Has the Time Come for a New Neo-Evangelicalism?

Evangelicalism is not limited to America and evangelicalism is not limited to any one political ideology.

Journalists listen! “Evangelical” is a spiritual-theological identity not tied to any nation-state or political party or ideology! It exists throughout the world and there are more evangelicals in Africa than in the U.S.! Please stop treating evangelicalism as if it were the Republican Party at prayer. It is not and cannot be that!

 

A bit of history for those who are not already versed in the story of 20thcentury American evangelical Christianity. (And here let me put in a plug for Ryan Reeves’s Youtube video “The Rise of Evangelicalism.” You could spend worse 30 minutes than watching it.)

In 1942 a group of fundamentalist evangelicals (or evangelical fundamentalists) got together and formed a new umbrella organization called the National Association of Evangelicals. One of the founders was Boston-based pastor and religious leader Harold John Ockenga who was disillusioned with the anti-intellectual, anti-almost-everything ethos of American evangelical fundamentalism (or fundamentalist evangelicalism). Ockenga and friends invited Carl McIntire, well-known fundamentalist leader, to join but he declined.

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.*

Soon after the founding of the NAE came the rise of the Billy Graham empire. Graham associated himself with the NAE types more than the McIntire types. (McIntire had his own rival organization known as the American Council of Christian Churches which still exists. For the most part they are separatistic fundamentalists.) Then came the founding of Fuller Theological Seminary, which also was unofficially related to the NAE, and Christianity Today magazine.

In 1947 Carl F. H. Henry, who earned two doctorates in theology including one from Boston University, published a landmark book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. This came to serve as a manifesto of the break within American evangelicalism between fundamentalists and so-called “neo-evangelicals.” (There is much debate over who first coined the label “neo-evangelical” and I have discussed that here before; my conclusion is nobody knows for sure.)

The neo-evangelicals were postfundamentalist orthodox Protestant Christians with a pietistic (irenic) ethos rather than a “fighting fundy” ethos. Of course, to mainline, liberal Protestants they were fundamentalists, but to fundamentalists they were liberals. That made them somewhat pleased with themselves. (I know because I grew up among them personally knowing many of the founders of the movement such as Bernard Ramm, Carl Henry, Donald Bloesch and others.)

The postfundamentalist, neo-evangelicals eventually dropped the “neo-“ and called themselves simply “evangelicals.” When I was studying in a moderate evangelical seminary in the 1970s a major point of the president and professors was that we were evangelicals but not fundamentalists.

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