Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism: More details

Old Post: This post addresses some of the comments to my previous post.

In case you're curious, I grew up in Southern Baptist churches. Since my family moved around a lot, I went to quite a few of them. Not all Southern Baptists are fundamentalists, but a lot of them are. At one time I would have called myself a fundamentalist, but now I call myself an evangelical. My doctrinal beliefs have changed some, but I still agree with most Southern Baptist doctrine. The main difference is that I no longer think that what makes someone a faithful Christian is the doctrine they believe in. As long as they agree with the minimal evangelical foundational beliefs, I believe that their faithfulness is demonstrated by how they love God and how they love others. It is not for me to judge whether someone is a good Christian or not, although there is a place for correction when someone is clearly going astray, but it is the responsibility of every believer to encourage every other believer to faithfully follow Christ. I no longer think this means trying to convince them to agree with my doctrines.

In my previous post I pointed out that the thing that separated evangelicals from orthodox mainstream Christianity was the emphasis on evangelism: hence the name evangelical. I should probably have pointed out as well that there is a strong emphasis on the Bible as the word of God, an emphasis that is not shared in all orthodox denominations. Evangelicals believe in studying the Bible, both individually and in small group Bible study, believing it to be the way God most directly communicates with his people today. This emphasis is the reason evangelicalism is stronger in Protestant churches than Catholic churches. Catholic doctrine views the Bible differently, and while they aren't opposed to studying the Bible, they don't usually encourage it in the same way Protestants do. That doesn't mean that there are no Catholic evangelicals, but it is a stronger movement in the Protestant church. (And yes, this may get angry responses, but I'm merely explaining it as well as I understand it from my discussions with Catholic evangelicals.)

In the comments, Jim M says:
I guess the most succinct way of saying the whole thing is that Evangelicals consider Fundamentalists as part of their movement, Fundamentalists do not include most Evangelicals in theirs

My personal experience has probably colored my views, but I think this is not entirely accurate. One of the important differences is that evangelicalism is a uniting movement, trying to find the common Christian heritage among various denominations. For that reason, while fundamentalism's doctrine is not too distant from what a lot of evangelicals believe, its reluctance to accept differing beliefs puts them outside of the evangelical movement.

superfly says:
Another difference is in the prohibition of some activities by fundamentalist. Most fundmentalist are opposed to any drinking of alcohol, but most evagelicals are not opposed to all alcohol use. There are also differences within the groups about charasmatic gifting. There may be some surveys to back this up.

There is some of this among fundamentalist churches. From my personal experience, fundamentalists aren't quite so legalistic as non-fundamentalists seem to believe.

I also see that Doc Rampage has commented on my post. I'll discuss some of the blogosphere responses in a later post.

Update: Having had a chance to read Doc Rampage's post, I see why he's upset. In my response, I'll talk a bit about sola scriptura and why I think it's not a common denominator among evangelicals. (For one, quite a few denominations have doctrine that would be incompatible with evangelicalism if it were.) The "born again" reference will require some discussion as well. While I believe that being born again is necessary, describing how we gain a relationship with Christ, I am no longer convinced that being born again has the rather narrow definition that I learned growing up.

In addition, I should clarify some of what I said in this post. Being a Christian requires a relationship with Christ, an adoption into the family of God, being born again. What gaining this looks like is something I plan to discuss later. When I say that doctrine does not matter, I need to be careful, since, obviously, certain doctrines do matter. Clearly you cannot be an evangelical Christian and believe that Jesus is not the Son of God, or believe that the Resurrection never happened. The eight point statement of faith I quoted summarizes what the most important beliefs are, including the importance of the Bible, which informs the remainder of our beliefs. (Certainly, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses do not fit the definition of evangelical Christian.) However, evangelicals look around at the various denominations of Christianity and see faithful Christians in all of them. (They might be rarer in some denominations than others.) Then they look at the differences in doctrines, and wonder whether they're as important as they were thought to be when all these denominations split off from one another because of their doctrinal differences.

New Post: I discuss why evangelicals don't consider the inerrancy of scripture to be central to their faith above.

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