The Future of Evangelical
A Call for Unity Amid Diversity
© 1983 Donald G.
Doubleday & Company || Garden City, New York
All Rights Reserved
BR 1640 .B56 1983 ~ Dewey: 270.8/2 ~ LCCN: 82045519 ~ OCLC: 924809786 ~ 202p.
The Future of Evangelical Christianity is presently held by 428 libraries including Yale University and Gordon College
To Brenda, My Partner in Ministry
TABLE OF CONTENTS
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ... iv
FOREWORD ... vii
I. INTRODUCTION ... 1
II. THE PROBLEM OF EVANGELICAL IDENTITY ... 8
Evangelicalism in Crisis ... 9
Current Misunderstandings ... 11
Redefining "Evangelical" ... 14
Evangelicalism, Orthodoxy and Fundamentalism ... 20
III. THE NEW CONSERVATISM
Fundamentalism ... 24
Neoevangelicalism ... 35
Confessionalist Evangelicalism ... 35
Charismatic Religion ... 38
Neo-Orthodoxy ... 43
Catholic Evangelicalism ... 48
The Road Ahead ... 52
IV. EVANGELICAL DISUNITY
The Present Situation ... 56
The Scandal of Disunity ... 64
The Ideological Temptation ... 67
Types of Ideology ... 69
The Need to Resist Ideology ... 75
The Growing Church Conflict ... 79
V. PATHWAYS TO EVANGELICAL OBLIVION ... 84
Restorationism ... 85
Separatism ... 92
Accommodationism ... 97
Revisionist versus Confessional Theology ... 106
VI. TOWARD THE RECOVERY OF EVANGELICAL FAITH ... 111
Reclaiming Historical Roots ... 112
New Statements on Biblical Authority ... 117
Breakthroughs in Theological Methodology ... 121
Fresh Confessions of Faith ... 124
A Viable Doctrine of the Church ... 127
A Biblical, Evangelical Spirituality ... 131
Rediscovering Ethical Imperatives ... 134
Overcoming Polarization on the Women's Issue ... 141
Renewal Through Biblical Preaching ... 145
A Biblical and Relevant Eschatology ... 147
Promise of Renewal ... 150
NOTES ... 153
Subject ... 193
Name ... 196
Scripture ... 200
I WISH TO ACKNOWLEDGE the substantial help that I have received from my wife Brenda, particularly in her role as a copy editor of this book. I am grateful to Joseph Mihelic and Donald McKim, my colleagues at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary, and to Roger Nicole, Clark Pinnock, Gerald Sanders and Kenneth Kantzer for providing important information and advice. As usual, Edith Baule of our seminary of our seminary library staff has given invaluable assistance in obtaining books and checking publishing data. James Gingery, our newly appointed seminary reference librarian, Mary Anne Knefel and Duane Cavins have also been immensely helpful in this area. Finally, I want to thank Peg Saunders, our faculty secretary, for her painstaking typing of this and many other manuscripts in the past.
Some of the material in this book has been presented in the form of lectures at a Presbyterian Pastors' Conference at Hope Presbyterian Church in Spicer, Minnesota; a workshop at the First Covenant Church in Omaha, Nebraska; a Reformed Pastors' Conference at Trinity Reformed Church in Fulton, Illinois; the Board of Directors' National Meeting of the National Association of Evangelicals in Chicago; and the following schools: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Winebrenner Theological Seminary, Wheaton College, Asbury Theological Seminary, Rockford College, Central Baptist Theological Seminary and Northern Baptist Theological Seminary.
I HAVE BEEN LED to write this book for several reasons. First, I wish to defend the thesis that evangelicalism today exists as a cohesive, growing movement and must therefore be taken seriously by the church at large, both Catholic and Protestant. Despite its tensions and schisms, it has an inner theological unity in the midst of external theological and cultural diversity. Those who claim to be evangelical today generally have a solid historical basis for doing so. At the same time, they tend to exclude some who also have biblical credentials and to include some whose fidelity to the faith of the Scriptures and the Reformation is suspect.
Most people who stand in the heritage of the Reformation have at least one foot in evangelicalism. Yet many of these people are unwilling to associate themselves with the evangelical renewal movement. Some are undoubtedly reluctant because any show of support for the evangelical cause might result in the loss of academic or social respectability. Others, who have a genuine fear of sectarianism, see the evangelical movement as promoting divisiveness in the churches.
