Thursday, 29 May 2008

'Fundamentalist' and 'evangelical' as Terms of Public Discourse

There is an interesting (and good) article on Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism in the public sphere by Christopher Watkin in the latest issue of the Cambridge Papers over at the Jubilee Centre. You can read the article here.

Watkin begins the essay with these lines below.

'Question: What do British Parliamentarians most frequently associate with 'evangelicals'? 

Answer: Evangelicals are those who oppose the use of condoms. 

Shocked?  Perhaps not if you're a regular newspaper reader or television viewer.

Bothered?  You should be if you would describe yourself using this term.'



Lionel said...


I think there are at least two other issues here. First, evangelicals are still recovering from the blight of the fundamentalist movement. While unfair criticism is nothing new (one recalls how the early church was accused of cannibalism, atheism, seditions, etc.), bad reputations take a while to overcome. The progress is encouraging. Second, evangelicals need a much better PR strategy. Watkin’s recommendation that we must “publicize what is known” and “re-articulate what is not understood” is spot on. But someone or some organization needs to make this a very intentional part of their mission. In an age of media savvy consultants, evangelicals need able spokespersons to represent them in the public arena. In other words, we need some modern day apologists who will gain a hearing in the wider world for the sake of the ‘evangelion’. Otherwise, John Hagee will continue to be the voice of the movement.


Exploring the Study of Religious History said...


Thanks for the comments. Very insightful. Evangelical 'image' (for lack of a better term) may most greatly benefit from historical studies. Organizations like the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals and research like that of the upcoming EFB Project ( will hopefully provide the world with a more complete understanding of who Evangelicals truly are. Also, Evangelicals, themselves, may also benefit from understanding their own background and identity. Thanks again for the comments.

Best Wishes,


Exploring the Study of Religious History said...

Hey Lionel,

Thanks for dropping in. How are things in Valparaiso?

In regards to there being a need for a conscious effort on the part of evangelicals to organize and publicize what their own beliefs are, I agree. In fact, the next post I was going to toss up charts some of the ways in which these kinds of efforts are already taking place in the US. It's a bit different here in the UK and so Watkin's essay--and your comments--seem to bear more weight this side of the Atlantic.

By the way, have you seen the recent effort to shoulder some of the burden we are discussing?


David said...


I'm not sure that the UK had a fundamentalist movement in the same way as the US, so it's not something UK evangelicalism has had to recover from in the same way. Chris's article is written more out of the UK context, where evangelicalism is rather different to the US (partly because evangelicals are more clearly a minority).

In British media and popular perception, however, evangelicals are associated with fundamentalism, partly because unchurched British people (most of the population) tend to associate evangelicalism as a whole with the US without much knowledge of the nuances of US evangelicalism, and partly because fundamentalism has taken on the sense of 'scary religious extremism' and Christians whose convictions seem too certain fall into this category.

I hope this helps.