Evangelicalism emerged around the 16th century as a consequence of the Reformation movement. However, the movement only started gaining traction during the 18th-century revivals, e.g. the Methodist movement in the UK and the Great Awakening in North America. The term evangelical is derived from the Greek word euangelion which means gospel or good news. Evangelicals, therefore, are Christians who place a lot of emphasis on spreading the gospel and on personal conversion.
Fundamentalism, on the other hand, emerged in the 19th century after the publication of a series of pamphlets that were titled “The Fundamentals.” The pamphlets articulated some theological stands as a response to the modernist challenges of some of the traditional Christian doctrines. Fundamentalism is characterized by a strict adherence to the literal interpretation and application of the Bible because it emphasized the Bible’s inerrancy and infallibility.
Fundamentalists differ from evangelicals in one main way – they interpret the Bible literally. While evangelicals may investigate context and church history in interpreting the Bible fundamentalists believe the Bible is without error and should be taken literally.
Evangelical Core Beliefs and Doctrines
- Emphasis on the authority of the Bible
Evangelicals uphold the Bible as the authoritative word of God. They believe that the Bible contains God’s will for mankind and it is truths are essential for developing doctrine as well as for guidance on how to live a Christian life. Evangelicals believe that the Bible should be interpreted accurately and faithfully in order to understand God’s will.
- A personal relationship with Jesus Christ
Evangelicals emphasize the importance of individuals pursuing a personal relationship with God. They believe that any individual that is willing can receive the forgiveness of sins by confessing their sins and believing in the atoning work of the cross. After receiving Jesus as the savior, the believer must also continue working on spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, and fellowship in order to continue growing their faith in Christ.
- The significance of evangelism and missionary work
Evangelicals are big on evangelism and missionary work. They believe that it’s their calling to share the Gospel with the unconverted to invite them into God’s family of believers. Evangelicals engage in outreach events both at local and international levels to extend their faith to the unreached.
Fundamentalist Core Beliefs and Doctrines
- A literal interpretation of the Bible
Fundamentalists believe in the integrity of the Bible but they also believe in its literal interpretation and application. They believe the Bible is free of any error or contradictions and should therefore be taken as is. They stay clear of any metaphorical or allegorical interpretation and rather go for a straightforward interpretation.
- Inerrancy of scripture
Fundamentalists believe in the Inerrancy of God’s word. They believe that the original manuscripts do not contain any error or fault. They reject any idea that the word of God can have contradictions or mistakes.
- Rejection of modernist theology and liberal interpretations
Fundamentalism is against any modernist theology or liberal influences on Bible interpretation. They believe that such views not only water down traditional Christian doctrines but also undermine the authority of God’s word.
Views on Creation and Evolution
Evangelicals have a range of views on creation and evolution. Some believe that the creation was complete in six literal 24-hour days (Young-Earth Creationism). They also extrapolate from the genealogies of the Bible and thereby estimate the earth to be anything from 6,000-10,000 years old. They, therefore, reject any idea of macroevolution and emphasize that every living organism was created by God. Some evangelicals believe in Old_earth Creationsim which accepts the scientific notion of an ancient Earth. They believe that the days of creation are not necessarily the 24-hour period we have today.
Unlike evangelicals, all fundamentalists believe in the Young-earth Creation doctrine. This is not surprising since fundamentalists believe in the literal interpretation of the Bible. Fundamentalists are against any evolution theory and they maintain that any living organism was created by God. They also believe that the age of the earth is consistent with the geological evidence provided in scripture.
Eschatology and End Times
Eschatology is another area where Envalgicals and Fundamentalists differ. Even though both agree on the second coming of Jesus Christ, they do not agree on the issue of the millennial reign that is mentioned in Revelation.
Most evangelicals believe in premillennialism. This doctrine argues that Jesus will come back before a literal 1,000-year period of peace. The millennium is believed to be a season where Christ will reign on a new earth with his followers participating in the reign.
Fundamentalists have a different view on premillennialism. They believe that Bible prophecy should be interpreted literally and chronologically. As such, they believe that rapture will happen before the seven-year tribulation period. They also believe the tribulation will be the season when the antichrist will rise. However, Christ will then return after the tribulation period, and then the millennium will begin.
Interpretation of Biblical prophecies
Evangelicals typically have a more diverse outlook on Bible prophecy and are open to different approaches. For instance, some will look at historical and contextual analysis in order to understand prophecy. Others will just focus on the symbolic and spiritual significance of the text. For evangelicals, the underlying message is more important than the strict literal fulfillment of Bible prophecy.
On the flip side, fundamentalists believe in the literal interpretation of Biblical prophecies – especially the ones that talk about the end times. Fundamentalists are of the view that the Biblical prophecies will be fulfilled exactly as written and in the sequence given by the prophets.
To sum it up, Evangelicals and fundamentalists are not on the same page on Bible interpretation. Fundamentalists take the Bible literally because they believe the original manuscripts are free from any error or contradiction. On the other hand, Evangelicals believe the underlying message is what really matters in a text as opposed to its literal meaning. As such, evangelicals and fundamentalists differ in their theological outlook on eschatology, creationism as well as Bible prophecy.