Over at a Theology of Love, John Arthur recently quoted a blog post which seems to have disappeared in which the author, Bruce, writes that:
As much as Evangelicalism might seem and deny it, Evangelicalism is a Fundamentalist religion. Some Evangelicals eschew social Fundamentalism but ALL Evangelicals embrace theological Fundamentalism.
Bruce is somewhat right in as far as it is true that most evangelicals would affirm many of the same core beliefs as fundamentalists. Indeed, it is the attitude toward people who disagree which has always been a key distinction between evangelicalism and fundamentalism. There are other differences, though, and a wide spectrum on the issue of biblical authority that Bruce mentions later in the quote on John’s post.
I see fundamentalism as a thread which runs through almost every evangelical church – at least in Perth. The two movements can be separated and distinguished in their pure form, but in any church they exist in blended form. There will be at least some members of the congregation who are fundamentalist to a lesser or greater degree. (To a lesser extent, this could be said about liberalism in a number of evangelical churches too – the person sitting in a Baptist church who quite likes Spong, but this is less common.)
Roger Olson is a theologian I like a lot, and one of his talents is astute classification and unpacking of labels and movements; he wrote a great post on the difference between fundamentalism and evangelicalism back in April. He comes at the issue as a postconservative evangelical who a lot of conservative evangelicals would like to place outside the fold, but he provides a strong argument for why his brand of evangelicalism is a legitimate heir to the original neo-evangelicals.
In brief, I consider some of the fundamentalist tendencies typically found in evangelical churches to be:
- Young earth creation (because of its anti-science obscurantism and its suspicion of biblical scholarship.)
- Some forms of inerrancy – certainly not all of them – which make an idol of a certain uninformed reading of the Bible and reject even evangelical scholarship about historical and cultural background.
- An attitude of separatism from people who disagree – this is the most important one; a young-earth-creationist who can respectfully disagree with others and not make it a test of orthodoxy is not so fundamentalist.
- An obsession with predictive prophecy, Israel and/or the Book of Revelation. This is the one on the rise, probably even more so than young-earth creation.
The challenge is that even if a pastor is not fundamentalist at all, the members of the church are influenced by so many books, conferences, websites and friends that inevitably some of them will have picked up these ideas. Fundamentalist ideas will sit in the soup of people’s worldview alongside lots of other flavours. So it would be wrong to dismiss anyone as a ‘complete’ fundamentalist on the basis of one extreme opinion or reaction.
I’ll be interested in your thoughts and experiences, though I may not be back online for a couple of days.