then certainly in terms of there energy for it. In other words fundamentalism only works under certain circumstances. Take those circumstances away and the thing usually dies. This is where the voices of moderation work as part of the solution. I never expect to turn extremism around completely, but to introduce or highlite the problems it has and offer alternative hypotheses. This seems to have the effect of pulling away at the foundations and eventually to effect its downfall. Or at least to irritate the protagonists. I enjoy doing that. So did Jesus I think.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Are you saying that I should not quip that all Calvinists are fundamentalists? How disappointing ;)

    • rogereolson

      I do know Calvinists who are not fundamentalists. An example is Rich Mouw.

      • Timothy

        Another example is NT Wright, or at least so Wright claims

  • T. B.

    I read this as a Catholic only curious about what was going on when I read the reference to “Op_n Th_ism” (in the second to last paragraph, I fear to spell it out for fear of the Lightening that might ensue) I had to look it up, and then nearly rent my proverbial robes. Seriously, it’s positively Mormon. I’m afraid I must agree with your “fundamentalists”; better to curse the mary-worshipping-pagan-followers-of-the-roman-antichrist then to have no boundaries at all. “The Creator of all things visible and invisible” (ie Time) sees the infinitesimal universe beginning to end as a tiny hair in His changeless sight. I’ll insist on that until He tells me otherwise. IMHO.

  • Stephen

    Mr. Olson I enjoyed and agree with almost your entire post. I have only recently started reading blogs on patheos.com. I was intrigued by your blog and glad to find it included on the Evangelical Channel.
    However (yeah, I know you saw that coming), I am surprised by a few things. Using the Republican Party analogy was simply blasé and an unnecessary, distracting swipe, only serving to identify yourself to the politically like-minded. Let me assure you that the same fundamentalist mentality is equally alive and determined in the ranks of Democrats – starting back in the 90’s when pro-life PA Governor Robert Casey, Sr. was censored from debating the abortion issue within the party.
    Next was a bit more disheartening. There seemed to be a mild ground swell of ‘us vs. them’ mentality expressed in the comments. The irony of intolerance in the name of tolerance disturbs me. There is room in the faith for the fundamentalist, even those that are trying to force out the moderates (of which I would identify myself).

    • rogereolson

      I hope you noticed that I went out of my way to say that fundamentalists are evangelicals–a favor they don’t return to those of us who are more moderate or progressive. Also, the Democratic Party is much more diverse politically than the Republican Party these days. In the South especially many Democrats are very conservative. I stand by my analogy.

  • http://returntorome.com Francis J. Beckwith

    I like Al Plantinga’s account of fundamentalism, from his book Warranted Christian Belief (Oxford University Press, 2000):

    “We must first look into the use of this term ‘fundamentalist’. On the most common contemporary academic use of the term, it is a term of abuse or disapprobation, rather like ‘son of a bitch’, more exactly ‘sonovabitch’, or perhaps still more exactly (at least according to those authorities who look to the Old West as normative on matters of pronunciation) ‘sumbitch’. When the term is used in this way, no definition of it is ordinarily given. (If you called someone a sumbitch, would you feel obliged first to define the term?) Still, there is a bit more to the meaning of ‘fundamentalist’ (in this widely current use): it isn’t simply a term of abuse. In addition to its emotive force, it does have some cognitive content, and ordinarily denotes relatively conservative theological views. That makes it more like ‘stupid sumbitch’ (or maybe ‘fascist sumbitch’?) than ‘sumbitch’ simpliciter. It isn’t exactly like that term either, however, because its cognitive content can expand and contract on demand; its content seems to depend on who is using it. In the mouths of certain liberal theologians, for example, it tends to denote any who accept traditional Christianity, including Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, and Barth; in the mouths of devout secularists like Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett, it tends to denote anyone who believes there is such a person as God. The explanation is that the term has a certain indexical element: its cognitive content is given by the phrase ‘considerably to the right, theologically speaking, of me and my enlightened friends.’ The full meaning of the term, therefore (in this use), can be given by something like ‘stupid sumbitch whose theological opinions are considerably to the right of mine’.”

    • rogereolson

      Well, I disagree with Al. He needs to read his own former colleague George Marsden on the subject. “Fundamentalism” was a distinct movement of conservative evangelical Protestants that flourished (dominating American evangelicalism) in the 1930s especially. And there are still people who identify as fundamentalist. A careful study of the history of that movement can provide a profile that transcends the merely indexical use Plantinga criticizes.

