The article is a bit long for the internet, and below are two extended quotes (with the portion Minnick quoted in italics), also unusually long for the medium. But as so much that Wells writes, they're penetrating and provocative:
It is not difficult to see that Protestant fundamentalism in the twentieth century has been, in these ways, a sect.3 Although its stridency in the first decades of this century came to be moderated later on, its view of the world has nevertheless always been distinctive and discernibly different from what has been considered normal in society. Its sense of antithesis, both to the culture and to the liberalism within Christian faith, was sharp and painful. It developed its own religious jargon and formulated rules that rapidly became legalisms that covered everything from wearing lipstick, to dancing, to movies. It withdrew educationally, denominationally, and culturally and organized itself into enclaves from which the outside world was excluded. Within these enclaves, therapy and comfort were offered to those who, from time to time, might wonder about the world outside. And it is not hard to see how fundamentalist doctrine had both a religious and a cultural dimension, for as George Marsden notes, at the heart of the debate with the modernists was the question: “Should Christianity and the Bible be viewed through the lens of cultural development, or should culture be viewed through the lens of Scripture?”4
For example, that the Bible was to be viewed as inerrant and “literally” true was, at a doctrinal level, a way of asserting its inspiration; but at a cultural level it was also a way of rejecting literary criticism in the universities. And this criticism was simply symptomatic of the whole drift of modern education. The belief in miracles, which was at the heart of fundamentalism, was there because it is at the heart of the Bible; but the assertion of such a belief was also an unmistakable way of rejecting the naturalistic and secular temper of the day. The belief in divine creation was, at one level, the assertion of biblical teaching; but at another, it was a deliberate rejection of Darwinianism and was a way of defying the reigning cognitive paradigm in society. Dispensational premillenialism was seen to replicate biblical teaching, but it was also a way of rejecting ideas about the progress of humanity that were at the heart of the civil credo that dominated public thinking until quite recently.5 In fact, prior to Christ’s return things are going to get much worse, not much better. Fundamentalist doctrine thus served both to protect biblical truth and to fend off the modern world.
In retrospect, it is clear that many dangers attend the path of cognitive dissonance. It is not easy to reject the reigning cognitive paradigm without stumbling into anti-intellectualism. That was a turn that fundamentalism took.6 Nor is it easy to sustain a moral antithesis to culture without drifting into legalism. Legalism may sometimes be as debilitating to the church as the moral dangers against which the legalism has become the protection. Much of fundamentalism did become hidebound and legalistic. Fundamentalism also produced a profusion of authoritarian leaders who could resolve life’s dilemmas with a degree of certainty that is usually beyond the reach of mere mortals. The fundamentalist landscape was filled with such figures.
In the early post-War years, evangelicals were determined that they would not repeat the fundamentalists’ mistakes. They distanced themselves from their rather rough and belligerent cousins by speaking of themselves as “neo-evangelicals.” The language was Carl Henry’s, though it has usually been credited to Harold Ockenga. What was “neo” about them was that they would not be anti-intellectual, separatistic, legalistic, or culturally withdrawn. They shed fundamentalist uncouthness, earned Ph.D’s from the finest universities, sat at the ecumenical table, dispensed for the most part with dispensational premillenialism, and loosed themselves from most cultural taboos.
The final chapter has not yet been written on this experiment, but when the time comes there will be an interesting question to answer For all the warts and flaws of fundamentalism, it did succeed in preserving the Word of God and the Gospel. Will this also be true of the evangelicals? They are undoubtedly much nicer than the fundamentalists, but in the end will they fail where the fundamentalists had succeeded? That will be a delicious piece of irony if it turns out to be true.
CHRIST AND CULTURE
On the surface, the issue seems simple enough. Fundamentalists exhibited too much of the “Christ-against-Culture” animus, and evangelicals have too much of the old liberal “Christ-of-Culture” outlook.7 The earlier liberals, Niebuhr said, believed they “could live in culture as those who sought a destiny beyond but were not in strife with it.”8 That is what too many evangelicals are like today. From our church marketers to our respectable journals to some of our theologians,9 there is a rush to embrace cultural norms, habits, and tastes in hope of success and in the naive belief that it is all quite harmless and can be harnessed to this or that Christian cause with impunity. So at first glance the transition from fundamentalism to evangelicalism seems like one from too much strife with culture, in the one case, to too little with it in the other.
At root, however, it is a question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul. Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and so did not engage the culture; evangelicalism fears being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.
[. . . and then the conclusion . . .]
There is, however, a final irony to note. It is this: In the Old and New Testaments, the moments of great impact in the world were never those in which the people of God became indistinguishable from those in their world. When this happened it was a moment of spiritual debauchery. In order to influence the world, the people of God have to be quite different from it cognitively and morally. The irony is that to be relevant, the church has to be otherworldly; and when this spiritual otherness is extinguished by the ache for this-worldly acceptance, it loses the thing that it wants above all else—relevance. The church eventually discovers, to its great dismay, that it has lost its voice and no longer has anything left to say. That is the discovery that now seems to be looming ahead of the evangelical world. It is the iceberg that awaits the Titanic as those on board persuade themselves of their invincibility and pass the days in partying.