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Evangelical and Fundamental Christianity


EVANGELICAL AND FUNDAMENTAL CHRISTIANITY . The term evangelicalism usually refers to a largely Protestant movement that emphasizes:

  1. the Bible as authoritative and reliable;
  2. eternal salvation as possible only by regeneration (being "born again"), involving personal trust in Christ and in his atoning work;
  3. a spiritually transformed life marked by moral conduct and personal devotion, such as Bible reading and prayer; and
  4. zeal for evangelism and missions.

Among Lutherans the term evangelical has long had a more general usage, roughly equivalent to Protestant, and some neo-orthodox theologians have used the term in its broad sense of "gospel believer." In the Spanish-speaking world, the term evangélico roughly parallels the Lutheran usage, referring in general to non-Catholic Christian groups of any stripe, although historically most evangélicos have in fact been evangelicals as more narrowly defined above. In the English-speaking world, evangelical designates a distinct movement that emerged from the religious awakenings of the eighteenth century and that by the early nineteenth century had taken clear shape in the United States, in England and the British Empire, and in many mission fields.

Fundamentalism is a subspecies of evangelicalism. The term originated in the United States in 1920 and referred to evangelicals who considered it a chief Christian duty to combat uncompromisingly "modernist" theology and certain secularizing cultural trends. Organized militancy was the feature that most clearly distinguished fundamentalists from other evangelicals. Fundamentalism originated as primarily an American phenomenon, although it has British and British Empire counterparts, is paralleled by some militant groups in other traditions, and has been exported worldwide through missions.

Whereas fundamentalism and fundamentalist continue to be useful terms for historians, they are less useful as terms descriptive of any particular group, in part because the term has become so pejorative in Western culture that only the extreme right wing of evangelicalism would welcome being labeled as such. In addition, the distinction between fundamentalist and evangelical is not always an easy one to make, and what can be said of fundamentalists can often be said, at least in part, of some (even most) evangelicals. Nevertheless, the term is applied with some usefulness to the more theologically and culturally conservative wing of evangelicalism, although the precise parameters of that wing are open to conjecture.

The two characteristics by which fundamentalists are most easily recognized represent both an engagement with Western culture and a rejection of it. Fundamentalists challenge Western culture in an organized, militant battle over secularizing cultural trends even as they appropriate the latest advances in technology and technique in an evangelistic struggle for human hearts. In an attempt to nurture their constituents, especially their children, within their own subculture, fundamentalists withdraw from Western culture into communities and institutions of their own creation that often parallel the communities and institutions of secular culture. Both evangelicalism and fundamentalism are complex coalitions reflecting the convergences of a number of traditions.

Emergence of Evangelicalism

Although evangelicalism is largely an Anglo-American phenomenon, its origins give it ties with European Protestantism. The central evangelical doctrines, especially the sole authority of the Bible and the necessity of personal trust in Christ, reflect Reformation teachings. Seventeenth-century Puritanism solidly implanted these emphases in a part of the British Protestant psyche, especially in the North American colonies. In the eighteenth century this heritage merged with parallel trends in continental pietism. The influence of the Moravians on John Wesley (17031791) best exemplifies this convergence. Wesley's Methodist movement in the mid-eighteenth century was part of a wider series of awakenings and Pietist renewal movements appearing in Protestant countries from the late seventeenth century through much of the nineteenth century. In England the awakenings were manifested in Methodism, in evangelical renewals among nonconformists, and in the rise of a notable evangelical party in the Church of England. By the mid-nineteenth century, evangelicalism was the most typical form of Protestantism in Great Britain.

In the United States, evangelicalism was even more influential. Evangelical religion had fewer well-established competitors than in the Old World. The rise of the United States as a new nation and the rise of evangelicalism coincided, so the religion often assumed a quasi-official status. Evangelical emphasis on voluntary acceptance of Christianity also was well matched to American ideas of individual freedom.

