What distinguishes “evangelical” from “fundamentalist?” by Roger E. Olson
I identify the new fundamentalists by their ethos which I find to be similar in many ways to that of the older fundamentalists. They are evangelicals who TEND to: 1) spend much energy searching for and identifying heresies among evangelicals; 2) focus a lot of attention on identifying “evangelical boundaries” and solidifying them by demonstrating that some evangelicals are “outside the boundaries;” 3) add non-essential doctrines to the essentials of evangelicalism (boundaries) such as biblical inerrancy, young earth creationism, monergistic salvation and/or penal substitutionary atonement; 4) find nothing of value in non-Christian culture – especially philosophy, psychology and sociology; 5) attempt to frighten the faithful about “doctrinal drift” and “defection from the faith” where those do not really exist.
He knows whereof he speaks:
Who am I to talk this way? Am I just someone on the sidelines crying “wolf!” when there is no wolf? I don’t think so. Of course, that’s for you to decide. But I have been in this evangelical movement my entire life and have had very keen interest in it most of my adult life. I have been editor of an evangelical scholarly journal, contributing editor to Christianity Today for quite a few years, chair of the Evangelical Studies Group of the American Academy of Religion, professor of theology in three Christian universities strongly historically identified with evangelicalism, author of numerous articles and several books dealing with evangelicalism. I have seen with my own eyes and experienced directly this attempted takeover of the evangelical movement by new fundamentalists.
So should he, and those of us who share his views, simply abandon the label ‘evangelical’ altogether? Olson responds:
People ask me all the time “Roger, why don’t you just give up calling yourself ‘evangelical’ and admit you’ve lost it? ‘Evangelical’ now means ‘fundamentalist’.” Call me stubborn and a champion of lost causes, but even if I go to my grave the only moderate evangelical left that’s what I will be calling myself. I hope others will join me in this and not abandon the label and the movement to the new fundamentalists. [Many of the people who ask me that still call themselves Baptist when, to most people in America, “Baptist” is virtually equated with “fundamentalist.” Why don’t they give up calling themselves Baptist?]
And he has experienced the new fundamentalism at first hand:
Do I know about these and similar events merely anecdotally? No. I have them from the primary sources. I know people on both sides personally. And I’ve been there myself — in a similar situation where we (theology faculty) were ordered by an administration to cease and desist all teaching about open theism. New fundamentalism at work. I was told face-to-face by a powerful pastor that he would get me fired for not siding with him in his attempt to get an open theist colleague fired. New fundamentalism at work. I was invited to speak at a conference of new fundamentalists (who, of course, consider themselves mainstream evangelicals). Not once during the several days long conference would one of them sit with me at a meal. “Biblical separation” at work, new fundamentalism at work. [No “table fellowship” with heretics!]
Something truly awful is stirring within evangelicalism. It’s directly analogous to what has happened in the Republican Party. I call on moderate evangelical leaders to stand up and speak out against it. So far most have not. None dare call it fundamentalism.