Shane Schaetzel on evangelicals and fundamentalists

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.

Shane writes:

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.

4 thoughts on “Shane Schaetzel on evangelicals and fundamentalists

  1. The stark distinction between “Evangelical” and “Fundamentalist” bodies is not so new as the author suggests. I encountered it while in college (1975-1979) and while serving as a naval officer for five years after paying for college with a Navy ROTC scholarship (1979-1984). At that time, three organizations — The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Varsity Christian Fellowship — were deploying “missionaries” to many college campuses and many military and naval bases. Every campus or base had two of the three, and inevitably one would be evangelical and the other would be fundamentalist, but which would be which was completely random depending upon who happened to be leading the respective teams at a given place. As best I can tell, that situation has not changed. What has changed, though, is that there are now Catholic organizations such as the Fellowship of Catholic University Students (FOCUS) that have adopted a similar paradigm of discipleship as the foundation of Christian ministry. I constantly pray that FOCUS will develop ecumenical relations with The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ, and Varsity Christian Fellowship at the highest levels that will promote positive ecumenical relationships, a sense of common purpose among the missionaries of the various organizations, and opportunities for joint events — fellowship evenings, ministerial outreach, and perhaps even joint bible studies — on the respective campuses and bases. Such activities can only help to diminish prejudices on both sides where they still persist.

    In the mid-1990’s, I was blessed with the opportunity to volunteer to take calls during television crusades at a telephone center of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA). I may well be the only volunteer ever to bring an application for with the pastoral leader’s recommendation for that ministry signed by a Benedictine abbot. In the training for this ministry, the teacher was quite explicit in telling all of the volunteers NOT to tell the Catholics to leave their church, saying, “They won’t! — and there’s no reason why they should, since the doctrine of the Catholic Church is absolutely correct.” My discernment was that it was absolutely imperative to have a Catholic presence in that place because the knowledge that the telephone counsellor “in the next booth” was a “good bible-believing Catholic” would be the most sure way to dissuade those inclined toward fundamentalism who might disobey those instructions. During the course of several televised crusades, I had some rather interesting conversations with the representatives who came from the BGEA’s headquarters for these events. Even back then, the representatives told me that the BGEA was working very closely with the Catholic episcopal conferences of other countries when they held crusades outside of the United States. (And yes, I told my archbishop exactly what we were doing, and why, at the very first opportunity. There was not enough time to consult with him before we started, but I don’t like to engage in this sort of ministry behind my bishop’s back.)

    As to doctrinal issues, the problem with evangelical Christianity is not so much doctrinal error as doctrinal omission. Evangelical Christianity is very grounded in scripture, so its doctrinal positions tend to be very solid in so far as they go. There are, however, a few pieces missing — the author’s mention of apostolic succession and thus a lack of valid sacraments being a prime example, though actually just the tip of the iceberg of deficient ecclesiology. In the list of differences in the article, the Catholic position actually is “both-and” rather than either side of nearly all of the dichotomies whereas most evangelical Christians would gravitate toward one side. Sadly, the counterreformation’s attempts to reassert the side rejected by the reformers has created a tragic popular misimpression that the Catholic Church is squarely on the other side, when that is not the case. The item in the author’s list that stands out an exception is the Protestant position of sola scriptura, which is squarely contrary to scripture, with explicit contradiction in II Thessalonians 2:15!

    There is, of course, no small amount of confusion created by semantics in explaining doctrinal positions in different ways. By way of example (and this is only one of far too many), consider the Catholic statement that baptism, presumed to mean the sacrament, is “necessary” for salvation. But what about a catechumen who dies before baptism? We Catholics engage in doublespeak, using the term “baptism of desire” to mean that the person died desiring baptism and thus was functionally baptized and proceed to celebrate the Mass of Christian Burial for that individual. This practice seems to square more closely with the term “accept the Lord” by which the evangelical means real submission of one’s life to the lordship of Christ — which is precisely what the vows in the Catholic Rite of Baptism embody. Here, the wisdom of Saint John Paul II of happy memory in No. 19 of the encyclical Ut unam sint promulgated on 25 May 1995 really shine (emphasis in original).

    Indeed, the element which determines communion in truth is the meaning of truth. The expression of truth can take different forms. The renewal of these forms of expression becomes necessary for the sake of transmitting to the people of today the Gospel message in its unchanging meaning.

    So when our evangelical brethren state a doctrinal understanding in different words that really carry the same meaning, it’s okay — and need not be a source of division! Of course, we need to get the real meaning through a process of dialog to come to the understanding that it’s really the same.

    As to the process of preparing children — and indeed ourselves, as adults! — for an ecumenical encounter, the first step is to become well rooted in sacred scripture — which we should be doing anyway, as it nourishes our faith in a manner complementary to the sacraments. If we understand scripture so we can engage in discussion, they will ascribe great credibility to our claim to be Christians. Indeed, the encounter with Catholic Christians who are well rooted in scripture will shatter the faith of many fundamentalists — and, again, I say this from personal experience because I have witnessed it personally, even in a bible study under the auspices of The Navigators!

    The second step of preparation for encounter with evangelical Christians is to learn not only to speak their theological language, but also to learn the real meaning of their shorthand terminology. Most fundamentally, “accept Christ” means to surrender one’s life to his divine lordship, so that we are living lives that are wholly submitted to the Lord’s will and to the Lord’s plan for us — nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. Here, I’m reminded of one call that I took at the BGEA’s telephone center.

    Caller: Oh, yes, I accepted Christ as my savior years ago!

    Me: I see. And when you accepted Christ as your savior, did you also accept him as the lord of your life?

    Caller: Ah, what do you mean by that?

    Ah, yes, as my evangelical friends would say, it’s one thing to talk the talk and another to walk the walk….

    Of course, all of this assumes that we have put our own spiritual houses in order in the first place. If we have not put our own spiritual houses in order, we need to start there — and both study of scripture and a life rooted in prayer are part of it!



  2. I’d have to agree. The division between evangelicals and fundamentalists goes back at least to the 1940s, with the establishment of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (1941), the National Association of Evangelicals (1942), the launch of the Billy Graham Crusades (1947) and the founding of Christianity Today magazine (1956). These institutions and ministries and others that arose in the same time period defined what was called “neo-evangelicalism”, which positioned itself as a third way between fundamentalism and liberal-modernist mainline Protestantism. I was raised in an evangelical atmosphere that was always quite consciously evangelical and *not* fundamentalist. The divisions over things like Evangelicals and Catholics Together in the 1990s were a reprise of many other evangelical / fundamentalist battles – over creationism, the “verbal inerrancy” of scripture, etc.


    • “The divisions over things like Evangelicals and Catholics Together in the 1990s were a reprise of many other evangelical / fundamentalist battles – over creationism, the “verbal inerrancy” of scripture, etc.”

      Not to mention the pretended ordination of women, and, more recently, the acceptance of homosexual marriage (a process now under weigh among Evangelicals).


      • Most evangelical Christians accept “ordination” of women to their ministry, but their “ordination” is not the sacrament of Holy Orders — a fact which they freely acknowledge. It’s more on par with a woman serving as a lay catechist, administrator, and extraordinary minister of holy communion in a parish or mission with no resident clergy in the Catholic Church. Note that Catholic ecclesial law permits the bishop to delegate faculties to baptize solemnly and to assist at Catholic marriages to such an individual.

        As to homosexual “marriage,” evangelical Christian denominations are not exactly of one mind. Some tolerate such nonsense, but many do not.



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