Styles and Methods
Fundamentalists and evangelicals (including conservative evangelicals) both want to distinguish themselves from one another. Fundamentalists usually want to be known as fundamentalists, or at least to find some label that says more than “evangelical.” For their part, evangelicals of all sorts are eager to avoid being mistaken for fundamentalists.
When asked about their differences, both groups often respond with stock answers. According to many evangelicals, fundamentalism has been polluted with legalism or externalism, while fundamentalists often say that evangelicalism has been tainted with worldliness. Each group has typically taken its perception of the other to be virtually axiomatic.
What I have been trying to do is to discover what each party means by its accusation. What do fundamentalists see in evangelicals that smacks of worldliness? What do evangelicals see in fundamentalists that seems legalistic?
I have suggested several answers to those questions. First, fundamentalists and other evangelicals have often differed over their observance of what I have called “revivalistic taboos.” Second, fundamentalists have been more hesitant to adopt the accouterments of the counterculture (now mainstream culture) that began in the 1960s. Third, evangelicals have been more suspicious of second-premise arguments when the second premise has relied upon a matter of judgment rather than a statement of fact.
A fourth factor is probably involved in the mutual denunciation of fundamentalists and evangelicals. It is expressed in the fundamentalist jibe—still frequently heard—that evangelicals have adopted the world’s methods to attract the unsaved. What does this accusation mean?
The accusation is most frequently directed against evangelicals who employ the latest manifestations of popular culture in their public ministries. In other words, fundamentalists and evangelicals tend to line up on different sides of the so-called “worship wars.” Fundamentalists generally perceive themselves as more conservative than evangelicals, and evangelicals typically perceive fundamentalists as narrower.
Broadly speaking, evangelicals are more willing to use contemporary music, to feature celebrities and sensational events, and to employ current forms of amusement in their gatherings. Within evangelical churches one is more likely to hear rock and rap rhythms, to see athletes and entertainers on the platform, and to find preaching displaced by other forms of communication (especially theater). Because they are more restrained in these ways, fundamentalists tend to think that they are less worldly.
One must not over-emphasize the differences, however. Certain versions of fundamentalism pioneered the use of amusements in church. Even today some fundamentalist churches seek to draw crowds through showmanship.
Furthermore, the commitment to popular culture is not a new thing with either fundamentalists or evangelicals. Popular culture is an invention of modernity and relies upon modern vehicles of mass communication. It first arose during the middle third of the 19th century. For the most part, both the proto-fundamentalists (1870-1920) and the original fundamentalists (1920-1947) gravitated toward Victorian and Edwardian popular culture. The expressions of this version of popular culture were individualized, romanticized, and sentimental.
A major shift in popular culture occurred in the wake of the First World War. Known as the Jazz Age, the new culture brought flappers, short skirts, bobbed hair, a new slang (e.g., “the bee’s knees”), the Harlem Renaissance, dance clubs (the Cotton Club, for example, or the Savoy Ballroom), art deco, big bands, radio announcers, Hollywood movies, and a whole new sound. This new culture represented both a break with Victorianism and a continuation of some trajectories that the earlier popular culture had established.
At the inception of the Jazz Age, American fundamentalism was already heavily invested in popular culture. The new culture, however, seemed to include negative and even immoral trends that would damage Christian piety and testimony. At first, fundamentalists strongly resisted any absorption of the new culture. During the late 1940s, however, individuals like Jack Wyrtzen, Merv Roselle, and especially Billy Graham began to target aspects of the new culture for the creation of a Christian youth movement. These were among the leaders who became known as “neo-evangelicals,” and they built a movement not only around cooperative evangelism but also around organizations like Singspiration, Youth for Christ, and Word of Life.
The evangelical youth movement answered its critics by attracting thousands of young people. By the 1960s, most fundamentalists had adopted the cultural concessions that neo-evangelicals had pioneered during the Jazz Age. At that very moment, however, popular culture changed again.
The mid-1960s to early 1970s brought the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, protest marches and sit-ins, flower power and free love, hippies and yippies, Woodstock and Altamont, the Kent State shootings and the University of Wisconsin bombing. Like the Jazz Age, the counterculture represented both a rejection of some mores from the previous culture and a continuation of other trajectories that had already been established.
Through works like Ralph Carmichael’s Tell It Like It Is, mainstream evangelicalism tried and failed to co-opt the new counterculture as it had the popular culture of the Jazz Age. It became clear that evangelical leaders, who had tapped the psyche of the youth movement during the 1940s and 1950s, had no idea what motivated the counterculture.
The people who eventually adapted evangelicalism to the counterculture were baby boomers who came from within the counterculture itself. They became known as the Jesus Movement (sometimes as Jesus People or Jesus Freaks). They later became the foundation of the Evangelical Left.
A good exemplar of the Jesus Movement was musician Larry Norman, sometimes called the “Granddaddy of Christian Rock.” Norman was a boomer and a writer of rock-and-roll songs. His challenge to the religious establishment is summarized in one piece, “Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?”
