This Is Your Life

Exploring the well-worn sawdust trail between fundamentalists and evangelicals

My parents, both of whom grew up in the largely unchurched Pacific Northwest, became Christians as young adults. They attended a non-denominational church and considered themselves "fundamentalists," which out there meant "basically conservative Christians with a Scofield Reference Bible on a shelf somewhere." Then they moved to the more theologically stratified Midwest. Suddenly, "fundamentalist" meant no pinochle on Friday, no shorts in the summer, and no sherry in the beef stroganoff.

And so, without changing much of their theology, they became "evangelicals" instead.

My experience with fundamentalism, then, came secondhand, but I do understand something of the movement's nebulous relationship to evangelicalism. Richard J. Mouw, president of Fuller Theological Seminary in California, has actually lived in both camps. He believes that what lies between them isn't a chasm but a well-worn sawdust trail.

Late last year Mouw published The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Their Fundamentalist Heritage (Zondervan). He writes, "I have spent a good part of my life thus far working with other evangelicals who have been dedicated to correcting some of the defects and excesses associated with the religion of the sawdust trail. This has been time well spent. But I've also begun to worry lately that in our criticisms we have lost sight of some of the good things. I'm convinced it is healthy for the evangelical movement to keep smelling the sawdust."

In the book Mouw approaches fundamentalism with both criticism and respect, but with an emphasis on the latter. He addresses, in several places, the charge (presented forcefully in Mark Noll's The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) that fundamentalism is anti-intellectual, but ...

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July/August
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