Understanding New
(Neo) Evangelicalism


Eight Dangerous Trends Announced in Christian Life Magazine

The following is taken from a very significant article published in the Christian Life Magazine (March 1956) entitled, "Is Evangelical Theology Changing?" The eight points in this article proved to be an accurate prediction of what soon was to be known as the "new evangelicalism" (sometimes called "neo-evangelicalism"). Here are the characteristics of this "new movement" as quoted directly from the article:

  1. A Friendly Attitude Toward Science.
  2. A Willingness to Re-examine Beliefs Concerning the Work of the Holy Spirit (especially in relationship to holiness experiences, a second blessing sometime after conversion, speaking in tongues, and healing).
  3. A More Tolerant Attitude Toward Varying Views on Eschatology (a questioning of the premillennial and pretribulational position).
  4. A Shift Away From So-Called Extreme Dispensationalism. "The trend today is away from dispensationalism--away from the Scofield Notes...in fact, many...rarely use the word dispensation now."
  5. An Increased Emphasis on Scholarship.
  6. A More Definite Recognition of Social Responsibility.
  7. A Re-Opening of the Subject of Biblical Inspiration.
  8. A Growing Willingness of Evangelical Theologians to Converse with Liberal Theologians. "An evangelical can...profitably engage in an exchange of ideas with men who are not evangelicals."

Harold Ockenga's Summary of Neo-Evangelicalism

The term "Neo-evangelicalism" was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which Harold Ockenga gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. Ockenga considered himself a neo-evangelical in light of his own definition of the term. In the Foreword to the book The Battle For the Bible by Harold Lindsell, Harold Ockenga summarized the three main characteristics of Neo-Evangelicalism:

  1. A Repudiation of Separation.
  2. A Summons to Social Involvement (see point #6 above).
  3. A Determination to Engage in the Theological Dialogue of the Day (see point #8 above).
In the above documentation (from Christian Life Magazine and from Harold Ockenga), we have seen how New Evangelicalism has been defined historically by men who have identified themselves as new evangelical. In the rest of this paper we will consider how this movement is defined and identified by respected Bible believing men.


CHARACTERISTICS of New Evangelicalism

The following is taken from the class notes of a seminary course taught by Dr. John C. Whitcomb dealing with modern religious movements:

  1. A calling into question of the basic significance, or even the validity, of the doctrine of the verbal inerrancy of Scripture.
  2. A conscious desire for intellectual prestige and sophistication, for "re-thinking" Christian doctrines with a view toward modifying them for the benefit of the "modern mind," for entering into "communication" and "dialogue" with non-evangelical leaders and thinkers, and an elevation of "love" above doctrine.
  3. An emphasis upon "ecumenism" among all born-again Christians with corresponding avoidance of doctrines upon which all Christians are not agreed and of ordinances that are distinctive.
  4. A new emphasis upon the responsibility of Christians to participate in various social programs and to make direct contributions to purely humanitarian and philanthropic enterprises.
  5. Startling concessions to modern theories of organic evolution and geologic uniformitarianism, at the expense of a consistent historical-grammatical interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis.
  6. A shift from dispensational premillennialism to some form of "historic" premillennialism, together with a minimizing of the importance of eschatology in general.
  7. A shift in emphasis regarding charismatic gifts. "Pentecostalism may be right after all!" Desperate, short-cut, direct techniques to get something done or to have an experience.


SYMPTOMS of New Evangelicalism

The following is taken from the booklet, The Challenge of a New Religion, by Pastor Carlton Helgerson:

  1. Any slanting of the gospel that omits the need for atonement by the shedding of blood.
  2. A sentiment that regards as important only the Bible passages that directly relate to redemption.
  3. An evident hesitancy to be against anything, or to take a definite stand against apostasy.
  4. Ignorance of, or the disregarding of, the doctrine of separation, especially as it applies to separation from willfully disobedient professing Christians (2 Thessalonians 3:6,14-15).
  5. A pathetic dread of being in a small religious minority and a fear of not being considered broadminded.
  6. An inordinate admiration for novel methods and the latest versions of the Bible.
  7. The justifying of questionable methods in missions or evangelism by pointing to successes, e.g. the popularity of the enterprise, numbers, "conversions," etc.
  8. The absence of awe before the written Word of God, making human reasoning the arbiter.
  9. An avoidance of the unpopular Biblical doctrines of vicarious atonement, separation, judgment, hell, etc.
  10. An acquiescence to mixture in association and practice, and an accommodation to popular moods.



The following is taken from Dr. George Houghton's article entitled, "Another Look at the New Evangelicalism" ( Faith Pulpit, May/June 2002, a Faith Baptist Theological Seminary publication):

Today, as we are now in the twenty-first century, and a few generations separate us from the beginnings of the new evangelicalism, there are some from within fundamentalist circles who are saying, "New evangelicalism was at one time a reality, but today it is non-existent (or at least, not a formidable foe any longer)." Is this really accurate? The answer to that is an emphatic, "No!" The issue is not the term "new evangelicalism." Terms come and go. The question is, "Are the issues and attitudes raised by the new evangelicalism gone?" And, again, the answer is an emphatic "No!"

This is seen today in several areas.

(1) The rapid rise of the church marketing movement from the early 1990s to the present with its emphasis upon relationships and experience, drama and contemporary music, to reach and hold people. The Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois, has a Willow Creek Association of many other churches (into the hundreds) which are following the Willow Creek model.

(2) The positive response of evangelicals to the programs and ministry of Robert Schuller and his Crystal Cathedral.