The character of American evangelicalism began to take shape during the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century. This movement, really a series of revivals throughout the middle decades of the century, brought together several movements. These included New England Puritanism, continental Pietism, revivalist Presbyterianism, Baptist antiestablishment democratic impulses, the Calvinist revivalism of the Englishman George Whitefield (17141770), and Methodism (which surpassed all the others after the Revolutionary era). During the first half of the nineteenth century, evangelicalism developed a strong populist base and became by far the most common form of Protestantism in the United States. Evangelicalism had many denominational varieties but tended to blend Calvinist and Methodist theologies, to emphasize conversion experiences evidenced by lives freed from barroom vices, to vigorously promote revivals and missions, and to view the church as a voluntary association of believers founded on the authority of the Bible alone.

By the early nineteenth century evangelicals in Great Britain and the United States had established a formidable network of nonsectarian "voluntary societies" to promote their causes. Of these the various missionary societies, founded around the beginning of the century, were the most prominent, providing, together with denominational agencies, the home support for the most massive worldwide missionary effort ever seen. Home missionary endeavors were comparably vigorous, supported by a host of agencies for promoting evangelism, founding Sunday schools, distributing Bibles and religious tracts, establishing schools and colleges, and bringing the gospel to various needy groups. Revivalism spearheaded such efforts, exemplified best in the extensive campaigns of Charles Finney (17921875) both in the United States and in England. These mission and evangelistic efforts were accompanied by campaigns, organized by voluntary societies, for charity and social reform. On both sides of the Atlantic evangelicals played leading roles in combating slavery; in Great Britain, especially under the leadership of William Wilberforce (17591833), they were influential in bringing about its abolition throughout the empire. Evangelicals promoted other reforms, including Sabbatarian and temperance legislation, prison reform, and the establishment of private charities. Such reforming spirit was usually part of a postmillennial vision of steady spiritual and moral progress leading to a millennial age of the triumph of the gospel throughout the world, after which Christ himself would return. When linked in the popular mind with notions of the progress achievable through science, the focus brought by romanticism to the possibilities inherent in individuals, and the manifest destiny of the Anglo-Saxon race on the North American continent, this evangelical vision lent itself to a triumphalist view of what could be achieved by Americans in the New World. The downside of this heady brew of evangelicalism and patriotism was at times a nativist impulse that fed both racism and anti-Catholicism.

The Loss of Cultural Dominance

In the latter half of the nineteenth century, the vigorous evangelicalism that had grown so successfully in the early industrial era found itself in a new world. The concentrated new industrialism and the massively crowded cities tended to overwhelm the individualistic and voluntaristic evangelical programs. Conceptions of dominating the culture became more difficult to maintain. Evangelicals accordingly increasingly stressed those aspects of their message that involved personal commitment to Christ and personal holiness rather than social programs, although aspirations to be a major moral influence on the culture never entirely disappeared. The evangelicalism of Dwight L. Moody (18371899) exemplified this trend. Moody, like Finney before him, had great successes in both the United States and Great Britain. He omitted entirely, however, Finney's postmillennial emphasis on social reform, stressing instead the importance of rescuing the perishing from the sinking ship that was the condemned world. This increasing sense of evangelical alienation from Anglo-American culture was reflected in Moody's premillennialism and in the growth of premillennialism among most of the newer evangelical movements of the day. Premillennialists looked to the second coming of Christ as the only cure for the world's social and political woes. New emphasis on personal holiness, notably exemplified in the rise of the Keswick holiness movement in Britain after 1875, reflected similar tendencies. Keswick teaching, which spread widely among American evangelical and later fundamentalist followers of Moody, stressed personal victory over sin, personal witnessing about the gospel, and support of missions as chief among Christian duties. Keswick was only one of several new holiness movements that flourished among evangelicals in the mid- and late nineteenth century. Most of these movements had generic ties with Methodism and Wesley's teachings concerning Christian perfection. Some holiness groups, most notably the Salvation Army, founded in England in 1865, combined their evangelism with extensive charitable work among the needy. Others among an emerging number of holiness denominations emphasized more the personal experience of being filled by the Holy Spirit. Such emphasis in heightened forms was apparent in the rise in the United States after 1900 of Pentecostalism, which also brought separate denominations and almost exclusive emphasis on intense personal spiritual experience. By the early twentieth century, evangelicalism was thus subdivided into a variety of camps on questions of personal holiness and the nature of spiritual experience.

