A Church of Christ sister in New Mexico writes: “The terms ‘fundamentalist Christian’ and ‘evangelical Christian’ confuse me. What is generally meant by these terms and what is the difference between them?”
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By the mid-20th century, fundamentalism in the U.S. had largely lost its voice, and when it spoke, few people outside its own family listened. Meanwhile, American Protestant Christianity clearly needed an infusion of gospel clarity, conviction and commitment to communicate the faith to others.
If these goals were to be reached, reasoned a number of prayerful academicians and spokesmen, the basics of Christian faith had to be articulated in contemporary form with intellectual integrity. Further, Christian proclamation must be accompanied by a broad spirit, a tolerant attitude and a winsome manner. To this end these men founded a seminary — Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California — and, a few years later, a paper — “Christianity Today,” first in Washington, D.C. and later moved to Carol Steam, Illinois.
To distinguish themselves and their work from the negative connotations of “fundamentalism,” these leaders began calling themselves “Evangelicals” — a word signifying those who proclaimed the gospel or good news of redemption through Jesus Christ. They included such notables as Billy Graham, Carl F.H. Henry, Wilbur Smith, Edward J. Carnell and George Eldon Ladd. (People who “evangelize” or share their beliefs with others, are “evangelistic,” not necessarily “evangelicals.” Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, are evangelistic but they are not evangelicals. Evangelicals, on the other hand, are by definition “evangelistic” as well.)
The Evangelical Theological Society, to which I belong, serves theologians and academicians. The National Association of Evangelicals provides ministries to and for individual churches and denominations. Evangelical Book Club promotes thoughtful and significant books among this clientele. The umbrella of Evangelicalism covers a wide spectrum of theological opinions. Evangelicals agree, however, on the core Christian issues and embrace one another in Christ despite their areas of diversity.