The Fundamentalist-Evangelical Split

Both believed in the Bible, but one group wanted to separate from modern culture while the other wanted to engage it.

BY: Wendy Murray Zoba

 
Excerpted from Beliefnet's new book, "The Beliefnet Guide to Evangelical Christianity."

In the early 1940s, a distinct split grew between evangelicals and fundamentalists over how to apply the "fundamentals" of faith to the modern world. In 1941 Rev. Carl McIntire founded the American Council of Christian Churches, an extreme group that favored separatism from hostile cultural forces. Some went so far as to refuse contact with anyone who did interact with the culture. Not all "fundamentalists" (that is, those who believed in the fundamentals) felt this way, however. One branch of Bible believers-evangelicals-wanted to engage the culture, while the other branch-fundamentalists-moved away from it, sometimes belligerently. Kenneth Kantzer, a keen observer of the changing picture, said that for many evangelicals who had considered themselves "fundamentalists," the term became "an embarrassment instead of a badge of honor."

At the time evangelicals did not see themselves as rebelling against fundamentalism. Rather, they saw themselves as sincere believers who longed for a "Bible-believing" pastor with an education-one who could approach contemporary issues with intellect and eloquence. Scholars like Kantzer, Harold Ockenga, Carl F. H. Henry did not, of necessity, reject every idea set forth by modernists simply because they were "modern." They did not fear cultural involvement or conflicting viewpoints; they were deeply committed to social action and justice.

A number of institutions and organizations became rallying points under the flag of evangelicalism. In 1942, Harold Ockenga spearheaded the formation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) as a platform for conservative Christians who wanted to be culturally engaged. Carl F. H. Henry wrote

The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism

(1947), which offered a strong critique of fundamentalist separatism, charging a betrayal of their own heritage. The same year saw the formation of one of evangelicalism's hallmark seminaries, Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California. Two years later Billy Graham gained national headlines at his Los Angeles tent meetings when newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst told his editors to "puff Graham," catapulting him onto the national stage. This made "crusade evangelism" front-page news. In 1950 Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga both spoke in the Rose Bowl, addressing the largest audience ever at any religious gathering in the Pacific Southwest. By 1956 Graham had launched Christianity Today, a new magazine "of evangelical conviction." All of this signaled a new day.

Evangelicals took on what Carl Henry called "the costly burden of creating evangelical scholarship in a world that's in rebellion." He meant that as the effects of the Enlightenment permeated the culture, God seemed to have become irrelevant. Evangelicals assumed the responsibility of making God relevant again, and in a way that was accessible to the culture at large.

The Inerrancy of the Bible

The word inerrancy is derived from the Latin, meaning "not wandering." Its usage in this context implies: "not wandering from the truth." For evangelicals, inerrancy means that when Scripture says something, it is telling the truth and not "wandering" into falsehood. Does this mean that evangelicals believe that God dictated the Bible word for word, thus making each word unflawed? Many would say no. But if you asked if they embraced the traditional tenets of faith of the Protestant Reformation-the authority of the Scripture, the virgin birth and divinity of Christ, Jesus' atonement for sin, the bodily resurrection, and the second coming of Christ-evangelicals would say yes, unequivocally..

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