Fundamentalist or Evangelical: Where Do I Fit?

“The fundamentalist mind, running in a single rut for fifty years, is now quite unable to comprehend dissent from its basic superstitions, or to grant any common honesty, or even any decency, to those who reject them” Henry Louis Mencken



If you are at all like me, you find the use of the words fundamentalist or evangelical confusing or arbitrary. I read a number of articles and will attempt to explain these as simply as possible. My approach is simplistic, at best, and I am sure some of our readers will have much to add. Also, this post deals with these two groups only within the United States.


Here are the resources that I have quoted from directly in this post.

1. PBS Frontline 2004– Steve Waldman, editor-in-chief of Beliefnet and John C. Green, author of Religion and the Culture Wars. Link


2. Coffee Talk Professor Ray Walston 2002 Link


3.Bob Jones University Link


4. Wikipedia Lin

5. John Mark Ministries Link


6. National Association of Evangelicals Link


7. Jack Hyles Link 



What is an evangelical?


 According to the National Association of Evangelicals they define this as the following: “Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ. 

We are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. Our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.


Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These distinctives and theological convictions define us, not political, social, or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism, and discipleship. “


What is the history?


 Steven Waldman and John Green /PBS


“The founding of the National Association of Evangelicals in the late 1940s was one example of that moving away from strict fundamentalism. We’ve seen a lot of that since. In the 1990s, for instance, there was a real effort on the part of the National Association of Evangelicals and many other evangelicals to move away from some of the aspects of fundamentalism which were problematic. Apparently, more people have become attracted to evangelicalism which is seen as less rules driven.


What is the evangelical connection to politics?


Waldman says that evangelicals make up “a third or 40 percent of the population of the United States. Evangelicals have a much wider range of political views. A lot of them are conservatives, but not all of them. About a third of evangelicals voted for Al Gore. But in fact, the evangelicals who were part of Bush’s inner circle were not all fundamentalists. They were often very devout evangelicals. But their approach to politics is much more nuanced than the fundamentalist approach.”

What is their view of Scripture?


According to Green – “Evangelicals don’t actually read it literally. They’re willing to understand that there’s metaphor and poetry in the Bible, and it’s just that the truth expressed in that metaphor and poetry is without error.”


Both Green and Waldman also state that they "are not uniformly dispensational in their view and allow for a wide range of beliefs in eschatology and spiritual gifts."


What is their view of other faith groups?

Green states. “Evangelicals are not as separatist (as fundamentalists). They are perfectly willing to cooperate with people of other religious faiths, with whom they don’t agree on all of the particulars, for the greater cause of evangelizing and bringing people to Christ.”




What is the history behind this movement?

According to Ray Walston: “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). “


Adding to this John Mark Ministries states:


“ The term `fundamentalism’ has its origin in a series of pamphlets published between 1910 and 1915. Entitled “The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth.” By and large, fundamentalism was a response to the loss of influence traditional revivalism experienced in America during the early years of the twentieth century. This loss of influence, coupled with the liberalizing trends of German biblical criticism and the encroachment of Darwinian theories about the origin of the universe, prompted a response by conservative churchmen.”


Wikipedia adds the following information: "The term "fundamentalism" has its roots in the Niagara Bible Conference (1878–1897) which defined those tenets it considered fundamental to Christian belief. The first formulation of American fundamentalist beliefs can be traced to the Niagara Bible Conference and, in 1910, to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church which distilled these into what became known as the "five fundamentals"

  •  The inspiration of the Bible by the Holy Spirit and the inerrancy of Scripture as a result of this.
  •  The virgin birth of Christ.
  •  The belief that Christ's death was the atonement for sin.
  •  The bodily resurrection of Christ.
  •  The historical reality of Christ's miracles.”

What is fundamentalism?

