Evan@Weekender Blog (in a comment on the original post) proposes his own criteria:
1. Inerrancy of Scripture, and the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and practice.I don't necessary disagree here, but I'm not sure these criteria are that different from my own. "Inerrancy" is a more, not less, stringent category than my first proposed criterion (literalist exegesis) or the one I replaced it with (biblicism), and I'm still not sure that it is criterial for US evangelicals. "Pro-life" limits the rightist tendency to one issue, but I still think the political conservatism on the contemporary evangelical scene is more far-reaching. I do agree, however, that Roe v. Wade politicized conservative Christians in the '70s and beyond in the same way that the draft politicized college students in the '60's. This issue is a definite catalyst.
2. Pro-life/anti-abortion political beliefs, which in the present day generally make them Republicans.
3. Belief in the necessity and urgency of missions, evangelism, and individual conversion.
4. Reformation theology.
Evan's third category captures some of what I meant by the word "conversionist," but I wanted to use the word to describe an approach to social ethics and cultural critique beyond the simple impulse to evangelize. His fourth category unduly limits what I described as "traditional" theology — my guess would be that most evangelicals in the pew don't really know or care that much about the Reformation as such.
I do appreciate Evan's thoughtful response, however, as I do Michael Turton's different take. If I understand Michael, he is proposing a kind of right-wing Christian conspiracy behind much of evangelicalism, and that the right is being taken over by conservative Christians, not vice-versa. I just don't see this, and I feel that Michael might be a trifle paranoid or extreme with his comparison to the situation in Germany in the '30's.
I've learned that among many people the hallmarks proposed by David Bebbington are accepted as criterial:
... David Bebbington, who says evangelicalism has four hallmarks, namely beliefs that: lives need to be changed, the gospel needs to be actively spread, and the Bible should be held in unique regard, as well as an emphasis on the sacrifice Jesus Christ made, dying on the cross to atone for the sins of humankind.I haven't read Bebbington, but based on this report, I'd say that these criteria are far too general. It seems to me that, say, the Episcopal Church in the USA, at least in its official expressions, could agree with all of these tenets, as would most Christians of any stripe. Maybe Bebbington is referring to the international or British scene, but I think his definition is too broad for the US.
I've learned a lot from my respondents, but not enough to move me away from my basic criteria. I still think they work, grosso modo.
The one area that I still remain unsure about is the distinction between Evangelicals and Fundamentalists. Although I did not use the term "fundamentalist," several of my respondents felt I was confusing the two groups. Those who did so usually defined evangelicals with some form of Bebbington's hallmarks. I'm still uncomfortable with the "F"-word, but enough people use it, both within and without evangelicalism, that it seems that further discussion is needed.
Alister McGrath distinguishes fundamentalism from evangelicalism as follows: (1) Fundamentalism rejects biblical criticism "in any form," evangelicalism accepts it; (2) fundamentalism is narrowly committed to a set of doctrines, some of them peripheral (such as those linked to dispensationalism), evangelicalism is not; and (3) fundamentalism is reactionary and "blue collar" while evangelicalism is more open-minded and "white collar."
If McGrath is right, then fundamentalism as he defines it is a stream within evangelicalism, not a different movement altogether. Both poles of the contrasts that he draws can be found in evangelicalism today. Note that George Marsden has referred to fundamentalism as a strain inside evangelicalism, not something separate. Marsden uses the term "anti-modernist"; that word, as well as McGrath's observations, focuses on the relationship to the surrounding culture, not to a set of doctrinal or behavioral differentia.
The analysis that rings most true to me, however, is that of Joel Carpenter (as explained by Richard Mouw). According to Carpenter (according to Mouw), fundamentalists underwent a marginalizing cultural transition in the early twentieth century that left them feeling like outsiders — in fact, like immigrants, only that the "new land" was the new secularizing culture, and the "old country" was the 19th century dominance of Protestantism. These "cognitive immigrants" were the fundamentalists. But now, with the increasing social acceptance of evangelical Christianity, the "second generation" mentality has set in — assimilation, cultural influence, and political power are all within reach — and the old "outsider" feeling has been left behind. This is evangelicalism today.
And maybe that's part of why I feel alienated from evangelicalism. I'm conscious of a (partly neurotic) desire to always be an outsider, and unfortunately I've succeeded all too well in this. Since evangelicals seem to be trying to regain cultural hegemony, I find myself jumping off the bandwagon.
So, what do you all think? Is an evangelical just a fundamentalist in a cubicle with a fat 401k? Or is there more to it?
BIBLIOGRAPHY: Richard Mouw, The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from their Fundamentalist Heritage (2000); Alister McGrath, Christian Theology: An Introduction (1994).