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Yesterday I linked to an address by David Dockery on the state of evangelicalism in the 21st century.

On Twitter, I highlighted the somewhat tongue-in-cheek definitions from Dr. Dockery:

In its most simple terms,

an evangelical is someone who likes Billy Graham;
a liberal is someone who thinks Billy Graham is a fundamentalist; and
a fundamentalist is someone who thinks Billy Graham is apostate.

This is a riff on the statements by George Marsden that “A fundamentalist is an evangelical who is angry about something,” and that during the 1950s and 1960s, “the simplest, although very loose definition of an evangelical in the broad sense was ‘anyone who likes Billy Graham.'” (Fundamentalists had their own clever definitions. Bob Jones Sr. once defined an evangelical as someone who says to a liberal, “I’ll call you a Christian if you’ll call me a scholar.”)

These are basically aphorisms, of course, and can’t be used as airtight definitions. Marsden’s first one is not entirely fair (though it points to something all-too-often true), but his second one gets at an important factor: how conservative Protestants viewed Billy Graham was usually a pretty good indicator of how they saw themselves and interpreted the virtues and vices of others in the church, especially after Graham’s 1957 crusade in Madison Square Garden, in which fundamentalists were dismayed at his partnership with modernists.

In my opinion, the two best introductions to fundamentalism—indispensable treatments, really—are George Marsden’s Fundamentalism and American Culture (though I disagree with some of his analysis on the Princetonians and inerrancy) and Joel Carpenter’s Revive Us Again: the Reawakening of American Fundamentalism. Marsden focuses upon 1870-1925 and Carpenter focuses upon 1925-1950.

For an excellent analysis of mid-century fundamentalism up until the rise of the Religious Right (with special attention on the Baptist South), see Nathan Finn’s currently unpublished doctoral dissertation, “The Development of Baptist Fundamentalism in the South, 1940-1980.”

Finn shows that one common mistake in analyzing fundamentalism and evangelicalism is the assumption that they are simple, monolithic categories. In reality, there are subcultures within both, containing different visions and suspicions, even if united in some significant ways.

Using Finn’s analysis, we can map the three varieties of conservative Protestants after 1956 in the following way:

Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 4.44.11 PM

Fundamentalism is a fascinating subject of study, still under-explored when it comes to its relationship to evangelicalism. But hopefully the introductory analysis above helps us begin to avoid the reflex to assume we are only talking about one unitary thing when we employ these labels.

Update: For those who want a helpful overview article before reading a whole book on this subject, see John Fea’s “Understanding the Changing Facade of Twentieth-Century American Protestant Fundamentalism: Toward a Historical Definition,” TrinJ 15:2 (Fall 1994): 181-99, who identifies four phases:

  1. irenic (1893-1919), which had more continuity with 19th century evangelicalism than 20th century militant fundamentalism
  2. militant (1920-1936), including the fundamentalist-modernist controversies
  3. divisive (1941-1960), which saw the intramural fragmentation into evangelical and separatist factions
  4. separatist (1960-present).

Fea’s concluding three points of application are spot on and should be taken to heart:

First, such a methodological treatment of fundamentalism should have some effect on how American religious historians understand the movement. Very few historians of American fundamentalism are aware of the subtle changes that fundamentalism has undergone through this century. Many historians tend to define a fundamentalist by certain doctrinal distinctives such as a belief in biblical inerrancy or dispensational eschatology. To interpret American fundamentalism solely through a doctrinal grid is to miss some of the social and ecclesiastical issues (separation, social concern, etc.) that have shaped the movement. While most fundamentalists and evangelicals have been united on certain creedal convictions, disagreements over minor doctrinal issues and the social and ecclesiastical implications of the Christian faith have historically created a great deal of diversity.

Second, such an interpretation of American fundamentalism has implications for religious pundits and observers, whether in the media or the academy, who tend to clump all religious conservatives under the banner of fundamentalism. It is clear that historically not all conservative Protestants desired the fundamentalist label. If religious observers were to examine the history of this popular and often pejorative label, they would find that many of the groups they label as fundamentalist have long traditions of opposing this descriptive religious term. Many such pundits may be surprised to find that only a small percentage of American Protestants use this label to describe themselves because of both the past and present implications surrounding the term.