Bob Jones University defines fundamentalism as “a religious movement that began in the early twentieth century, as conservative Christians opposed modernist Christianity with its higher criticism, acceptance of evolution, and disbelief in the inspiration of the Bible. Fundamentalists from several denominations joined together to affirm the “fundamentals,” such as the inspiration of Scripture, the deity and atonement of Christ, and the premillennial Second Coming of Christ. In addition to doctrine, Fundamentalists held to more conservative social mores. Fundamentalists split from mainline Protestant denominations, and eventually from evangelicals as well. Fundamentalism has been an important religious, cultural, and political influence throuhout the twentieth century and into the twenty-first.”

What is their view of Scripture?

Waldman and Green say that "They claim that they a very dispensational and literal in their approach to the Bible , so much so that they view both metaphor and poetry literally."



Which group is larger?

Both authors agree that “there has been a move away from strict fundamentalism. In fact, if you look at surveys today, there are actually relatively few people who identify themselves as fundamentalists. If you look at measures of fundamentalist doctrine, those measures have become somewhat less common. A good example is separatism. In recent surveys, my colleagues and I asked evangelical Protestants, broadly defined, the following question: “Christians should separate themselves from the world to avoid evil.” Relatively few evangelicals in the survey agreed with that statement, including some who called themselves fundamentalists."

What is the main difference in the two groups?


Waldman and Green believe that Fundamentalists are a subset evangelicalism. “Fundamentalists tend to be very strict. They tend towards intolerance. Notice, I said, “tend towards intolerance.” Many of them are not intolerant. But they tend towards that direction. They tend to be very judgmental. They tend to want to require an awful lot of individuals who would join their communion. And they tend to be very, very critical of other Christians—even other evangelical Christians—who don’t share their very strict approach to religion.”

However ,the main issue that distinguishes this group from evangelicals is their strict view on separatism. Green states “Many fundamentalists don’t want to associate even with other Christians who don’t agree with them. They want to separate themselves from people that have fairly similar values. Oftentimes, fundamentalists will even want to separate themselves from people who refuse to separate themselves from people who they don’t agree with.”


Jack Hyles puts it this way “It is rather popular to define the term "fundamentalist" as one who believes the fundamentals; for example, one who believes the verbal inspiration of the Bible, the deity of Christ, the virgin birth, the vicarious death, the bodily resurrection and the second coming. Now, to be sure, such a one believes the fundamentals, but the term "fundamentalist" probably should not be ascribed to him if he is still a member of an apostate denomination. The term "fundamentalist" is given not to those who simply believe the aforementioned fundamentals but to those who have separated themselves from those who do not. This brings the doctrine of separation into focus as a vital and necessary part of being a fundamentalist. This author, for example, could not call a member of the American Baptist Convention who believes the verbal inspiration, the deity of Christ, virgin birth, the vicarious death, the bodily resurrection and the second coming of Christ a fundamentalist, nor could he call a Southern Baptist who believes the fundamental doctrines a fundamentalist. I certainly feel kindly toward men who believe these doctrines who are still in their denominations. I admire their stand and appreciate their fight for the Bible. I am pleased with their evangelistic zeal, and I gladly call them Christian brothers, but in no way could I associate the term "fundamentalist" with them, and I could not do so until they severed their yoke with the movement which is departing from the faith. “


But, many people seem to misuse the term "fundamentalism" to mean something else. What is going on?


Ray Walston makes an important point.Today, many people misuse the word fundamentalism. He believes that there are two classification that must be distinguished: theologically fundamentalist and sociologically fundamentalist. He defines them as follows.


"Theologically Fundamental:

  • “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.”

Sociologically Fundamental:

“ 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 an 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.”


How does this classification help to distinguish groups?


The Conservative Evangelical:

He then goes on to define a new group that he calls Conservative Evangelical which helps the reader to understand how these two terms are differentiated.

"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 aspects of both worlds, that of the Fundamentalists and that of the Evangelicals."


Conservative Evangelical Pentecostals

Walston adds another category to muddy the waters. "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, 2001—this 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 Christan 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."


After reading through this limited discussion, I have to admit I am still quite confused but slightly better educated. 