Equally important during this same era, from the later decades of the nineteenth century to World War I, was that evangelicals found themselves in a new world intellectually. Darwinism became the focal symbol of a many-faceted revolution in assumptions dominating the culture. Some of the early debates over Darwinism left an impression, damaging to evangelicalism, that modern science and biblical Christianity were inherently opposed. A deeper issue, however, was a broader revolution in conceptions of reality and truth. Rather than seeing truth as fixed and absolute, Western people were more and more viewing it as a changing function of human cultural evolution. Religion, in such a view, was not absolute truth revealed by the deity but the record of developing human conceptions about God and morality. Such conceptions were devastating when applied to the Bible, which in the higher criticism of the late nineteenth century often was regarded as simply the record of Hebrew religious experience.

The widespread evangelical consensus was shaken to its foundations. The absolute authority of the Bible as the source of the doctrine of salvation was widely questioned, even within the churches. Moral absolutes based on Scripture were also questioned; again the questioning was often from within the churches. The result was a profound split in most of the denominations that had been at the center of the mid-nineteenth-century evangelical alliance. Liberals, sometimes called "modernists" in the early twentieth century, adjusted Christian doctrine to fit the temper of the times. God's revelation of his kingdom was not so much in startling supernatural interventions as in working through the best in the natural processes of the growth of civilization and morality. Essentially, Christianity was not so much a doctrine of eternal salvation for another world as a divine revelation of a humane way of life for this world. Sometimes liberals advocated a "social gospel," based on the progressive politics of the early twentieth century, to replace the individualism of older evangelicalism's conceptions of salvation. Many traditionalist evangelicals, on the other hand, resisted these trends toward more naturalistic, relativistic, and modern conceptions of the heart of the gospel, continuing rather to preach traditional evangelical doctrine of a miraculous Bible whose revelation centered on describing the means of divine rescue from sin, death, and hell.

The Rise of Fundamentalism

Fundamentalism arose in this context. It combined an organized militant defense of most traditional evangelical doctrines with some of the revivalist evangelical innovations of the nineteenth century. The most important of these innovations, eventually accepted by most fundamentalists, was the elaborate system of biblical interpretation known as dispensationalism. Dispensationalism was a version of the premillennialism popularized among revivalists in the late nineteenth century. Originated in England especially by the Plymouth Brethren leader John Nelson Darby (18001882), dispensationalism was developed and promoted in the United States principally by Bible teacher associates of Moody, such as Reuben A. Torrey (18561928), James M. Gray (18511935), and C. I. Scofield (18431921), editor of the famous dispensationalist Scofield Reference Bible, published in 1909.

Dispensationalism is a systematic scheme for interpreting all of history on the basis of the Bible, following the principle of "literal where possible"; biblical prophecies, especially, are taken to refer to real historical events. This approach yields a rather detailed account of all human history, which is divided into seven dispensations, or eras, of differing relationships between God and humanity (such as the Dispensation of Innocence in Eden or the Dispensation of Law, from Moses to Christ). The last of these eras is the millennium, which will be preceded by the personal return of Jesus, the secret "rapture" of believers who are to "meet him in the air," a seven-year period of wars among those who remain on earth (resulting in the victory of Christ), the conversion of the Jews, and the establishment of a kingdom in Jerusalem, where Jesus will reign for exactly one thousand years before the Last Judgment. Such exact interpretations of prophecy committed dispensationalists firmly to a view of the Bible as divinely inspired and without error in any detail. The "inerrancy" of Scripture in scientific and historical detail accordingly became the key test of faith for fundamentalists. This doctrine, while not entirely novel in the history of the church, was also given a new and especially forceful articulation by nondispensationalist Presbyterian traditionalists at Princeton Theological Seminary, especially Benjamin B. Warfield (18511921), who for a time was allied with dispensationalists in battles against liberal theology and higher criticism of the Bible.

The other major innovation widely accepted by fundamentalists was the Keswick holiness teaching. The same groups of Bible teachers who taught dispensationalism widely promoted Keswick doctrine as well. These leaders established regular summer Bible conferences and, more important, founded a network of Bible institutes for training lay workers in evangelism. These institutes, together with local churches and agencies directly promoting revivalism, such as those of Billy Sunday (18621935), provided the principal institutional base for fundamentalism.

