Monday, May 25, 2009

Fundamentalism versus Conservative Evangelicalism

As much as I dislike stereotypes, I'm going to engage in stereotypes for the purpose of this post. I've been reading quite a bit lately about Conservative Evangelicalism as compared to Fundamentalism. Much of the debate in the Fundamentalist blogosphere these days has, at its root, a frustration regarding the exodus of many "Young Fundamentalists" from the movement to Conservative Evangelicalism. For "fun" I decided to create this chart that highlights some of the major stances of both these groups. There are several things that aren't on here. For instance, Fundamentalists are generally hard-core Dispensationalists, whereas Conservative Evangelicals will have "soft" dispy's and some Covenant guys. But even with some of these things lacking, I think you'll find a number of key things addressed in this chart of 26 items.

Enjoy and please comment on any mistakes or mischaracterizations I may have made. By the way, I had a difficult time with the code to get this up here in chart form. Any of you computer wizards out there that can help me out, just email me at eli51773(at)

1Specific BeliefFundamentalismConservative Evangelicalism
in Inerrancy of Scripture
in Divinity of Christ
in Virgin Birth
in the Substitutionary Blood Atonement
in the Bodily Resurrection of Christ
in the Imminent Return of Christ
in a Triune God
rule and Pastor rule. There are generally deacons that work closely
with the pastor
Most generally
practice elder rule
hold to Immersion only, though some other forms might be acceptable
in some quarters
- only members of the local church, or "Close" - "likeminded"
members of other local churches can join
to all believers
Taught but
not practiced
Music "prepares
the heart for worship. Generally there will be corporate singing without
commentary, an offering, a choral number, a "special", and
then the preaching. Congregation not really lead in worship.
Heavy focus
on corporate worship. Variety of musical styles and other medium to
completely engage the congregation in group worship. Heavy focus on
worship before, during, and after the preaching.
primarily of church members being encouraged to and engaged in inviting
others to church.
Church as
a whole tends to be heavily involved in community. Not uncommon to see
addictions recovery ministries, troubled teens ministries, various counseling
ministries and the like. Focus on "meeting people where they are".
from Apostasy
only with "likeminded" believers, i.e., churches that are
more or less "carbon copies".
and desire to fellowship with all believers.
versus Arminianism
Mostly 4
point Arminian
Mostly 4
- 5 point Calvinist
will have a radical adherence to the KJV. Some have transitioned to
the NKJV.
versions used.
encouraged - primary place for fellowship with other members.
High standards
in the Church and encouraged outside the church service as well. The
"pants on women" debate is still underway.
Focus on
modesty and appropriateness.
consumption is a sin.
is a sin. Alcohol consumptions is OK.
focus on outward conformity to certain "standards of conduct"
(i.e., no drinking, smoking, listening to rock music, dancing, etc)
focus on a personal relationship with a Holy God.
Lots of
them. Local church tends to be very tight knit as a result.
Not many
for just the church. Most activities are geared towards community outreach.
Small groups serve as the primary socialization arm for members.
to none.
involved in community.
Strict cessationistsNot dogmatic
on cessationism, but do NOT practice speaking in tongues.


Matthew Olmstead said...

FWIW, I believe you mistakenly restrict fundamentalism to being Baptist (i.e. baptism by immersion, congregational rule, etc.). It is not historically accurate to restrict fundamentalism in that way.

Jim Peet said...


Interested but I think a little off target.

Take this one: Fundamentalists "Mostly 4 point Arminian". The GARBC is at least a moderately calvinistic fellowship. 30 years ago I learned the 5 points of Calvinism at at a GARBC school.

Topical vs expositional: My entire Christian life (almost 40 years) has been in fundamentalism. And 90% + has been expositional. My very first church was Pastored by a BJU grad and he was expositional.

Additionally fundamentalism is not monolithic. The more moderate wing of fundamentalism is very close to C/E. The line between moderate fundamentalism and C/E is amorphous.

Standards: I think this is where there is a definitive contrast. Fundamentalism seeks to impose standards with a top down approach. C/E takes a different (and I think a more healthy approach) to sanctification.

I do commend you for your post. My wife and I have been talking about this off and on for at least a year. I don't think I have completely settled it in my own mind.

Why don't you toss your list over on Sharper Iron here

Ellis Murphree said...

I don't disagree with you. However, I'm not really speaking of historic Fundamentalism so much as I'm speaking of the movement as I've seen it during my lifetime. Fundamentalism the movement TODAY is most certainly a Baptist movement.

Ellis Murphree said...

Thanks for your comment. My list is in no way "scientific" and represents only my personal experience. I've never attended a GARBC church in my life. As a matter of fact, most of the fundy churches I've attended have considered the GARBC a tad "liberal". So, as you can see, my extremely subjective opinion is going to be a bit skewed!

Feel free to post this chart over at SI if you wish. I haven't participated over there for a very long time....I don't want my first post over there in months to be something that starts an argument I'd have to get involved in!

Frank Sansone said...


I think you're list is pretty strongly slanted and certainly ungracious towards Fundamentalism.

You are wrongly comparing the "best" of the CEs with the "worst" of the Fundy's. Do you really think that is fair or healthy?

In regards to polity, you discount Free Presbyterians, the OBF, a number of Fundamental Bible churches and significant churches like Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Greenville, Heritage Bible Church, etc.

In regards to church discipline, how often does the CE church in the town you live practice church discipline? To take Dever's admittedly unusual church as typical in this area is highly inaccurate.

In regards to preaching, your experience in this area is highly atypical of the mainstream of Fundamentalism (not the IFBx group). I have been in Fundamentalism now since high school (mid 1980s) and the vast majority of preaching I have heard has been expositional nature, with the topical brought in for particular topics - which I believe is legitimate. (For instance, if doing a doctrinal series on things such as the Trinity, a topical sermon is probably called for.) I would put Minnick or Mark Franklin (for instance) up against the best of CE preachers any day.

BTW, take some time to look up the church sites of some of the CE churches that are not that famous (e.g. not just Piper, Mac, etc.) and download a few of the sermons. My guess is that you will find a mix of preaching - and not nearly as much strong expositional preaching as you assume by listening to the "big guns."

I believe you are off on your category of "Fellowship", as well. (On both sides.) You seem to have discounted/dismissed the issue of separation from disobedient brethren (it looks like it belongs in this category, since otherwise you left it out), which would be a significant difference between the group. (And a difference where I believe that the Fundamentalist side clearly has the more Biblical position.) You also short-change the fellowship of Fundamentalism. In Fundamentalism, you have Presbyterians, Bible Churches, Baptist Churches, Calvinistic Methodists, Holiness Methodists, etc. that are part of things like the ACCC and the World Congress of Fundamentalism, etc.

Regarding Calvinism and Arminianism, I would agree with Jim Peet that there are plenty of 5-Pointers w/i Fundamentalism. Even more than that, however, I would say that the vast majority of mainstream Fundamentalims are Amyraldism or some version close to it.

I would also disagree with your comments on versions. Do you really want to paint the majority of Fundamentalism as radical KJV. That is more unfair than anything Sweatt is reported to have said regarding Calvinism. (I still haven't had a chance to listen to it, yet.)

Anyway, I think you have slandered Fundamentalism in a way consistent with all the "uproar" regarding the recent slander of Calvinism.

Perhaps you should reconsider.

In Christ,

Pastor Frank Sansone

Anonymous said...

Very accurate representation. I don't know what Frank is on, but his slander comments are typical fundamentalist hyperactivity.