Lydia's Corner: Joshua 24:1-33 Luke 21:1-28 Psalm 89:38-52 Proverbs 13:20-23






Fundamentalist or Evangelical: Where Do I Fit? — 18 Comments

  1. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    I would contend most Evangelicals, because of their view of the Bible, are theological fundamentalists. There is a subset of theological fundamentalists who are also social fundamentalists. These fundamentalists have strict codes of conduct. Many Evangelicals reject social fundamentalism while retaining their theological fundamentalism.

    Some evangelicals object to being labeled as a fundamentalist but their theology betrays them. Granted there many Evangelicals who are Evangelicals in name only. They are liberals in evangelical clothes.

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    Hi Bruce

    I think I quoted from your blog a couple of days ago.At least your picture seems to be the same one from that blog! Welcome to our blog and thank you for your insights. I agree with your comments.

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    I am a bible-believing, born-again, Evangelical Christian, Old-earth creationist accepting of the proof of evolution, member of a Baptist church considered moderate (meaning less extremely conservative than the SBC), former Southern Baptist, fiscal conservative, social policy progressive, civil libertarian, classical liberal, small d democrat, politically near the middle of the spectrum, tending to vote against extremists of either party.

    Other than saying I am not a fundamentalist, and I do not believe in using government or economics to force others to my way of thinking, where would I fit on your scale.

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    This is a cute test of where you fall out in your religious persuasions. I come up as a 100% Conservative Quaker which seems very consistent with someone conservative theologically but more socially accepting. I have always been taught to offer grace, have come to terms with a too much of my own Pharisaic ways in the past to be too tough, and if you get the theology right, I believe that the works will follow. You have to start somewhere, but it doesn’t mean that I accept sin as acceptable. (It just means there’s a lot of TENSION when walking out the theology part and working to balance it with grace… But I also don’t expect unbelievers to act like believers, too.)

    Though I don’t go to a Pentecostal church anymore (but still visit), I’d definitely put myself down under Conservative Evangelical Pentecostal. (You can take the girl out of the Pentecostal church, but you can’t stop her from talking in tongues in her sleep!)

    Maybe that’s why I kind of mellowed out by going Presby for a time? I lightened up from the very tough and almost rigid standard expected of those in my Assemblies of God church growing up. There were even a few churches in the area that required long hair and dresses all the time… (We used to visit Northampton Assembly of God for revivals and special speakers, and my mom used to worry about getting into trouble because she made me keep my hair short.) Many Pentecostals differ little in form from the outward standards required of those in the IFB. No movies. Not booze, ever (they are spirits which bring spirits, etc!). All long hair, worn up in a bun, all dresses, little to no makeup, etc….

    I’m curious to see where people fall out on the scale.

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    I may put this on the blog today. I fell out in the same group as did you. My father, who was Russian Orthodox, would have loved to see that I fit 99% with that group!

    You mellowed out be going Presby for a time? It depends which Presby-some would not fit the definition of “mellow.” 🙂

    I’m curious-did the AOG apply the standards for long hair and dresses to even the little girls? My mom used to keep my hair short because I refused to spend time brushing it. I was more interested in running around outside and playing kickball, kick the can, etc.

  6. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Off topic except Cindy brought up the AOG: I just read where David Wilkerson died in an accident. This is a short clip of him after 9/11 at Times Square Church with an important message for us all:

    He was the author of the Cross and the Switchblade. The country preacher who was convicted by God to go to NYC and minister to gangs. He started Teen Challenge.

  7. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Cindy, I came out 100% Conservative Orthodox Christian and 98% Orthodox Quaker. Hmmmm.

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    Orthodox Quaker (100%), Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (96%). Guess I need to get to know some Quakers.

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    Lydia, Junkster, Cindy

    Let’s start a new denomination that combines all elements of Orthodox Quaker and Conservative Christian Protestant. Quaking Prothodox sounds interesting. Thoughts?

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    Quaking Prothodox sounds like a pretty good name for a rock band.

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    Since we are not legalistic, we could have a rock band as well!

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    “Other than saying I am not a fundamentalist, and I do not believe in using government or economics to force others to my way of thinking, where would I fit on your scale.”