I want the People to know That He saved my soul,
But I still like to listen to the radio, They say Rock ‘n Roll is wrong,
They’ll give me one more chance. I feel so good I want to get up and dance.
I know what’s right, I know what’s wrong, I don’t confuse it.
All I’m really trying to say Is, Why should the devil have all the good music?
I’ve been filled, I feel okay, Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away.
They say to cut my hair, they’re driving me insane. I grew it out long to make room for my brain.
But sometimes people don’t understand, What’s a good boy doing in a Rock n’ Roll band?
There’s nothing wrong with playing the blues licks, If you’ve got a reason, I want to hear it.
Why should the Devil have all the Good Music?
I’ve been filled, I feel okay, Jesus is the rock and He rolled my blues away.
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that has a beat,
I ain’t knockin’ the hymns, just give me a song that moves my feet,
I don’t like any of them funeral marches, I ain’t dead yet.
The point at which the Jesus (counter) culture and the evangelical mainstream came together was Explo 72. This event was the evangelical answer to Woodstock: a Christian rock festival held in Dallas, Texas. It made the Jesus Movement aware of evangelicalism, and it gave the evangelical mainstream its chance to absorb the counterculture as it had the culture of the Jazz Age.
Fundamentalists, however, resisted strongly the absorption of the counterculture. They found the values of the counterculture to be highly offensive. When the evangelical mainstream was willing to accommodate the music and attitudes of the counterculture, fundamentalists perceived this move as prima facie worldly.
Three observations, however, must be born in mind. The first is that the way had been prepared for this absorption by the fundamentalists themselves. Their capitulation to Victorian popular culture left all of their successors with an unenviable choice when the popular culture changed. On the one hand, they could seek to remain appealing by adapting to and absorbing elements of the new culture. On the other hand, they could cling to the older popular culture—but nothing seems goofier than trends that have just gone out of fashion.
Generally, evangelicals have attempted to adapt to newer manifestations of popular culture, while fundamentalists have tried to cling to older versions. Decades later than anyone else, fundamentalists did eventually accommodate themselves to the Jazz Age. Only now, however, are they coming to terms with the counterculture.
That brings up the second observation, namely that the rising generation of fundamentalist leadership is prepared to make that shift. Indeed, many have made it already. One of the great incongruities of fundamentalism is to find King-James-Only churches that are filled with contemporary music.
The third observation is that, both within fundamentalism and evangelicalism, a more genuinely conservative reaction is taking place. More and more people who have grown up in fundamentalism see its attempts to be trendy as simply pathetic, rather like the aging goof who tries to impress teenagers by turning his ball cap backwards. These people are firmly committed to the idea of fundamentalism, but they despise its campy culture. They find it increasingly difficult to identify with a movement whose primary attachment seems to be to the dowdiest versions of popular trends.
On the other hand, many conservative evangelicals are also reacting against church marketing techniques and, increasingly, against the yearning for the contemporary. They are settling into a more genuinely conservative manner of worship. For example, on my desk I have four recent bulletins from a prominent conservative evangelical church located in the District of Columbia. It would be difficult to find a more conservative church service anywhere in fundamentalism than the services that are outlined in these bulletins.
The conservative reaction among evangelicals seems to be strongest among churches that are most committed to Reformed thought, such as Presbyterians or Reformed Baptists. These churches are protected by a high view of God that leads them to want to be driven by God’s character rather than their own appetites. They are also committed to a rather exact application of the regulative principle, which restricts the elements of worship to those that are prescribed in Scripture (and usually even in the New Testament) itself.
The simplicity and profundity of worship in such churches offers relief both from bad-boy evangelicalism and from frumpy fundamentalism. Not surprisingly, a vigorous minority among both evangelicals and fundamentalists is drawn to it. They are tired of showmanship, whether contemporary or outdated. What they want is to meet God and to focus upon Him. Even where they disagree theologically, they appreciate the worship of these churches and the attitude toward popular culture that this worship reflects.
The only thing less relevant than a trendy church is a campy one. Most evangelicals are very concerned with trendiness, and many younger fundamentalists have begun to share that concern. Older fundamentalists tend to be concerned with preserving a church culture that has become its own parody. In both groups, however, a small but increasing number is beginning to exempt itself from the pursuit of popular culture and to relocate itself within the worship and ministry of historic Christianity.
O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid
Johann Rist (1607-1667)
Tr. Catherine Winkworth (1829-1878)
What sorrow sore
At my heart’s core!
The Son of God now dieth.
He, the King whom I adore,
In the darkness lieth.
I cannot dare
His Cross to share,
Alone he doth endure it.
Mine the sin he beareth there,
Dying he doth cure it.
O happy he
Whose heart doth see
And rightly comprehendeth
Why the Lord of glory thus
To the grave descendeth.
O Jesu blest,
My help and rest,
I humbly pray, Lord, hear me;
Make me love thee to the last,
And in death be near me.
This essay is by Dr. Kevin T. Bauder, president of Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). Not every professor, student, or alumnus of Central Seminary necessarily agrees with every opinion that it expresses.