  • Jack Hanley

    I certainly could not help but notice, the reference to Advent Christian. I myself am a life long Advent Christian. Now I am not particularly proud of this fact, it is just that I was born and raised in an AC church and have come to love the AC folks dearly.

    It is indeed a fact that, the AC was not allowed into the National Association of Evangelicals until the mid 1980′s. Until this point the AC was barred from entering and even considered by a good number of Evangelicals to be a cult along side Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, and Seventh Day Adventists. Many in the AC were upset, and offended by these things. When the AC was finally allowed into the tent of Evangelicals, many AC folks rejoiced. However I did not share their enthusiasm. The reason for my lack of enthusiasm was, the AC had not changed it’s doctrinal distinctive stance on 1) conditional immortality, 2) sleep of the dead. These were the former issues at stake that kept the AC from entering the Evangelical tent. My question was, (and still is) seeing as how the AC has not recanted these doctrinal stances, has the NAE changed it’s stance? I guess you could say the answer to my question, lies in the fact that the AC has now been excepted. However I am not sure this is accurate. You see I believe it MAY (and I stress the word may) in fact be the case that the AC along with others were allowed to join, in order to build a bigger political bloc, so as to unite in the fight against social issues, that we may agree on. In other words, there may be more concern for political and social issues than there is for the Gospel. I also believe this was the intent of the document Evangelicals and Catholics Together.

    What I am attempting to communicate here is that, I was not offended by the fact that the AC was not allowed into the Evangelical tent. In fact I was very thankful that the NAE at that time cared enough about the truth along with the people in the AC, to make such a stand. This action caused, at least myself to struggle, in an attempt to discover if the issues involved were essential to the Gospel. In other words I have no problem with being excluded from the tent, and in fact I believe the tent needs to become smaller, rather than larger, even if this excludes myself. I believe that when the tent becomes large the Gospel begins to be watered down.

    I pray for the NAE, and it’s leaders, it is also my hope that they are successful in evangelism. Whether I am in the tent or on the outside looking in, I support the cause.

    I would also like to know where you stand on allowing the inclusion of Advent Christians?

    • rogereolson

      If I recall correctly, the NAE statement of faith contains nothing that a good Advent Christian could not affirm. That is, it doesn’t exclude those distinctive Adventist doctrines you mention. So, I’m all for including as many people as possible who can affirm the bare bones NAE statement of faith. I haven’t found the NAE to be political. It is not a PAC, formally or informally. I was dismayed when Haggard was its president that he invited a well-known politically arch-conservative evangelical to speak at a NAE national meeting without inviting anyone on “the others side” to speak. I even wrote him about that, but he didn’t respond. My experience of the NAE is that it seeks to be a broad tent of evangelical Protestant Christians for witness, fellowship and world relief.

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  • http://carsontclark.com/ Carson Clark

    Kudos, Dr. Olson… I was wondering if I might get your feedback on two related things:

    1. CT’s recent assertion that evangelicalism is experiencing a paradigm shift away from revivalism and conversionism has got me thinking. Specifically, about the continued relevance of Bebbington’s well-known hallmarks. If those four things are the pillars of the evangelical identity and one of them is dissolving, what are the implication? Are we witnessing the end of evangelicalism as a distinct movement? Perhaps merely the next step in its evolution into a new era? Or could it be that Bebbington got it wrong in the first place? Maybe D.G. Hart is right that Bebbington, Noll, and others have created a concept that never actually existed, desperately searching for a cohesive unity when what’s obvious is fragmented discontinuity.

    2. I was hoping I might get your feedback on a post I wrote right around this time last year.
    “Evangelical But Not Fundamentalist? A Proposal for New Nomenclature”
    http://bit.ly/IDfIM5

    • rogereolson

      Lacking time at the moment, I’ll try to get to that later. I apologize for being pressed for time right now. As for your first comment and question–I have argued for a long time that what we call “evangelicalism” has been since the Great Awakening a combustible compound of Protestant Orthodoxy and Pietism/Revivalism. The two can and often do overlap, of course, but they are in tension with each other. In response to the rise of liberalism evangelicals of various flavors came together around Billy Graham in the post WW2 era. Over the last two to three decades that coalition has been coming apart as the old fissures became gulfs. I would say that today there are at least 2 evangelicalisms–the neo-fundamentalists (mostly Calvinists) and the postconservative or progressigve evangelicals (mostly Arminian or at least non-Calvinist). But, of course, there are smaller tribes as well.

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  • Tom S. Coke

    By consensus of comments, it seems “fundamentalist” to be the disparaging term for an evangelical or Christian who is considered too far right. What is the disparaging term for one too far left?