(3) The broad acceptance (or at least toleration) of the Contemporary Christian Music movement and rejection of fundamentalism’s personal separation standards, so that Charisma magazine (April 1997, 26ff.) could write that "British Christians Use Techno-Dance to Reach Youth." Their article talked about alternative worship services, evangelistic night clubs and "a revolutionary Christian dance movement." In describing this, the article said "strobe lighting, smoke effects, DJs, dancers, Celtic music and tribal rhythms were served up for this worship feast. The trend can be found everywhere."

(4) The influence of the apologetic writings and lecturing of Dr. Hugh Ross, who teaches that the earth is billions of years old, and began with a "big bang," that death and degeneration existed in the beginning and have continued for billions of years, and that neither the fall to sin nor the flood resulted in significant physical changes in nature.

(5) The positive attitude of many evangelicals toward the charismatic movement, especially as it is seen in the signs-and-wonders movement.

(6) The acceptance of religious teachers and institutions which have not held the line on belief in eternal punishment. Fuller Seminary modified its doctrinal statement in this area, and individuals like Clark Pinnock have opened the door to people hearing the gospel after death and having a chance to respond positively, or hell being viewed as annihilation.

(7) The hearing being given in evangelical circles to "the openness of God" concept which rejects His absolute foreknowledge, among other things.

(8) The toleration by some evangelicals—especially in academic settings—of deviant sexual lifestyles, particularly homosexuality.

(9) The willingness of evangelical publishers to publish works which allow for aspects of higher critical views of the Bible, including redaction criticism, in interpreting the life of Christ in the Gospel accounts.

(10) The broad acceptance of the Promise-Keepers movement, even though it tolerates working with Roman Catholics and has strong charismatic overtones.

(11) The willingness of major evangelical leaders to sign their names to the "Evangelicals and Catholics Together" document, and still others to sign the later statement entitled "The Gift of Salvation." While recognizing traditional differences (including sacramentalism), there is the willingness to call each other "brothers in Christ."

(12) The belief by some evangelicals that the head of the Roman Catholic Church, the Pope, is an evangelical.

If those attitudes and issues do not seem to be of such concern today, it is only because the new evangelical position has become mainstreamed into many Bible-believing circles to the extent that speaking against them puts one in a rather small minority. Issues such as ecumenical evangelism are still very significant today, but we hear little about them because many whose voices might at one time have spoken out in opposition have been quieted by a changed or at least a relaxed position. The new evangelical attitude has become so prevalent that one may be tempted to tolerate it as inevitable and normal.


God's Truth Contrasted
With Man's Thinking

John 14:6

Proverbs 14:12
Truth is absolute!
(John 17:17).
Truth is relative.
Compare John 18:38.
Dogmatic (Mark 1:22) Uncertain
"I'm not really sure."
Secure (Eph. 4:13-14; Col. 2:7; Matthew 7:24-25). Insecure and tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14).
Positive—"The mouth of the LORD hath spoken it" (Isaiah 40:5;  compare Psalm 119:89). Probable—"This is my view...." "I think it means this...." "But that's your interpretation...."
Dealing with fact
(Isaiah 40:8)
Dealing with opinions and conjecture
"Thus saith the LORD!"
(compare Romans 4:3)
"Hath God said?"
(Genesis 3:1-3)
Complete subjection to the Word: "God said it! That settles it! I believe it!" (Colossians 3:16; Psalm 1:1-3) Constant objection to the Word: "But science says..." "But look at the results..." "But that's being-narrow minded..." "But I don't like that verse..."
Motivated by objective truth
(2 Corinthians 5:7; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 20:29; Colossians 2:6).
Motivated by subjective feeling and personal experiences: "It must be true because it happened to me. I've experienced it!"
Assurance: "I know so because God said so!"
(1 John 5:13; 2 Peter 1:19-21).
(Luke 24:19-27)
All of God's Word is essential (2 Timothy 3:16; Matthew 4:4) Some doctrines are unimportant, minor, and very divisive.
Obedience: If God said so, it's good
(1 Samuel 15; John 14:15,21-24).
Pragmatism: If it works, it's good.  "If I'm successful and getting results, I must be right."
A man must "strive lawfully" by obeying the rules of the game and by following God's Rulebook, the Bible (2 Timothy 2:5). The end justifies the means (Jesuit Casuistry). "But look at the souls that will be saved!" "But look at the good that will come!"
Revelational Ethics
(Actions governed by God's Word).
Psalm 119:11,105
Situational Ethics
(Actions governed by circumstances).
Compare Matthew 22:23-29
(1 Corinthians 5:6)
(Ezra 9:1-4)
(2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1)
(2 Chronicles 19:2)
God's thinking
(Isaiah 55:8-9)
Man's thinking
(Matthew 16:22-23)
The wisdom of God
(1 Corinthians 1:18-25)
The wisdom of men
(Jeremiah 9:23,24)
The mind of Christ
(1 Cor. 2:15-16; Phil. 2:5)
The philosophy of men
(compare Colossians 2:8)
(Romans 11:36)
God's Glory as its priority (Isaiah 43:7; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

The chief purpose in all that God does is His glory, which is the demonstration, manifestation and revelation of who He is!

The salvation of souls (or anything else that may be elevated above God's glory) as its priority. When soteriology (salvation) is placed above everything else, it makes man, not God, the center of one's theology.

See Joshua 4:24; 1 Samuel 17:46; 1 Kings 8:43; 2 Kings 19:19; Ezekiel 36:21-23; Ephesians 1:6,12,14; 2:7; 3:10,21. The redemption of man is one of the chief means by which God is accomplishing His ultimate objective of bringing GLORY to Himself. It must never be thought of as an end in itself (Rom. 9:22,23).

John 14:6

Proverbs 14:12

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