Third, such an interpretation of fundamentalism should have implications for church leaders in American evangelicalism. Pastors, missionaries, educators, and religious leaders of all kinds should be aware that fundamentalists of the separatist variety do exist and have made up an important part of the “born-again” heritage in American culture. Most of their religious convictions stem from historical evangelical concerns such as personal holiness, revivalism, and the authority of Scripture. While there is a tendency to treat fundamentalists as extremists or ecclesiastical outcasts, for the most part they make up a unique part of the American evangelical tradition and should be understood in that light.


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24 thoughts on “3 Types of Fundamentalists and Evangelicals After 1956”

  1. Jamin Hubner says:

    Today’s evangelical discussion about fundamentalism could use a healthy dose of the key forgotten works on the subject, like James Barr’s “fundamentalism” and some newer works like those by Carlos Bovell. Marsden makes decent historical sketches but it lacks the psychological penetration of Barr and Bovell. Well anyway…

  2. Bob Sukkau says:

    I’m reading “Redeemer: The Life of Jimmy Carter” by Randall Balmer which focuses on how Carter’s progressive evangelicalism is swamped by right-wing evangelicalism.

  3. Brad says:

    Is it correct to say that reformed denominations like the PCA, OPC etc are not evangelical? They fit in their own category, that is “Reformed.”

    1. I do not believe you can do so. Evangelicalism, properly applied, is where the heart of Christianity is the heart of the Gospel. Calvinistic and/or Reformed tendencies are distinctives within the evangelical community.

      Unfortunately, views on actual ‘evangelicalism’ are skewed those outside of the Protestant realm, strict fundamentalists, and liberal ‘Christians’ who misappropriate themselves as being evangelical.

      1. Daniel Chew says:

        Well, I am OPC, and I reject the label “Evangelical.” I am “Reformed,” not “Evangelical.” Evangelicalism as a movement only arose out of the 1st and 2nd Great Awakening. We Reformed came first, and we do not appreciate this inversion of historical labels.

  4. Denny says:

    Can you fix the link for the thesis? I clicked on it and it went to “Page not found”. Thanks.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Should work now. Thanks!

  5. Sean Lucas says:

    Using that chart, then, my southern Presbterian conservatives who become the PCA are actually more in line with the new evangelicals than either group of fundamentalists. That fits, because they sought to form a conservative mainline Presbyetrian denomination, which aspired to greater cultural responsibility.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Very helpful, Sean. Thanks! I hope a lot of folks pick up your book.

  6. Linda B says:

    For a totally satirical and not in any way academic take on mostly Separatist Fundamentalism, try Stuff Fundies Like.

  7. Scott Bashoor says:

    The chart could be misleading to some, suggesting that non-denominational fundamentalism has a dominantly southern origin or nexus. Significant separatist groups emerged in the North as well, such as the GARCB, the IFCA, and not a small group of others. Of course, the title of Finn’s work suggests that his work is focused on the South, and there’s certainly plenty of significant varieties of fundamentalism to examine there. .But the chart above adapted from his work maps New Evangelicalism as a force in the North and Midwest and Fundamentalism as a movement of the South. Fundamentalism was/is not so geographically restricted.

  8. Bob Hayton says:

    Interesting chart. See discussion of this by actual fundamentalists here (at Sharper Iron).

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Fascinating. Thanks for point me to this, Bob!

  9. caleb says:

    This article is not very helpful nor is it very historical. The definitive critique of Billy Graham’s ecumenical ministry is Iain Murray’s classic book, Evangelicalism Divided. Murray is hardly a Fundamentalist but his critical review is spot on. Few people want the label Fundamentalist anymore as it is often given to describe “angry” KJV only types. You shouldn’t label Murray, Lloyd Jones, or MacArthur fighting Fundies because they exercise far more discernment than many of the leading men in the gospel coalition (note Driscoll, Ferguson issue, The Elephant Room debacle, etc).