I identify myself as an evangelical because I definitely share in the vision of the Reformers, Pietists and Puritans of a church under the banner of the gospel seeking to convert a world under the spell of the powers of darkness to the kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. I have moved in this direction from an earlier fascination with existentialism, for I believe that the rediscovery of the gospel
is the key to the renewal of the church in our day. Though painfully aware of the current heterodoxies which give a distorted picture of evangelicalism, I am happy to note that the greatest theologians of Protestantism in the twentieth century have identified themselves as evangelical: P.T. Forsyth, Benjamin Warfield, Karl Barth, Helmut Thielicke, G.C. Berkouwer and Emil Brunner. The obvious disagreements among these giants of modern evangelicalism are overshadowed by what they have in common: an unswerving commitment to the biblical message of salvation through the grace of God revealed and fulfilled in Jesus Christ, in his sacrificial life and death and in his glorious resurrection.
It is possible to speak, as does Clark Pinnock, of a growing divide in theology today between a reborn evangelicalism and a chastened liberalism, paralleling the conflict between fundamentalism and modernism in the earlier part of this century.1 We certainly need to remember that not all theology accepts the gospel as a revelation of God; instead, it is often understood as the product of human faith and experience. I do not agree with some of my neoevangelical friends, however, when they argue that the gospel needs to be shored up or validated by external evidence. The Word of God is self-authenticating, though its claims can be made more clear and intelligible by an enlightened reason in the service of faith.
The common distinction today between "mainline" and "evangelical" is sociological, not theological. I myself stand in a mainline Protestant denomination, but I am committed to evangelical theology.
A growing number of Roman Catholics wish to be known as evangelical, theologically speaking, but culturally and sociologically they belong in another camp. I agree with Howard Snyder: "Evangelical Christianity today is more than a group of theologically conservative churches. It is decreasingly a specific branch of Western Protestantism and increasingly a transconfessional movement for biblical Christianity within the worldwide Church of Jesus Christ."2 In this book, I try to show that the evangelical movement has a distinctive theological thrust and undergirding.
A second reason for writing this book is to warn my fellow evangelicals of dangers that could disrupt and splinter this renewal movement. I explore the openness of a growing number of Protestant
evangelicals to Catholicism,* seeing in this reason for hope as well as for uneasiness. I have no compunction in referring to myself as a catholic evangelical, because I recognize the need for cultus, liturgy and sacraments in addition to personal piety and a love for the Scriptures. The current fascination with Catholicism among many evangelicals is an understandable reaction against individualism and rational empiricism. Yet there is the everpresent danger of a new heteronomy, of viewing the church as a mediator of salvation, of making church tradition equal to Scripture. We would be wise to maintain a certain critical stance toward catholicizing tendencies within Protestantism; at the same time, we are called to discover anew the catholicity of Protestantism.
I also address myself to the other kind of heteronomy, which is more germane to Protestantism than Catholicism the tendency to absolutize the Bible as a book. When an absolute equation is made between the words of the Bible and the divine revelation, the Word of God is placed in the power of man, since words and propositions can be mastered by reason. I do not wish to deny the propositional dimension of revelation; the divine meaning shines through the propositions set forth in Scripture, but it is not encased in these propositions nor in any human formulas. Many evangelicals, in their antipathy to mysticism and existentialism, are hardening into a new rationalism and biblicism. A.W. Tozer has ventured to predict that the conflict in the future will be between evangelical rationalism and evangelical mysticism.
I am not among those who wish to give up inerrancy and infallibility when applied to Scripture, but I believe that we need to be much more circumspect in our use of these and related terms. Scripture is without error in a fundamental sense, but we need to explore what this sense is. Evangelicalism must not be confused with an obscurantist fundamentalism, though all evangelicals should be fundamental in the sense of holding to the fundamentals of the historic faith of the church.
Finally, I try in this book to build bridges between the various strands of evangelicalism and also between evangelical Protestantism and the Catholic churches. At the same time, I point out where
* Whenever the word Catholicism is used, it refers to the beliefs and practices shared by the Roman, Eastern Orthodox, and Anglo-Catholic churches, unless the context indicates otherwise.
bridges cannot be built, where compromise is out of the question. I write with the firm conviction that evangelicalism can have a bright future if it seeks to be a unifying rather than a divisive force within world Christianity. Yet I recognize the fact that real unity entails an accord on doctrinal essentials as well as fellowship in the spirit. Love and truth need to be united, and we should not rest until we reach this goal.
There is an unfortunate tendency among some of us to "look down" upon theology and theologians! ... I have heard some young people say: "I don't need any theology!" How ridiculous! They don't need to study about God?
Evangelicals are to be known in the world as the bearers of good news in message and life the good news that God offers new life on the ground of Christ's death and resurrection .... The apostles did not go out into the world preaching ... scriptural inerrancy, or a premillennial kingdom, or some of the other things that are made the foremost issues today.