Fundamentalism was also a mood as much as a set of doctrines and institutions. It was a mood of militancy in opposition to modernist theology and to some of the relativistic cultural changes that modernism embraced. This militancy provided the basis for a wider antimodernist coalition that emerged as a distinct movement in the United States during the 1920s. The immediate occasion for the appearance of fundamentalism was the sense of cultural crisis that gripped the United States after World War I. Reflecting this mood, fundamentalism gave focus to the anxieties of Protestant traditionalists. This focus was directed first of all against the modernists in major denominations, most notably the major Baptist and Presbyterian churches in the northern United States. Especially in the years from 1920 to 1925, fundamentalists led major efforts to expel such liberals from their denominations, but these efforts met with little success. The other focus was American culture itself. The United States seemed to many evangelicals to have lost its Christian and biblical moorings. World War I precipitated this sense of alarm, for the war sped up a revolution in morals that, despite the rearguard action of Prohibition legislation, replaced Victorian evangelical standards with the public morals of the Jazz Age. The international crisis also generated fears of social upheaval at home, particularly alarm about the rise of bolshevism and atheism in the United States during the "red scare" of 1919 and 1920. Many Protestants also remained concerned about the social and moral impact of the immense immigration of the preceding half century and were antagonistic to the spread of Roman Catholic influences.

Fundamentalists saw all these factors as signs of the end of a Bible-based civilization in the United States. Their chief social anxieties, however, centered on the question of evolution. During the war, extreme propaganda had convinced most Americans that Germany, the homeland of the Reformation, had lapsed into barbarism. The same thing might happen in the United States. The "will to power" philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche (18441900), said the propagandists, had destroyed German morals. Fundamentalists contended that this was an evolutionary philosophy and that evolutionary and relativistic ideas had long been incorporated into German theology, now taught by liberals in America's churches. Under the leadership of William Jennings Bryan (18601925), fundamentalists campaigned to bring the United States back to the Bible by banning the teaching of biological evolution in public schools. This crusade brought organized fundamentalism into the American South, where homegrown Protestant antimodernist tendencies had been strong since the Civil War. The fundamentalist antievolution campaign reached its peak in the 1925 trial of John Scopes (19001970) in Dayton, Tennessee, for teaching biological evolution in a high school. At the highly publicized proceedings, Bryan debated the lawyer Clarence Darrow (18571938) concerning the authenticity of biblical miracles. Bryan was ridiculed in the world press, and his death shortly after the trial signaled the beginning of a decline of early fundamentalist efforts to control American culture. During the late 1920s the strength of fundamentalist efforts to purge major northern denominations also declined dramatically. During this era organized fundamentalism had some branches in Canada and some relatively small counterparts in Great Britain.

In the United States, fundamentalism was only the prominent fighting edge of the larger evangelical movement. During the decades from 1925 to 1945 the public press paid less attention to fundamentalist complaints, but the movement itself was regrouping rather than retreating. During this time fundamentalism developed a firmer institutional base, especially in independent local churches and in some smaller denominations, although considerable numbers of fundamentalists remained in major denominations. The revivalist heritage of the movement was especially apparent in this era, as it turned its strongest efforts toward winning the United States through evangelization. In addition to traditional means for evangelization, fundamentalists developed effective radio ministries. Particularly prominent was Charles E. Fuller's (18871968) Old-Fashioned Revival Hour, which by 1942 had a larger audience than any other radio program in the United States.

Fundamentalist evangelicals also founded new sorts of ministries, such as Youth for Christ, begun in 1942, which soon had hundreds of chapters across the country. Bible institutes, such as Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the Bible Institute of Los Angeles, remained important centers for the movement, training and sending out evangelists and missionaries, conducting Bible conferences, establishing effective radio ministries, and publishing many books and periodicals.

The New Evangelicals

A sharp tension was developing in the fundamentalist-evangelical movement that survived the controversies of the 1920s. This tension led eventually to a deep split between "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals." The fundamentalists kept in the forefront the militancy that had characterized the movement in the 1920s. Furthermore, they followed the logic of their military metaphors by adding ecclesiastical separatism as a test of true commitment. This separatist stance sometimes also reflected the influence of dispensationalism, which taught that the Bible prophesied the decline and apostasy of the major churches during the present era.

