Santa Cruz County History - Religion & Spirituality



Santa Cruz Spirituality: Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christianity
by Paul Tutwiler

Evangelical Christianity

A sector of spirituality which is currently at the forefront of cultural and political activities is Evangelical Christianity. After the great sixteenth century split in European Christianity a dominant characteristic of many of the new church bodies was their adherence to the Bible as the rule of faith. In particular the "Good News," or "Gospels" or, in the learned language of the time, "Evangelia," expressed the heart of the faith. For this reason many of them, especially those of northern continental Europe, professed "evangelical Christianity," and of course this was, unlike "protestant," a positive term. To this day numerous church bodies of Lutheran lineage have the word "evangelical" in their official name. There is also the related term "evangelism," which has been used by all Christian churches to express their role of carrying the Gospel to the rest of the world.

"Evangelical" recently in the United States, however, has come to refer to the following set of Christian beliefs:

  • salvation only through faith in Jesus Christ
  • an experience of personal conversion, commonly called being 'born again'
  • the importance of missions and evangelism
  • the truth or inerrancy of Scripture

The results of a recent large national survey (N = 4,001) show that from 31% to 46% of the U.S. population affirm these evangelical beliefs, although only some of these believers belong to religious bodies which are characterized as evangelical. Looking at the groupings of religious bodies and recognizing their broad traditions, we can say that one quarter of the American religious population can be called evangelical, whereas currently only one fifth is mainstream Protestant. ("Evangelicalism" by Lyman Kellstedt, John Green, James Guth, and Corwin Smidt in the Encyclopedia of Religion and Society, William H. Swatos, Jr. Editor, Hartford Institute for Religion Research, Hartford Seminary, as reported in hirr.hartsem.edu)

Expressed another way, the church bodies - which includes both individual denominations and associations of denominations - which belong to the National Association of Evangelicals distributed according to Melton's families were in 2008:

1 Western Liturgical
0 Eastern Liturgical
2 Lutheran
9 Reformed-Presbyterian
6 Pietist-Methodist
6 Holiness
18 Pentecostal
5 European Free-Church
5 Baptist
3 Adventist
4 I am not able to identify
61 Total

(The list of the member denominations used for this table was taken from www.nae.net, the website of the National Association of Evangelicals, in 2008. The categorization is mine.)

Fundamentalist Christianity

Fundamentalism is a much-used term that applies to at least three related religious phenomena, that is,

  1. The stance of religious bodies which adhere to traditional teachings set forth in writings they consider not subject to compromise. It is particularly applied to religions "of the book," that is, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In all such cases the term "fundamentalism" extends beyond the scriptural text itself to a doctrinal interpretation of it, which, for reasons that each group explains for itself, is acknowledged to be authoritative and definitive. In this current, broad sense, fundamentalism is seen to be a worldwide movement.

  2. In a narrower sense, specific to Christianity, the term refers to the independent fundamentalist movement initiated in the 1820's in England by the Anglican priest, John Nelson Darby, and brought to the United States by him and his followers later in the nineteenth century. It greatest voice in this country was that of Dwight Moody, whose Moody Bible Institute in Chicago has shaped the religious attitude of generations of Americans. The Darby-Moody fundamentalist doctrine is characterized by "dispensationalism," a view of world history which divides it into "dispensations," or eras, each initiated by an action on God's part, the seventh and last of which is to be the second coming of Christ.

    American independent fundamentalism also sees itself as a bulwark of the literal reading of the Bible against perverted rationalistic and modernistic criticisms of it. Thus the "Independent Fundamentalist Churches of America International" association, which provides fellowship and cooperation among many individual congregations and speaks for them, asserts in its statement of faith, Section 2. Movements Contrary to Faith, "a. Ecumenism. Ecumenism is that movement which seeks the organizational unity of all Christianity and ultimately of all religions. Its principal advocates are the World Council of Churches and the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. b. Ecumenical Evangelism. Ecumenical Evangelism is that effort to promote the gospel by bringing fundamentalists into an unequal yoke with theological liberals and/or Roman Catholics and other divergent groups." (www.ifca.org 2005)

  3. In the past 100 years the notion of a limited number of fundamentals of the Christian faith has had influence far beyond the confines of the independent fundamentalist churches. These fundamentals, five in number, are "the inspiration of the Bible, the depravity of man, redemption through Christ's blood, the true church as a body composed of all believers, and the coming of Jesus to establish his reign." (Melton, Encyclopedia, p. 73) Christians of many denominations share these five beliefs, and Fundamentalism in this sense has been the rallying cry against Modernism, the view that science negates the veracity of the Bible and that human progress is a good in itself.


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