    • rogereolson

      “post-evangelical”

  • Janeway

    I am kind of like the Catholic lady, I have no idea what these people are arguing about. I guess I am just ignorant (unlearned) of the many variations of the Evangelical movement, I just assumed they were pretty much all the same. I know they are uniformly against my religion, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, a scary “Mormon”, but I had no idea they had so much contention within their movement. One thing about the Catholics, they do have an identifiable doctrine as do “Mormons” – you may dislike both or either but we may be wrong but not confused. I think maybe you need to adopt a LDS position that only Christ can decide who is a Christian and who is not. Maybe it is time to try to agree on a few things and quit worrying about each other, the Catholics and the LDS, and try to “love one another”. Christ gave that instruction and I don’t recall Him saying “love one another….only if they agree with…”. Christ will return some day and I am sure ALL will need an attitude adjustment.

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  • Curtis Freeman

    Thanks for this piece, Roger. Sorry I missed it earlier. My friend and colleague Grant Wacker has a simpler way to delineate: If you really like Billy Graham you are an evangelical, but if you think Billy Graham has been hanging out with liberals then you’re a fundamentalist. That of course was before Billy Graham weighed in on Amendment One in NC. It seems now Billy Graham has become a lapsed evangelical himself.

    • rogereolson

      Yes, I’ve used that criterion often. It is, of course, a rather informal one and only works some of the time. It’s a very general rule of thumb. However, as I’m sure you know, in recent decades neo-fundamentalists have sought to “own” Billy Graham. So I’m not sure if the rule of thumb works as well as it used to. As for the various state constitutional amendments, many non-fundamentalist evangelicals support them. I wouldn’t make that a watershed issue.

  • Mark

    Pastor Olson,

    This is a very interesting blog. I am an evangelical from up north and I have witnessed what you are speaking about directly. I face it as a lay person when I attend a bible study and when I question the religious right, I am asked “You mean you aren’t a member of God’s Own Party? Do you feel persecuted?”. I was making a comment that wouldn’t it be nice if evangelicals witnessed to people rather than condemn people. At this same church there was a voter registration drive. I never registered because for me this went against church and state separation, and I would truly feel persecuted if I didn’t march lock-step register with the right party. I am very a conservative person. These people are trying to squelch free thought and individuality and to what end?

  • Mark

    Pastor Olson,

    Sorry, I had problems posting this comment from my I pad , so if it is duplicate, I apologize.

    This is a very interesting blog. I am an evangelical from up north and I have witnessed what you are speaking about directly. I faced it as a lay person when I attend a bible study and when I question the religious right, I am asked “You mean you aren’t a member of God’s Own Party? Do you feel persecuted?”. I was making a comment that wouldn’t it be nice if evangelicals witnessed to people rather than condemn people. At this same church there was a voter registration drive in between the two Sunday morning services. I never registered because for me this went against church and state separation, and I would truly feel persecuted if I didn’t march lock-step register with the right party. I am very a conservative person. These people are trying to squelch free thought and individuality and to what end?

    Also when a person puts themselves so high on a pedestal like they have, how can they genuinely witness to the lost? A genuine witness is not one that belittles — it is based on love, not moral superiority.

  • Curtis Freeman

    Thanks Roger. Non Fundamentalists didn’t support Amendment One in NC. Only Fundamentalists. And 61% of our state voted that way, though it’s clear many did NOT know they were voting against civil unions for anyone except one-man-an-one-woman-in-marriage. It discriminates against women, children, and gays and lesbians. It is a cruel and insensitive amendment to our state constitution. That Billy Graham supported the extension of discrimination simply makes your point.

    • rogereolson

      But are you defining “fundamentalist” by support of Amendment One?

      • Curtis Freeman

        No, but I haven’t met a moderate yet who voted for it. So it seems to be a pretty good indicator.

        • rogereolson

          But, of course, much depends on how one defines those categories. Would you consider someone a “moderate” if they voted for a state constitutional amendment banning “gay marriages” if everything else about him or her fit the usual “moderate” profile?

