When the man heard that I was a Pentecostal, he no longer wanted to talk to me.
True story. I was in the first year of my graduate work, and I was talking with another student about the class we had just begun.
We chatted for a while, and he asked if I were in ministry. I told him that I had been a pastor, but presently I was devoting all my time to school. Then he asked what church I had pastored.
I told him that I had just resigned my senior pastor position in an Assemblies of God church.
He looked at me as though I had shot him. He said, "Oh, so, you're a Pentecostal?" I said, "Yes."
Then he said, rather impolitely, that he didn't wish to speak with me anymore. I was dumbfounded, and I asked "Why not?" He said that he "knew about Pentecostals" from watching "Christian television," and he wanted nothing at all to do with them. Then he turned and walked away.
I just stood there trying to figure out what had just happened.
A week later when our class met, I approached the man and asked if we could talk after class. He said he was busy and didn't have the time. So, I seized the opportunity right then and told him that I too was appalled at much of so-called Christian television, and that though I was a Pentecostal, I was not like what he'd seen on TV.
But it was too late. His mind was made up, and from that point on, we shared little more than a classroom and an occasional nod of recognition.
Too bad too, because we probably held far more in common with each other than he realized. I knew one thing that we held in common already, our disdain for much of so-called Christian TV.
But, I also knew one thing that we did not hold in common: his over generalizations of terms and labels.
Recently in a class I was teaching, someone mentioned "Fundamentalists" in a most derogatory way. The person went on to identify Fundamentalists as fanatical religious zealots who manipulate the Bible to confirm their legalistic beliefs.
Someone else in the class was shocked. She considered herself a Fundamentalist but did not identify at all with the caricature that had just been portrayed.
After some discussion, it became apparent that while one student was talking about what I call a "sociological Fundamentalist," the other student was talking about a "theological Fundamentalist."
Is there a difference? You bet there is, and to blur the distinction is to paint with broad stokes various people into one fanatical camp.
Recently, I received an email from a man who asked me, "I was also curious how you would describe the difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals, particularly conservative evangelicals."
As I told him, there is no way to make full clarification of this in an email; so too, there is no way to do full justice to this question even in a Coffee Talk, but I think it is important for Christians to at least know some basic distinctions so that we can begin to understand each other.
So, in this CT, and maybe in ones to come, I will attempt to make some clarifications about certain terms and titles. I think that the terms Fundamentalist and Evangelical are good ones to start with.
The problem with terms is that they are not static. They can change in meaning over the years as people abuse them. Also, a person who has been a Christian for the last 20 or 30 years and who has not studied Christian history may not even know that the term Fundamentalist was once the favored term by Bible believing Christians.
R. A. Torrey (educated at Yale and the former superintendent of Moody Bible Institute and former dean of Biola University) served as editor of the last two volumes of a four-volume set called The Fundamentals (now published by Baker Book House). In the preface of this four-volume work, Torrey wrote that in 1909 two Christian laymen funded an ambitious project "that would set forth the fundamentals of the Christian faith." This project culminated in a 12-volume set that was sent free of charge to pastors, missionaries, Sunday school superintendents, and others engaged in Christian work.
You see, it was during this time that theological liberalism was gaining much ground in the church, and people were being taught that the Bible was a fairy tale book of myths and legends. These liberals denied the deity of Christ, and dismissed his substitutionary death for our sins. So, some Bible-believing people worked very hard to set forth a written document that would clearly explain the fundamentals of the Christian faith (i.e., orthodox doctrines). Some have summarized these fundamentals into six primary doctrines of the Christian faith.
Here they are (in my words):
1. "C" - Jesus Christ: The deity of Jesus Christ (including His virgin birth), and without ceasing to be God, He became man in order that He might reveal God and redeem sinful man.
2. "H" - Hope: The vicarious, substitutionary atonement of Christ's death on the cross is the only hope of redemption for all mankind: that we are saved by faith alone in Jesus Christ alone.