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Thanks for the comment, Caleb! I think you are misreading this as a polemical piece commenting on contemporary players. I wasn’t labeling Murray, MLJ, MacArthur et al as fundamentalists. The Dockery line, as I noted, was tongue in cheek, and my further elaboration was observing that historically a segment of fundamentalism was critical of Graham (which, logically, is distinct from the claim that everyone critical of Graham is a fundamentalism). Make sense?

    2. Joe m says:

      Amen! Quite ironic that in article on the Crossway site completely bypasses Lloyd-Jones very detailed critique of Billy Graham. If Lloyd-Jones was a fundamentalist, what does that make Crossways?

      1. Justin Taylor says:

        A couple of things: (1) this isn’t a Crossway site; (2) Crossway is singular not plural :); (3) it’s logically fallacious to think that “A believed B” is the same thing as “believers in B are A.” I simply wasn’t addressing that issue in this short post. There’s no agenda or polemics behind this post; just trying to provide a historical overview.

        1. Joe M says:

          And I apologize for any glibness, or polemical edge on my part, which was imprudent. I myself laughed at Dockery’s comment, and found it to be rather true. That said, I guess I also then wondered to myself, “Am I so conditioned that I dismiss out of hand ideas that seem culturally beyond the pale? To suggest problems with Billy Graham in modern evangelicalism, well, that is sort of like suggesting problems with gay marriage in the larger culture right now. You can’t even get a listen. So I think the phrase “Fundamentalist” stops communication short even as it helpfully suggest categories. It is a very small bit of the tyranny of the modern, or so it seems. I know J.I. Packer involved it in a book title way back when, but the connotations around it now swirl far more intently. I myself do not know where to draw the lines — and as I said, Dockery made me laugh — but I am much less prone to dismiss ideas I once thought shrill or hyper-conservative as I watch the world changing so rapidly. We all want to seem relevant and attractive, but I think Lloyd-Jones was right when he told a newscaster who asked him incredulously if he thought she was headed for Hell, something akin to “Well…!”

  10. Curt Day says:

    One thing that is apparent in this article is that we can take the historical approach and define fundamentalism through doctrinal positions or we can define it as a subculture. Both has strengths and weaknesses, which is something mentioned here. Along with Fee’s observation about Fee about what we miss if we define Fundamentalism through the core beliefs, the advantage of doing so is that not only does such an approach cause those discussing Fundamentalism to focus more on the core beliefs than on behaviors of Fundamentalists, such an approach separates the behaviors that often act as stumbling blocks to nonChristians from the core beliefs.

    And while defining Fundamentalism by subculture traces the influences Fundamentalists have utilized and the different directions they have taken, such an approach has more likely cause more people to use the term as a pejorative and thus associate undesirable with theologically conservative beliefs.

    IMO, we need to separate the core tenets of Christianity from the different subcultures of people who hold to Fundamentalists beliefs. As we do, nonChristians might be less likely to associate Fundamentalists beliefs from unnecessarily offending behaviors exhibited by certain subcultures.

    So perhaps if our primary definition was based on the original beliefs were and the history of how they differed from liberalism, and then proceed to talk about the different subcultures and the possible syncretistic beliefs that were adopted by different subcultures, the disadvantages exhibited by defining Fundamentalism primarily by doctrine or by subculture could be avoided.

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      Good stuff, Curt. Thanks!

      1. Curt Day says:

        Justin,
        After reading my own comment and the need for me to actually edit it, I happily surprised that you saw merit in it. Thank you.

  11. can says:

    Back in the day, my parents boycotted BJU because their homeschool curriculum was “humanist and wildly secular” HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

  12. Caleb says:

    Thanks for your post, Justin. Just curious, would you see this post as just filled with historical information or as one that shows the landscape today?

    1. Justin Taylor says:

      It’s more history than the landscape today, which I think is more fragmented and complicated. I think the chart is a fair snapshot of some key parties c. 1957–1980.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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