Another element in the generation that had been raised on the fundamentalist controversies of the 1920s sought to bring the movement back toward a broader evangelicalism. Without rejecting entirely their fundamentalist heritage, they nonetheless softened the militancy and often moved away from dispensationalism. Repudiating separatism as a test of the faith, they especially emphasized positive evangelism. By the early 1940s a distinct movement with these emphases was apparent, signaled by the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942. In contrast to the smaller, militantly separatist American Council of Christian Churches, founded in 1941 by the fundamentalist Carl McIntire (19062002), the NAE included Pentecostal and holiness denominations as well as individual members who remained in major American denominations.

Following World War II, some younger leaders, notably Harold John Ockenga (19051985), Carl F. H. Henry (19132003), and Edward J. Carnell (19191967), organized a "neoevangelical" movement with the explicit purpose of moderating and broadening fundamentalist evangelicalism. Joined by Fuller, they organized the Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, in 1947. Their efforts were vastly aided by the emergence of Billy Graham as America's leading evangelist after 1949. This group in 1956 also founded Christianity Today to provide a solid periodical base for the movement.

The final break in the fundamentalist-evangelical movement came with Graham's New York crusade in 1957. Graham accepted the cooperation of some prominent liberal church leaders. Separatist fundamentalists such as Bob Jones Sr. (18831968), founder of Bob Jones University; John R. Rice (18951980), editor of the influential Sword of the Lord; and McIntire anathematized Graham and the neoevangelicals as traitors from within. Neoevangelicals in turn soon ceased altogether to call themselves fundamentalists, preferring the designation "evangelical."

In the meantime, Graham's crusade in Great Britain in 1954 set off a small flurry of ecclesiastical debate known as the "fundamentalist controversy" in England. This designation confused the terminological issue, since in England the friends of Graham, rather than just his more conservative enemies, were called fundamentalists. (British parlance of the era often lacked the distinction between fundamentalist and evangelical that developed in the United States after the late 1950s.) In any case conservative evangelicalism remained a factor in British church life, especially in the evangelical party in the Church of England. Influenced considerably by the long-standing university ministry of the Inter-Varsity Fellowship, and less a product of the sensational promotional competitions that characterized American revivalism, British evangelicalism was often more sophisticated and less militant than its American counterparts and played an important role in the intellectual leadership of the international movement. Throughout the English-speaking world there are also counterparts to the more strictly fundamentalist, holiness, and Pentecostal groups found in the United States.

The Reemergence of Evangelicalism in the Public Eye

Evangelicalism was indeed a widespread international phenomenon, even if its Anglo-American manifestations provided its most focused identity as a distinct movement. The Pietist varieties of worldwide Protestantism were scarcely distinguishable from Anglo-American evangelicalism. Moreover, nearly two centuries of massive missionary efforts had planted evangelical communities in most of the nations of the world. The sense of identity of an international evangelicalism was evidenced in world conferences, notably the 1966 World Congress on Evangelism in Berlin and the 1974 International Congress on World Evangelization in Lausanne, Switzerland. Such gatherings were initially organized primarily by Anglo-American friends of Graham, but they also marked the emergence among evangelicals of significant voices and leadership from developing nations. The Lausanne congress, for instance, included over two thousand participants from 150 countries. Traditional evangelical emphases on the reliability and authority of Scripture and on the urgency for world evangelization were apparent, but so was emphasis on the necessity of social and political concern for aiding the poor and victims of injustice.

In the United States, in the meantime, evangelicalism reemerged on the public scene with renewed vigor. During the 1970s the American media suddenly discovered that evangelicalism was a major force in American life. Evangelicalism had in fact been growing steadily for many years, so the numbers of evangelicals had grown to at least forty or fifty million, whereas other Protestants and Roman Catholics were declining in numbers. Once evangelicals were discovered, they became conspicuous in the media, boasting many sports and entertainment stars. Being "born again" suddenly became a political asset, evidenced in 1976 by the victorious presidential campaign of Jimmy Carter, and evangelicalism was reckoned as a powerful if mysterious political force.