There is hardly a Church that has not suffered from its success. And when I say suffered, I mean it has suffered in its power of witnessing [to] the Gospel. It has gained comfort, affluence, and influence, but it has lost its prophetic soul, it has fallen from its apostolic insight and succession.
There can only be a church as a Confessing Church, i.e. as a church which confesses itself to be for its Lord and against its enemies. A church without a confession or free from one is not a church, but a sect, and makes itself master of the Bible and the Word of God.
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel. It is the saving power of God for everyone who has faith ... because here is revealed God's way of righting wrong, a way that starts from faith and ends in faith; as Scripture says, "he shall gain life who is justified through faith."
Romans 1:16-17 NEB
Every true progress in theology is conditioned by a deeper study and understanding of the Word of God, which is ever ... renewing the Church, and will ever remain the infallible and inexhaustible fountain of revealed truth.
Some even talk of being saved by Christianity, instead of by the only thing that could possibly save us, the anguish and love of God.
WILFRED CANTWELL SMITH
Christianity can endure, not by surrendering itself to the modern mind and modern culture, but rather by a break with it: the condition of a long future both for culture and the soul is the Christianity which antagonizes culture without denying its place.
IT IS COMMONPLACE, especially in establishment circles, to label any resurgence of biblical Christianity as "fundamentalist." Fundamentalism is a clearly defined movement within the church, and it is on the uprise today. Yet what is occurring as well is a reemergence of classical evangelicalism, and this poses a definite threat not only to fundamentalism but also and even more to liberalism.
Liberal religion is on the defensive today, despite the fact that its hold on the divinity schools of the great universities and the seminaries of most mainline denominations remains virtually intact. Even in these bastions of higher theological education, there is unquestionably a mounting interest in orthodoxy, particularly among the students. As a spiritual movement within the churches, liberalism is slowly but surely giving way to both classical evangelicalism and fundamentalism. The spell that it casts over the secular culture is still significant, though that too is eroding.
Evangelicalism is making a dramatic comeback in the mainline churches, but shadows loom on the horizon. A backlash against the evangelical boom is painfully evident. Among Lutherans, there is an increasing emphasis on baptismal regeneration, thus downplaying the need for personal decision. Among Reformed and Presbyterians, being born into the covenant community is often accorded greater value than either baptism or conversion. A bias against evangelicalism is also apparent in the new interpretation of mission as the self-development of deprived peoples or simply as the announcement of unconditional grace rather than the conversion of the spiritually lost. Reformed Christianity stresses ecclesia semper reformanda (the church always being reformed), but unless this is constantly seen in the light of the gospel, it invariably leads to latitudinarianism. Other ominous signs are the retreat into liturgy, the emphasis on the experiential over the cognitive in Christian education and the elevation of community consensus over biblical authority.1
Such developments only serve to intensify the growing reaction in lay circles against creeping formalism in church life and worship as well as against narrow denominationalism. The attraction for the electronic church among laity in the mainline churches is due in part to a thirst for biblical truth. Unfortunately, the hopes of many have
been disappointed by the abysmal lack of solid biblical teaching on the part of the media preachers.
Evangelicalism as a spiritual renewal movement in the churches today cannot be adequately understood apart from its uneasy relationship to liberal Christianity. Religious liberalism, with its roots in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, stresses the infinite possibilities of man. It sees the Christian life as a process of growth into salvation which is redefined as spiritual maturity. Evangelical Christianity, on the contrary, which is anchored in Paul, Augustine and the Reformation, underlines the total depravity of man, his utter helplessness to save himself in the face of the vitiating power of sin. It regards salvation as a crisis by which one is transported from spiritual death into spiritual life.
One of the chief spiritual mentors of modern liberalism in its American guise is Ralph Waldo Emerson, with his romantic, optimistic view of human potentiality. A leading figure in the modern age who reflects the concerns of historical evangelical religion is Soren Kierkegaard, with his emphasis on Christ as both Savior from sin and Pattern for righteous living.2 There is no doubt that Emerson's influence far exceeds that of Kierkegaard in popular American religion and culture, even among many of those who call themselves evangelical. Yet this may be changing, as the children of the evangelical revival are beginning to dig into the historical sources of their faith and rediscover the saints of biblical Christianity Athanasius, Augustine, Calvin, Luther and Wesley.
In my opinion, the movement that presently bears the name evangelical stands in unmistakable continuity with the classical tradition of evangelicalism. At the same time, this is a broken continuity, for some are included as evangelical who are really Pelagian or semi-Pelagian, and some are excluded simply because they doubt the appropriateness of the term "inerrancy" when applied to Scripture. The word "evangelical" needs to be deepened and expanded if we are to do justice to the rich heritage it represents.
