Earlier this summer, I posted on the La Civilta Cattolica article that caused so much concern and interesting push-back from people who explained its negative stereotypes of evangelicals and Catholics in the United States was based on an embarrassing lack of knowledge or understanding.
Well, Shane Schaetzel finally responded to the article with a long piece at his blog that explains quite well the differences between evangelicals and fundamentalists in America, something the authors of La Civilta Cattolica do not grasp.
You see, back when I was an Evangelical, over 20 years ago, there really was an overlap between Evangelical and Fundamental Protestants. In fact, the overlap was so profound that it was quite common to see Evangelicals and Fundamentalists sitting in the same pews in the same churches. However, all of that began to change about 20 to 25 years ago, and I witnessed the trend toward the end of my Evangelical days. It was at that time, during the 1990s, that many of the larger Evangelical churches (Baptist, Pentecostal, Assemblies of God, etc.) made a conscious choice to focus more on the basics of the gospel message (evangelium) and concentrate their preaching toward bringing more people in. This meant they had to focus on the basics of the gospel more, and allow for more charity on disagreement over what was considered “peripheral doctrines.” Thus they started to take a more charitable view of other Christians they were previously suspicious of, and this would include Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans and Lutherans. In other words, they started to acknowledge that it is possible for people in these churches to be Christians and to be saved. Adopting this disposition gave them a more “open-minded” impression to the public, while at the same time hanging on to traditional Christian morality and virtue on social issues like abortion, homosexuality and same-sex “marriage,” etc. This change brought about the desired effect. Their churches exploded in size, moving from large-churches into mega-churches, and now into multi-franchised-mega-churches.
As a result, many Catholics and Evangelicals have begun working together in recent decades, particularly in America’s Bible Belt where Evangelicals are most numerous. The early signs of it came down way back in 1994 with a joint document, signed by both Evangelical and Catholic leaders, entitled Evangelicals and Catholics Together: The Christian Mission in the Third Millennium. It’s a document every Catholic and Evangelical should read. This is about as formal as anything gets in the Evangelical world, and it’s really quite a milestone in Evangelical-Catholic relations. It is historic, and yes, people will still be talking about it 100 years from now.
Ever since this document was signed, and ever since the divergence between Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism began around the same time, Catholics in the Bible Belt of America have begun working in ever closer relationship with Evangelicals. In places like the Bible Belt, where Catholic resources are scarce, Catholics have been forced to rely on Evangelical ministries simply out of necessity from time to time. The same could be said of Evangelicals in largely Catholic locations, not only in North America, but in Catholic countries as well. This is not a matter of speculation or wishful thinking. It is, rather, a reflection of reality. It has been the situation on the ground in the Bible Belt for decades now. Thus, in various places throughout the Bible Belt, Catholics and Evangelicals have developed very close and personal relationships.
Conversely, many smaller evangelical/fundamentalist churches went the opposite direction in the middle to late 1990s. The smaller ones decided to focus more on the “fundamentals” of their Protestant faith, but expanded those fundamentals to more than just the basic gospel message (evangelium). Some of them remained small in size. While a few of them grew, those that grew large came under increased public scrutiny. Thus many Fundamentalist churches made a conscious effort to remain relatively small, focusing on developing more “doctrinally pure” congregations rather than large ones. As a result, Protestant Fundamentalism still exists, but it is largely separate now from the mainstream of Evangelicalism. It has, in many ways, become it’s own smaller movement, and remains staunchly anti-Catholic.
So now here we are, in 2017, and we have reached a point of clear separation between Evangelical and Fundamentalist Protestants. Granted, there may still be a small trace of Fundamentalists in Evangelical churches, and vice versa, but for the most part, these two movements have gone their separate ways. For Catholics, the easiest way to tell them apart is to gauge their attitude toward Christians in other churches, particularly those in the Catholic Church. Most of your Evangelical Protestants (Evangelicals) today, especially those in America, will say that Catholics are Christians and they can be saved too. Meanwhile, Fundamental Protestants (Fundamentalists) will tell you that Catholics are not Christians and cannot be saved unless they leave the Catholic Church. So I think it’s important that we Catholics begin adjusting our vocabulary to reflect this. We should no longer speak of Evangelicals as Fundamentalists, nor should we speak of Fundamentalists as Evangelicals. We should rather speak of them as separate entities. They are no longer the same thing. They are now different, and we should make note of this in the way we speak of them. None of this should surprise us really. Protestantism is always changing, dividing, and remaking itself. This latest development is just another example of that.
Go on over and read the rest, because he gives great advice on how to prepare Catholic children to deal with the questions their evangelical friends will ask them, and suggests some questions they can ask their evangelical friends that could lead them to the Catholic Church.