3. "R" - Resurrection: The literal, bodily (in the identical, though glorified, physical body in which He was crucified) resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
4. "I" - Inerrancy: The divine inspiration, inerrancy (in the original autographs), and infallibility of Scripture.
5. "S" - Second Coming: The literal (bodily & personal) future return of Christ in the Second Advent.
6. "T" - Trinity: The Christian doctrine of the Trinity of the Godhead--God is one and yet exists eternally in three persons having the same nature, attributes, and perfections, and equal in power and glory.
If you believe in and hold to these six fundamentals of the Christian faith, then you are a Fundamentalist in the best sense of that term. This, then, for many people is what it means to be a Fundamentalist.
Fundamentalism in History
However, as I said above, terms have a way of changing meanings. Since 1909, the term Fundamentalist has taken on some drastic and negative connotations. In my class, mentioned above, the woman who considered herself a Fundamentalist went on to say that she believed in the six Fundamentals of the faith.
In fact, she asked this question, if someone is not a Fundamentalist, that is, if the person rejects, say, three of the six basic fundamentals, 1. the deity of Jesus Christ, 2. Christ's substitutionary death, and 3. the Trinity is that person even a Christian?
The person who had made the negative comments about Fundamentalists didn't have a clue as to the concept of the historical "Fundamentals of the faith." This person thought that a Fundamentalist was simply a deeply legalistic person who was a separatist and, perhaps, "a KJV-Only Bible thumper" as he put it.
So, herein lies the problem: One person was seeing the term through her "theological glasses" while the other person was seeing the term through his "sociological glasses." And, as long as these two people never understood the other person's definitional context, they would never be able to agree on anything having to do with the term Fundamentalist. After some discussion, the person who was so negative toward the term Fundamentalist said that he too believed in the six fundamentals, "So I must be a Fundamentalist!" he said.
In the humorous spirit of Jeff Foxworthy, I once wrote an article titled, "You might be a Fundamentalist if. . ." The essence of the article was this:
You might be a Fundamentalist if . . .
You believe that Jesus Christ is God.
You believe that Jesus Christ died a vicarious, substitutionary death on the cross.
You believe that Jesus Christ literally and bodily rose from the dead.
You believe that the Bible is divinely inspired and is inerrant and infallible in the original autographs.
You believe in the Second Coming of Christ as a literal, future return of Christ.
You believe in the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
So, are you a Fundamentalist? Well, according to the above list of beliefs, I certainly am.
The problem with the term Fundamentalist today is that most people identify it from a sociological framework, and not a theological one. Fundamentalists are not seen so much for what they believe, but for what they do (or don't do). Television news has had no shortage of video showing extreme, fanatical Christians carrying signs that depict hatred rather than love. Jerry Falwell said it (tongue-in-cheek) quite well when he said: "A Fundamentalist is just and Evangelical who is angry about something."
The term "Fundamentalist" has been easily attached to the 9-11 hijackers who killed more than 3,000 people on September 11th, all in the name of their god, Allah.
In my hometown there was a Christian man who would go downtown and scream at people telling them that they were going to hell unless they repented. He even outfitted his van with outside loud speakers, and he would drive down main street screaming hell-fire and brimstone at people.
These kinds fanatical actions are seen today as indicative of the term "Fundamentalist." So, the term as it is often used today has nothing to do with a belief system, but it has to do with outward actions toward other people (sociological), and always in a negative way.
Also, Fundamentalists have typically been known as separatists. They see the "preaching of the gospel" as so important that some of them have concluded that there is no need to feed and cloth the poor until they first get saved. To feed and cloth the unsaved poor is only to help them live longer without Christ. In fact, some of them have accused more socially engaged Christians with preaching a "Social Gospel" which does not save but keeps people comfortably in their sins.
This primary emphasis of "preaching first" has led some Fundamentalists to be absent socially.