The discovery of evangelicalism reflected not only real growth and change in the movement but also the power of a concept. Numerous strands in American religious life were now viewed as part of a more or less unified "evangelicalism." Such a perception was at once helpful and deceptive. It was helpful in pointing to a large phenomenon: Christians who shared fundamental evangelical beliefs. It was deceptive, however, in its implication that their movement was more unified than it actually was. Certainly evangelicalism as a movement that could claim forty or fifty million adherents was much larger than the consciously organized evangelical movement that had grown out of fundamentalist evangelicalism and that was led by associates of Graham. For instance, black evangelicals, including most of black Protestantism, had little to do with that fundamentalist evangelicalism, even though most of their beliefs and emphases were closely parallel. The same was true, but to a lesser degree, of much of the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest of American evangelical groups. Most holiness denominations and evangelical Methodists were only tangentially related to the organized fundamentalist evangelical movement. So also were most Pentecostals and charismatics, who sponsored some of the largest television ministries and set the tone for much of the evangelical resurgence. Peace churches were generally evangelical in doctrine but preserved a heritage distinct from fundamentalist evangelicalism. Confessional denominations, such as the Missouri Synod Lutheran and the Christian Reformed Church, were close allies of evangelicals but always kept enough distance to preserve distinct doctrinal heritages.

Many evangelicals were in major American denominations, such as Baptist, Presbyterian, Methodist, Disciples of Christ, or Episcopal, but might be as much shaped by the distinctiveness of their denomination's history as by a conscious evangelical identity. Others in such denominations might identify closely with the doctrines and emphases of a parachurch evangelistic agency, such as Campus Crusade, founded by Bill Bright in 1951. Such variety within evangelicalism, compounded by many denominational and regional differences, suggests that generalization about the movement is hazardous.

Such hazards are especially great concerning evangelicals' political stances. Whereas one important strand of nineteenth-century American evangelicalism was politically progressive and reformist, in the twentieth century most fundamentalist evangelicals and other white evangelicals were politically conservative. After the 1960s, however, more variety reappeared, especially among spokespersons of the sort who hold conferences and issue declarations. Evangelical voices have been heard across the spectrum of political options, although most of the evangelical constituency is at least moderately conservative.

The Continuing Impact of Fundamentalist Evangelicals

Most hard-line fundamentalists went their separate ways after about 1950, reorganizing themselves loosely in a number of fellowships or smaller denominations. The largest fellowship was the Baptist Bible Fellowship, founded by fundamentalists who split with the volatile Texas fundamentalist F. Frank Norris. By the early 1980s this fellowship claimed to represent two to three million members. During this era some local fundamentalist pastors built huge churches, claiming both membership and Sunday school attendance of over ten thousand each by the 1970s. Prominent among these were Jack Hyles's First Baptist Church of Hammond, Indiana, Lee Roberson's Highland Park Baptist Church in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Jerry Falwell's Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Typically, such ministries were structured as small, individually run empires, including branch chapels, a college, publications, radio and television broadcasts, missionary work, and specialized ministries. The total number of members of strictly separatist fundamentalist churches in the United States by 1980 was perhaps around five million, although the number of evangelicals leaning toward fundamentalism was probably much greater. Moreover, such militant fundamentalism spread throughout the English-speaking world, and active missions carried its doctrines to every nation where Christian missions were permitted.

Soul winning and church growth are the fundamentalist's first concerns, as they are for most evangelicals. In addition, extreme militancy against theological liberalism led many fundamentalists to emphasize separation even from other evangelicals, especially neoevangelicals, charismatics, and members of large groups, such as the Southern Baptist Convention. The question of separation also divided fundamentalists among themselves. Some fundamentalist leaders, especially those associated with Bob Jones University, advocated "second-degree separation"that is, separation even from fellow fundamentalists who are not strict fundamentalists. In the 1970s, for instance, Bob Jones III attacked the noted fundamentalist evangelist Rice for publishing materials by Southern Baptists in his widely read paper the Sword of the Lord.