          • Curtis Freeman

            Not trying to generalize. Only talking about NC. I’ll leave TX and the whole Evangelical world to you if you want them. I was only talking about Amendment One in NC not the whole world. I use “moderate” as a social category. I know these folks. Many are “conservative” theologically. (Please don’t ask me to define “conservative” or give five essential traits.) You might try to call them “Evangelicals.” They don’t call themselves that, at least it’s not their first term of choice. They view that as a Yankee word. And they don’t like the carpetbaggers that drug it down here calling it “evangelicalism” and making the litmus tests things like Genesis is science, women must stay home and cook, Muslims worship Satan, birth control is a sin, etc. (Think Franklin Graham, Al Mohler, Russell Moore, etc.) And I wouldn’t be doctrinaire on, “No moderates could vote for A1.” Just saying I haven’t met one in my state who did. Maybe I just need to get out more and I’ll meet one. And maybe that tells you who’s in the majority here in NC. But it’s another indication to me, that Billy Graham has been hijacked by fundamentalists and the word “evangelical” and “fundamentalist” (as nouns) have become overlapping if not synonymous.

          • rogereolson

            Every label and every category has its problems. “Moderate” included.

          • Curtis Freeman

            And since we’re talking definitions, I wonder if your noble attempt at definition doesn’t hypostasize the category “evangelical” and transform it into another essentialism. More to the point, your version of evangelical fits better with northern “evangelicals” which you name, but it doesn’t match the more simple kind of evangelicalism named by Donald Mathews in his history of the old South. Nor does it seem to fit another simple version laid out by David Bebbington, which seems much more clear and inclusive. Nor does it fit the kind of evangelicalism I run into in Australia or New Zealand. So I guess I’d be happier with a more fuzzy-edged phenomenological approach like Peter Lake has tried to do in his multiple accounts of “puritanism.” What Grant Wacker does in his Billy Graham criterion, is suggest that “fundamentalism” is as much a mindset as it is viewpoint. Glad you keep trying. Just wondering, as your friend urged you, if you should keep trying to find a universal account that would fit all evangelicals. It might actually exclude a good many folks you would want to include.

          • rogereolson

            Why do I get the feeling that you’re not really glad that I keep trying? And why do I get the feeling you misunderstand what I have been attempting to do? I don’t see any significant difference between Bebbington’s “simple version” (of describing evangelicalism) and my own. I have added to his four hallmarks a fifth–a general respect for the Great Tradition of Christian orthodoxy–Trinity and incarnation. I resist making evangelicalism into just a folk religion without any cognitive shape (not that Bebbington wants that). Historically, those who have called themselves “evangelical” have, for the most part, been orthodox in that broad sense. And I truly do not “get” the North-South divide you keep mentioning. I have heard it often, but it doesn’t make sense to me. Many Southerners were involved in the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals. I come from a Northern evangelical background and I don’t see any difference between it (as I grew up in it and was educated in it) and Southern Bible belt religion. Both have their fundamentalist and moderate branches. What I don’t think you understand is my concern to rescue evangelicalism from being identified with rationalistic fundamentalism or anti-intellectual folk religion. One could turn your objections to evangelicalism around and use them about “Baptist.” But I assume you don’t want to give up the term even those every attempt to define it risks reifying and hypostasizing what is an extremely diverse phenomenon. Where I come from, “up North,” many people equate being Baptist with being Southern which is, of course, a misconception. And they equate it with being fundamentalist–another misconception. Just because those misconceptions are so widespread (e.g., in Minnesota and Wisconsin) didn’t make me give up proudly calling myself a Baptist. I just worked hard to correct misconceptions. I’m doing the same with “evangelical.”

  • Curtis Freeman

    I’m trying not to misunderstand and to be appreciative, even if have no stake in the argument. I don’t think, however, Evangelical and Baptist are analogous. One marks a distinct historical movement and denomination of Christianity. The other is a created grouping of various overlapping interests and commitments among various denominations of Christians. There too many asymmetries , and I think “evangelical” is a much more disputed term. This would be a longer discussion, but we might simply not be agreed on the premise of whether evangelical is an adjective, a noun, or both. My own view is that nominalizing it makes it more problematic, but that seems to be where your interest lies. To be sure, some want to claim the sole right to define “Baptist,” just as some are wanting the same of evangelical. Which you rightly point out. We both know some of each. I don’t think old evangelicals of the Old South (Mathews) and neo-evangelicals are really of the same genus, nor are the pomo-evangelicals associated with Morling College in Australia of the same mind as neo-evangelicals, or so the neo-evangelicals say. For example, they commend witnessing by tarot cards, which worries neo-evangelicals. But if someone is going to save the evangelicals from the fundamentalists, then you are surely equipped, and I wish you success. I have no more happiness about fundamentalists taking over the Evangelicals that I do them taking over the Baptists. Godspeed.

  • irispotatoes

    non-essential doctrine,…..such as emphasis on …Bible inerrancy
    If the Bible is not inerrant, then possibly Mary wasn’t a virgin, then Jesus may not be without sin. How could He pay for mine?

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