The New Evangelicalism

     This is the age of “isms'-some good, mostly bad!  One of the youngest members of Christendom's fold is called the New Evangelicalism.  It seeks neutral ground, being neither fish nor fowl, neither right nor left, neither for nor against–it stands between!

     Bible believing Christians would do well to beware of the New Evangelicalism for four valid reasons.  First, it is a movement born of compromise.  Secondly, it is a movement nurtured in pride of intellect.  Thirdly, it is a movement growing on appeasement of evil, and finally, it is a movement doomed by the judgment of God's holy Word.

The Father of New Evangelicalism

     Dr. Harold John Ockenga, pastor of Park Street Church, Boston, and first President of Fuller Theological Seminary, is the father of New Evangelicalism.  In order to avoid any charge of inaccuracy or mis-representation concerning the aims and identity of the leadership of the new neutralist movement, I shall quote at some length from a news release of Dr. Ockenga of December 8, 1957; “The New Evangelicalism is the latest dress of orthodoxy, as Neo-Orthodoxy is the latest expression of theological liberalism.  The New Evangelicalism differs from Fundamentalism in its willingness to handle the social problems, which Fundamentalism evaded.  There need be no dichotomy between the personal gospel and the social gospel.  The true Christian faith is a supernatural personal experience of salvation and social philosophy.  Doctrine and social ethics are Christian disciplines.  Fundamentalism abdicated leadership and responsibility in the societal realm and thus became impotent to change society or to solve social problems.  The New Evangelicalism adheres to all the orthodox teachings of Fundamentalism, but has evolved a social philosophy.”

Ockenga and the Infiltration Techniques

     Dr. Ockenga continues:  “The New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration.  Instead of static front battles, the new theological war is one of movement.  Instead of attack upon error, the New Evangelicals proclaim the great historical doctrines of Christianity.  The results have been phenomenal.  The New Evangelical is willing to face the intellectual problems and meet them in the framework of modern learning.  It stands doctrinally upon the creeds and confessions of the Church and grants liberty in minor areas when discussion is promoted on the basis of exegesis of Scripture.  The strategy of the New Evangelicalism is the positive proclamation of the truth in distinction from all errors without delving in personalities which embrace the error.  The evangelical believes that Christianity is intellectually defensible but the Christian cannot be obscurantist in scientific questions pertaining to the creation, the age of man, the universality of the flood, and other moot Biblical questions.  The evangelical attempts to apply Christian truth to every phase of life.  Since I first coined the phrase “The New Evangelicalism” at a convocation address at Fuller Theological Seminary ten years ago, the evangelical forces have been welded into an organization front.  First, there is the National Association of Evangelicals, which provides articulation for the movement on the denominational level. Second, there is World Evangelical Fellowship, which binds together these individual national associations of some twenty-six countries into a world organization.  Third, there is the new apologetic literature stating this point of view which is now flowing from the presses of the great publishers, including Macmillans and Harpers.  Fourth, there is the existence of Fuller Theological Seminary, and other evangelical seminaries, which are fully committed to orthodox Christianity and a resultant social philosophy.  Fifth, there is the establishment of Christianity Today, a bi-weekly publication to articulate the convictions of this movement.  Sixth, there is the appearance of an evangelist, Billy Graham, who on the mass level is the spokesman of the convictions and ideals of the New Evangelicalism.  The strength of this movement is recognized by the Christian Century, America's leading theologically liberal magazine, by its expression of fear that this movement may challenge the religious scene and change the religious climate in this nation.  The New Evangelical believes that Christ is the answer; that He must be understood in a Biblical framework, and He and His teachings must be applied to every realm of societal existence.”  We are grateful to Dr. Ockenga for giving us so clear a pattern for careful analysis of the movement.

Convictions of the Founder

     Dr. Ockenga, writing in the October-December (1954) issue of the bulletin of Fuller Theological Seminary as its recently retired president, said:  “Fundamentalism too often has been identified with peripheral emphasis on doctrine and method, thus forfeiting the right to being a synonym with evangelical.  For decades fundamentalism has proved itself impotent to change in the theological and ecclesiastical scene.  Its lack of influence has related it to the peripheral and subsidiary movements of Protestantism.  Whenever Fundamentalism and Modernism came into test in a theological struggle, Fundamentalism lost every battle in the historical field.  It has demonstrated little power to crack the social situation challenging the church today.  The motivating loyalty to fundamentalism on the part of many Christians lies in its orthodoxy, its faithfulness to the Word of God.  However, the judgment of history of fundamentalism is that it has failed.”

     We are glad that Dr. Ockenga, in spite of his repudiation of Fundamentalism, has credited it with loyalty to the Word of God.  We wonder, however, just what doctrine emphasis of fundamentalism the learned doctor considers unimportant!  His aversion to the New Testament doctrine of separation is evident in many of his public utterances.  It was upon the occasion of his inauguration as President of Fuller Seminary that he soundly rebuked the separationists and announced that Fuller would train men for ministry in the denominations.  Having taken that first step of appeasement toward his own Presbyterian Church (which church later forced his withdrawal from its ranks), it follows in course that he should rebuke those fundamentalists who still insist that emphasis on doctrine and orthodoxy amount to something more than “peripheral emphasis”.  Surely Dr. Ockenga did not think through the logical implication of his remarks, for if he no longer believes in those great New Testament doctrines for which fundamentalist contend, then what does he believe?  Must fundamentalism win a large proportion of the theological battles and reform the social order of this apostate age to prove that it is worthy of respect?