    Hopefully someone many of us could have a conversation with. And still be friends after we disagree on some issues.

  13. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    Dee wrote: You mellowed out be going Presby for a time? It depends which Presby-some would not fit the definition of “mellow.”

    I was trying to find balance after getting out of the whole Word of Faith thing. When I married and got out from under my parents who did not tolerate me going outside of their WoF preferences, I started to realize that the WoF stuff did not work like they said… This took me about ten years to process.

    I read “The Holiness of God” by R.C. Sproul within a year of moving away from my parents, and it provided a much needed balance to the extremes of WoF by arguing against freewillism and for God’s sovereignty. I started reading Covenant Theology and liked much of what Andrew Sandlin had written, and I liked aspects of Rushdooney. It took me some time to realize that there was such a thing as Covenant Theology (as I thought for some time that Covenant Theology and New Covenant were the same thing).

    But I am not and have never been a covenant theology person, but the whole big picture is so complicated (and people make it more so) that it required a few years of dedicated study on my part to figure that out. (Rushdoony is not exactly like reading Christianity Today!) My seminary training rejected systematics and focused on Bible study/exegesis, so I didn’t even study this kind of content. I had to figure that out all on my own.

    I think that RC, before the train wreck about 15-20 years ago, classified as pretty mellow. Oddly, and many people will find it hard to believe, but Rushdoony was very balanced in the way that he lived (though he taught much that I would say is definitely not laid back). When I talk to him about things, there is not much that I actually disagree with Sandlin about. (I’ve approached him and said that I’m going to stick by my convictions, assuming that we are at odds on some subjects. In all of those discussions, we agree on the same points, though I from what I’ve read, I get the idea that we really don’t. I think that at one time, I would have also called D.James Kennedy pretty mellow, but I think that was wishful thinking on my part, too.

    There are aspects about the church that I like, but the Presby side of things involves a learning curve as well. Again, I have an understanding of Calvinism that is more Lutheran in nature, and I made the mistake of focusing on those strong similarities between Calvin and Luther. I assumed that the Presbys were far more Lutheran than they actually are. (But I don’t like the Lutheran Church much in praxis — not big on the liturgical thing though I appreciate it and enjoy it at times. But it’s just not like what I would like in a church, especially after my Pentecostal style.

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    I am an idealistic libertarian in the social sense. In retrospect of this discussion, that might be our common thread, too. It’s the work of the Holy Spirit to draw people and change them, and it’s my job to give the right answer about the Word and to maintain the standard. I can’t stand the authoritarianism.

  15. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    I was born in the Quaker State, trained as a nurse in “Quaker City” (Philadelphia), and I married a man born in Quakertown! Maybe that’s where I get it!

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    Dee wrote: I’m curious-did the AOG apply the standards for long hair and dresses to even the little girls? My mom used to keep my hair short because I refused to spend time brushing it. I was more interested in running around outside and playing kickball, kick the can, etc.

    I think there were different sets of standards, depending on who you were and where you were. Pastors had a lot of wiggle room, in terms of these types of things. Now, I can tell you that our district superintendents were much more concerned about doctrine and general orderliness, because our church in Emmaus, PA would get into all kinds of trouble for being too “wild” and free with spiritual gifts. They claim to be congregational, but they are essentially run more like an Episcopal form of government. But even so, I think that individual churches were given a lot of liberty.

    Some individual churches were much more like Pentecostal Holiness people and had a large number of people out of that kind of background, I think. I think at Pastor Ludmark’s church, if we had tried to be members there (instead of just visiting every 6 months or year or so), someone would have approached my mother about growing our hair longer. (We both have thick hair, and it was her parent’s idea that when a woman married, she should wear her hair shorter! Long hair on a woman that had been married more than a year or two was seen as a little scandalous.)

    At my own church where I went throughout my childhood, I could wear pants on a Wednesday. If I had something to do like play piano for the worship service on Wednesday, however, I’d definitely wear a dress. I never saw a woman on the platform while doing something more formal or participating in ministry wearing pants.

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