Most fundamentalists are militant dispensationalists, usually claiming that the signs of the times indicate that within a few years the dramatic events surrounding the return of Christ will bring the present era to a violent end. The dispensationalist heritage has made most fundamentalist evangelicals sympathetic to the state of Israel, whose existence as a nation is viewed as the fulfillment of prophecy and a key trigger of end-time events. Dispensationalists also take literally the biblical promises of blessing to countries that support Israel. This sympathy by large numbers of evangelicals has had a considerable impact on American foreign policy. During the 1970s, dispensationalist prophetic views attracted wide interest, as indicated by the popularity of Hal Lindsey's book The Late Great Planet Earth (1970), of which some ten million copies were printed during the decade. The graphic dispensationalist vision for the end times continued to attract interest far beyond the fundamentalist or even evangelical communities. The pastor and author Tim LaHaye's Left Behind series of novels, essentially a fictionalization of the events described earlier by Lindsey and any number of dispensational prophecy teachers, became phenomenal best-sellers in the 1990s and early 2000s. The books regularly debuted at number one on the New York Times best-seller list, and over forty million copies (fifty million counting the graphic novels and children's versions) had been sold by 2003.

Until the later 1970s most separatist fundamentalists were not active politically. Some prominent fundamentalist leaders, such as McIntire and Billy James Hargis, were in the forefront of anticommunist crusades during the decades following World War II, but such activists probably did not represent the majority of the movement. Fundamentalists emerged as a considerable force in American political life with the formation of the Moral Majority in 1979. This political coalition of fundamentalists and some other political conservatives was led by Falwell and benefited from his large television ministry. Some strict fundamentalists condemned such efforts because they involved cooperation with Roman Catholics, Orthodox Jews, neoevangelicals, and other alleged apostates.

Nonetheless, the Moral Majority brought together several long-standing fundamentalist concerns with political issues of the time. Most evangelicals and almost all fundamentalists, for instance, had long held conservative views on the role of women, on the family, and on questions related to sexuality. Sparked by the legalization of abortion in 1973, the women's movement and the proposed Equal Rights Amendment, legislation proposing increased rights for homosexuals, and general permissiveness, many fundamentalist and conservative evangelicals expressed alarm. The Moral Majority focused such sentiments and organized them politically. Reaching a constituency well beyond fundamentalists and fundamentalist evangelicals, its program included endorsement of American conservative political ideals: smaller government, larger military, patriotism, and freedom for businesses. Fundamentalists, supported by the Moral Majority, also successfully revived the antievolution crusade, introducing legislation into a number of states that would require the teaching of fundamentalist "creation science" (arguments that the earth is no more than ten thousand years old) whenever biological evolution is taught in public schools.

Perhaps the closest parallel to such late-twentieth-century American political fundamentalism was the militant Protestantism in Northern Ireland led by Ian Paisley. Paisley, an avowed fundamentalist with connections to American leaders such as Jones and McIntire, mixed conservative Protestantism with aggressive political anti-Catholicism. The long history of the Irish conflict, however, has given Irish fundamentalism a character more violent than its American counterparts. A far more genteel political action movement with some evangelical leadership was England's Festival of Light, an organization prominent in the 1970s and 1980s in its efforts to maintain public decency, particularly in matters concerning sexuality. In general, evangelicalism in Great Britain was less political and less confrontational than in the United States, put relatively more emphasis on evangelism and missions, operated more through traditional denominations, and was a much less influential force in the culture at large.

In the United States the organized political coalitions of the Christian Right had their greatest influence in the period from 1980 to 1994. Contributors to the Republican electoral victory of Ronald Reagan in 1980, they were nonetheless frustrated by the mainstream positions of Reagan on cultural issues. In 1988 the television evangelist Pat Robertson entered the Republican presidential primaries and gained considerable early attention by mobilizing approximately 10 percent of the Republican vote in the states where he ran. Robertson's Christian Coalition reached its greatest strength in the 1990s, when conservative Christians were instrumental in electing a strongly Republican House of Representatives led by the outspoken Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich. Despite these advances, conservative Christians continued to find most of their political goals frustrated. Perhaps most important, the Christian Coalition marked the consolidation of a culturally conservative wing of evangelicalism solidly entrenched in the Republican Party. By the 1990s, conservative politics were taken for granted in many of the largest evangelical and fundamentalist churches and organizations, although there were always exceptions.