Some of them have concluded that there is no reason to vote in political elections because that's just the "Social Gospel" that leads to death, and only the "spiritual gospel of Christ" leads to life. In many cases, preaching the gospel is not just primary for Fundamentalists, it is singular . . i.e., it is the only thing Christians are to do.
While in college, I was sharply rebuked by a Fundamentalist brother because I was on my way to vote in a U.S. Presidential Election. He told me that while I was casting my vote, he'd be praying, and God would then determine which of us had the greater impact upon our society. This got me to thinking, so I prayed for our country on my way to the polls. Why can't we Christians do both?
Believe it or not, the term "Evangelical" can be as slippery as the term "Fundamentalism." It all depends on who you are talking to and what part of the U.S. (or indeed world) you are in. One man from a southern state chided me over the phone for CES being "liberal." When I asked him how he came to the idea that CES was a liberal school, he said it was because we have the term "Evangelical" as part of our name. Interestingly, someone else commented in an email to me that "obviously CES is caught up in the legalistic fanaticism of evangelicalism." One term, two extreme ideas.
I like what I believe is the most common understanding of the term: Evangelicalism is a movement in modern thought that emphasizes the gospel of Christ and the personal relationship all must have to be saved through Christ's redemption and the Holy Spirit's regeneration.
But, one can conceivably be an "Evangelical" (one who believes in forgiveness through Christ) without holding closely to the fundamental doctrines of Christianity. In fact, I have met people of more mainline churches who see Christ as Savior and desire to point people to Him, but who, for whatever reason, see the fundamentals as non-essential. For me, the idea that Christ is Savior is undermined and subverted by a rejection of the fundamentals of the faith.
Nonetheless, some who claim the title "Evangelical" do not hold to the fundamentals of the faith.
Social Interaction by Evangelicals
One other aspect of Evangelicalism is social interaction. While both the Fundamentalist and the Evangelical are socially engaged, typically, the Fundamentalist is engaged in negative and zealous ways (see Fundamentalism Sociologically above). But, historically, the Evangelical has been known to attempt to interact socially in a more upbeat and positive way: perhaps by providing clothing and food for the poor; providing women's shelters; providing alternatives to abortion clinics, and more. Evangelicals are also known to be more involved politically by actually being voters, grassroots activist, and politicians. So, Evangelicals have been known to be more (positively) socially minded and engaged.
In brief, then, an Evangelical is one who (1) believes in "personal forgiveness for sins and regeneration" and is (2) positively "socially minded and active" (on some level).
So, now enters a newer term: Conservative Evangelicalism. The term "Conservative" addresses the theological concerns. The term "Conservative" refers to a conservative view and belief in the Bible and thus in the six fundamentals of the Christian faith (i.e., orthodox doctrines). So, theologically, Conservative Evangelicalism is "Fundamentalistic" in theology.
However, those claiming the title "Conservative Evangelical" also see the positive aspect of the term Evangelicalism, i.e., an emphasis upon the gospel of Christ and the personal relationship all must have with Christ to be saved through his forgiveness and the Holy Spirit's regeneration.
Next, the "Conservative Evangelical" is engaged socially in some positive "salt of the earth" sort of way (by both preaching to the lost and by being a helper to others socially).
In brief, the "Conservative Evangelical" has taken the best aspects of both worlds, that of the Fundamentalists and that of the Evangelicals.
So, am I a "Fundamentalist"? Yes, theologically. Am I an Evangelical? Yes, with regard to the relationship of sinner and the gospel, and in relationship to the Christian's responsibility to society at large. Thus, I am a Conservative Evangelical.
One might say that a person who holds to the fundamentals of the Christian faith and who sees the need for personal regeneration and who is involved with his society in a positive way is a Conservative Evangelical.
Conservative Evangelical Pentecostals
Yes, there are such persons as Conservative Evangelical Pentecostals. I often hear people talk about "Evangelicals" and "Pentecostals" as if Pentecostals are not Evangelicals.
