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.

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
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