A high-water mark for fundamentalist-leaning evangelicals in church life was the 1990s, when they completed a long campaign to take over control of the central agencies and theological seminaries of the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, essentially winning the kind of denominational battle they had been losing since the early twentieth century. Although some Southern Baptist leaders resisted following the lead of what they considered "Yankee-based evangelicalism," they now found themselves fighting over issues such as inerrancy, battles that had been fought among fundamentalists and evangelicals in the North and the West several decades previous. In response to losing control of key institutions, Southern Baptist moderates took advantage of the decentralized Baptist polity to form their own organizations.

The influence of Pentecostal and charismatic models of church life is another key development within Western evangelicalism after 1970. If fundamentalist militancy set the tone for much of evangelicalism in the era from the 1920s through the 1960s, the charismatic and Pentecostal churches set the tone after that. This is especially true in styles of worship and methods of ministry. The 1960s created an atmosphere in which visionary evangelical pastors began experimenting with new ways of reaching out to the broader culture. Many churches initially developed during this period became megachurches, pulling in thousands every Sunday and spawning virtual denominations of like-minded churches around the country and the world. Churches such as Calvary Chapel and the Vineyard in southern California or Willow Creek in the suburbs of Chicago, whereas conservative theologically, managed to engage the mainstream of American culture and influenced countless other evangelical churches in the process. By 2003, for example, there were over 825 Calvary Chapels in the United States with another 210 around the world. Over 7,200 churches around the world were at least loosely affiliated with Willow Creek. Typically, these churches use contemporary or Pentecostal styles of worship, highly value lay leadership and small group ministries, and are led by low-key but charismatic and visionary individuals who often have little to no advanced training. Willow Creek has pioneered "seeker" oriented services that use drama, contemporary music, video, and sermons focused on common life problems to attract people who might be alienated by more traditional service styles. With churches like these leading the way, the number of evangelicals in the United States, although difficult to pinpoint with accuracy, remains high. Polls conducted in the late 1990s reveal that, whereas 13 percent of the U.S. population self-identify as either fundamentalist or evangelical, 33 percent of the U.S. population are members of or attend conservative Protestant denominations that theologically, at least, fall within the evangelical camp.

In addition, evangelicalism in all its forms became one of the West's leading cultural exports as North American missions came to dominate the world missionary movement. By the end of the twentieth century, as liberal Christians either lost the missionary impulse or transferred it to social welfare agencies, such as the Peace Corps, evangelicals took over the missionary enterprise. Fundamentalists and evangelicals founded "faith missions" by the score in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century. These agencies, modeled on J. Hudson Taylor's (18321905) influential China Inland Mission (1865), refused to pay salaries or to raise funds in any overt fashion. Influenced by Keswick piety, which promoted slogans such as "Let go and let God," the new missions professed to rely solely on God to supply recruits and the necessary funds. After enduring some difficult times, they learned to supplement faith in God with aggressive publicity within the evangelical community. By midcentury many of these agencies had high profiles in the evangelical community and routinely attracted some of the most committed evangelical young people. By the end of the twentieth century, roughly 90 percent of American foreign missionaries were evangelical. American missionary efforts helped spark the huge growth of evangelical Protestantism in Latin America and Africa. Aided largely by the massive growth of Pentecostal and charismatic churches, whose adherents number in the hundreds of millions worldwide, most of worldwide Protestantism developed a distinctly evangelical character.

See Also

Christian Social Movements; Millenarianism, overview article; Modernism, article on Christian Modernism; Pentecostal and Charismatic Christianity; Protestantism.


Ammerman, Nancy Tatom. Bible Believers: Fundamentalists in the Modern World. New Brunswick, N.J., 1987.

Ariel, Yaakov. On Behalf of Israel: American Fundamentalist Attitudes toward Jews, Judaism, and Zionism, 18651945. Brooklyn, N.Y., 1991.

Bays, Daniel H., and Grant Wacker, eds. The Foreign Missionary Enterprise at Home: Explorations in North American Cultural History. Tuscaloosa, Ala., 2003.

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George M. Marsden (1987 and 2005)

William L. Svelmoe (2005)

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