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Fundamentalism and New Evangelicalism

November 29, 2010

Fundamentalism is not defined only by the doctrinal conflicts in the first few decades of the 20th century.   It is also defined by the massive evangelical shifts that took place during the 40’s and 50’s.  In those two decades another conflict arose, this one centering around differing opinions about fellowship with the apostate denominations the fundamentalists had left.  Some who had left the conventions still sought after fellowship with those within the conventions.  Some refused any Christian cooperation with apostates.  In the magazine Christianity Today J. Oswald Bruswell said of the new evangelicals, “Thus the NAE [National Association of Evangelicals] was formed of brethren who sincerely desired to spread the gospel but who did not see the doctrine of purity of the visible church as we believe the Bible sets forth.”

The new evangelicals did not deny the fundamental doctrines.  They clearly upheld the truths of Christ and the Bible.  The issue was never their doctrinal position on the fundamentals.  The issue was the new evangelicals desire to engage in cooperative Christian activity with those who denied in one form or another fundamentalist doctrine.  Also motivating the new evangelicalism was a desire to move away from the stigma attached to fundamentalism.  One could say the new evangelicals wanted to move away from the negativity of the fundamentalist fights to a positive proclamation of the Biblical faith.  They emphasized unity, deploring the divisions and controversies of fundamentalism.  The break between fundamentalists and new evangelicals became irrevocable during the late 1950’s.  Billy Graham became the flashpoint in this conflict, fully widening the gap between the fundamentalists and the new evangelicals.  Billy Graham, though he had begun his ministry within fundamentalism and initially upheld fundamentalist separation, began incorporating modernist, liberal and Catholic sponsorship of his crusades.  Though Graham himself continued to clearly preach the gospel, by the late 1950’s he was being supported by many different groups which had denied fundamental doctrines, and referring convert follow ups to ministers of the supporting groups, regardless of their denomination or doctrine.  Those decisions crystallized the division between Fundamentalists and New Evangelicals.  Fundamentalists could not cooperate with modernists, liberals and apostates.  As a result, they could not cooperate with the new evangelicals.  This division radically reshaped the face of evangelicalism and fundamentalism.

To properly understand modern fundamentalism, we need to recognize that it is defined both by the doctrine it defended and by its refusal to cooperate with those who joined hands with apostates.  The battle with new evangelicalism brought to the forefront the principle of separation from compromising brethren. Moreover, it is fallacious to say that one is a fundamentalist only because they uphold the fundamental doctrines.  The fundamentalists of the 40’s and 50’s are historic fundamentalists, applying the same Biblical principles as their predecessors did within the conventions.  Historic fundamentalism is a fundamentalism that refuses to cooperate with compromised brethren.

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I welcome comments, questions or input on these articles. However, the purpose of this blog is not to give an open forum for discussion. If you would like to comment on these articles or have specific questions regarding fundamentalism, please feel free to email me. I will do my best to respond quickly to your emails. A few days after its publication, I will attach to each blog article any pertinent or particularly pithy comments that I receive.

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