Pentecostals are Evangelicals: Since the primary definition of an Evangelical is one who emphasizes the gospel of Christ and the forgiveness that comes through His name and the personal relationship that all must have to be saved, Pentecostals are thoroughgoing Evangelicals.
Pentecostals are Conservatives: In fact, it might surprise some of my readers to know that George Barna's research indicates that more than any other denomination and group, Pentecostals believe the Bible doctrines and in sharing their faith with others. Thus, Pentecostals may actually be the most "Evangelical" of all the churches out there. (See the Barna report, "Religious Beliefs Vary Widely By Denomination," June 25, 2001this report is a real eye opener.)
In brief, then, there are Conservative Evangelicals who are Pentecostals. In other words, they believe in the fundamentals of the Christian faith (i.e., orthodox doctrines). They believe in personal regeneration by the Holy Spirit through Christ's forgiveness, and they believe that the gifts of the Holy Spirit are available and operable today.
Well, it is difficult to have a "moral of the story" in an article like this. This is predominately an instructional article helping people get a handle on the various terms. However, if there is any "moral of the story" in this article it is this: Please be very careful when you use terms to brand people.
In closing, I'll list the terms again and you see how well you do with their definitions. If you don't remember them adequately, you may want to read this CT again:
Fantastic CT. I think that the nuances of these terms have, for the most part, been lost to many people outside the church and even many within the church. Thanks for making the clarifications.
A few thoughts on Coffee Talk #76:
-The original classic theological definitions of both fundamentalist and liberal have been swallowed up by sociological and political definitions. Those definitions are now made by the media and others who have little or no knowledge of the original meanings.
-The term fundamentalist is almost a curse word today. Listen to any news program and you'll quickly catch my drift.
-As a pastor in a mainline church I get into conversations with people about who we are as United Methodists. It is interesting that I am often dealing with what somebody else says we believe rather than what we really believe. This problem is compounded by the fact that individuals or groups within the denomination itself claim to speak for the denomination (although they have no authority to do so).
-UMs still hold to all of the basic (Fundamental as you have put it) beliefs of Christianity. Those beliefs can be found in our constitution under "Articles of Religion." All of them are at least 250 years old. They cannot be changed without a vote of all (nearly 40,000) UM congregations. I don't see any change coming anytime soon.
-Candidates for Ministry in the UMC are examined on their "evangelical" beliefs (Paragraph 327, Item 5 "Discipline of the United Methodist Church"). Items included in that list are repentance, justification by faith, new birth and marks of a Christian life among others. It is interesting to note that since a new emphasis began on this requirement, our worship attendance as a denomination has increased 7%. No one can prove a connection. But it is an interesting coincidence.
-So are UMs fundamentalists? Evangelicals? As to fundamentalist-- Most United Methodists would agree to all the doctrines you list as fundamental. But due to the history of the word fundamentalist and its use in culture today few would claim to be fundamentalists. However, when it comes to evangelical, we would probably claim we invented the word! Evangelical has become a safe word (as opposed to fundamentalist) for the vast majority of United Methodists to use to describe their theology. Most of what you list as the characteristics of evangelicals the majority of UMs would recognize as a part of their theology.
-As for me I'll go with John Wesley, "If your heart is as my heart (in loving Christ), give me your hand." I'm pretty happy to show up and get paid for my life's passion. As opposed to real work. If I had to have a label, it might be "Conservative Evangelical."
-Your conclusion is something I would really affirm. As, we share more in common as Christians than we are often willing to admit.
Thanks for the Coffee Talk
Just another in a long line of CTs that inform and teach. Great job!
I consider myself a fundamentalist within the old catholic tradition. One of the members of my advisory board of The Old Catholic Seminary is a Pentecostal minister.
I see no conflict.
As your excellent article re: fundamentalism points out: it's all in the basics.
The political and theological liberals will do all they can to blur the distinctions you and I have explicated.
Good article. Interesting the differences and shades of meaning. Well done!
Send comments about this, or any, Coffee Talk to Rick Walston at: CES - @ - ColumbiaSeminary.edu
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