Evangelical, as used in this book, signifies an emphasis within Christendom or historic Christianity, one that intends to include as well as exclude. Its specific reference is to the doctrinal content of the gospel itself, with the focus on the vicarious, atoning sacrifice of Christ, on the unsurpassable grace of God revealed in Christ, which is laid hold of not by works of the law but by faith alone (Romans 3:21-28;
Colossians 2:11-14; Ephesians 2:4-8).3 All Christianity will contain an evangelical element; otherwise the very claim to be Christian would be suspect. At the same time, the word "evangelical" is best reserved for that segment of Christianity that makes the proclamation of the biblical gospel its chief concern, that appeals to this gospel in its biblical setting as the final arbiter for faith and practice. Only the kind of preaching that celebrates the victory of Christ over sin and death and calls people to repentance and decision in the light of this victory can appropriately be designated as evangelical.
Today the battle is over biblical authority. Because Holy Scripture in all its parts witnesses to God's self-revelation in Jesus Christ, because the gospel of what God has done in Christ comprises the divine content of Scripture, evangelicals stress Scripture in its unity with the Spirit as the ruling norm (cf. John 5:46; 10:35; Romans 16:25-26; 1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Peter 1:10-12; 2 Peter 1:20-21; 2 Timothy 3:15-16). All other norms church councils, papal decrees, confessions, conscience and religious experience are derivative from this higher norm. All are subordinate to the living Word of God attested to and revealed in Scripture.
Liberal Christianity, on the other hand, tends to read Scripture in the light of the wisdom and experience of modern culture. The truth of Scripture is judged on how it accords with the spirit of modernity. As a result, attention is focused no longer on the remission of sins through the stoning death and glorious resurrection of Christ but on any number of other things character development, the cultivation of God-consciousness, salvation through education, psychological wholeness, existential commitment, social revolution, etc. The question is: Can this in any way be included under the rubric of evangelical religion, the faith of the apostles and Reformers? I am convinced that religious liberalism is basically incompatible with evangelical Christianity, though this is not to deny that it contains Christian elements. I also do not wish to preclude the very real possibility that some liberals who entertain a philosophy that stands at variance with biblical Christianity may still have an evangelical heart, i.e., they still may be in inward communion with the Christ whom they misunderstand. It is well to note that a growing number of revisionist theologians, including David Tracy4 and Rosemary Ruether, readily acknowledge the tensions between their positions and historical evangelical religion.
I prefer the term "Evangelical Christianity" over "Evangelical Protestantism," because the evangelical thrust cuts across all denominational and confessional lines. Evangelical Christianity is not the only form of Christianity, but it is the truest and purest form. Yet it cannot stand by itself. The evangelical emphasis is not complete apart from structure and cultus. The evangelical message cannot maintain itself apart from the catholic concern with tradition and the means of grace. This is why the most authentic kind of evangelicalism is a catholic evangelicalism, and the purest form of catholicism is an evangelical catholicism.
An attempt is made in this book to differentiate the transcendent content of evangelical Christianity from its ideological form. Just as the gospel transcends and negates every formulation and witness to it,5 so the true evangelicalism transcends and negates evangelicalism as a movement or party within the church. The gospel stands in judgment over all human ideologies, including the ideology of cultural evangelicalism.
In its ideal form, evangelicalism is a movement that points beyond itself to the gospel, a movement whose primary concern is to glorify not itself, its forms of worship, its doctrinal platform, its leading personalities but instead the message of the cross. The apostle Paul expresses what should be the sentiments of all evangelicals: "God forbid that I should glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world" (Galatians 6:14 NKJ).
Evangelical Christianity is the true orthodoxy. Yet it is not an orthodoxy bent on preserving its own sacred traditions but one that uses these traditions to advance the cause of the gospel in the world today. Evangelical Christianity, in contrast to formalistic orthodoxy, seeks to lose itself for the sake for the salvation of the world.
Evangelicalism today presents the paradoxical picture of an emerging alliance of born-again Christians drawn from all communions and a movement rent by growing schism. Yet although there are centrifugal forces pulling evangelicals apart, there is also a unifying power bringing them back together. The key to evangelical unity lies in a common commitment to Jesus Christ as the divine Savior from sin, a common purpose to fulfill the great commission and a common acknowledgment of the absolute normativeness of Holy Scripture. Evangelicals of all stripes confess to an underlying affinity
with their fellow believers no matter what their ethnic, denominational or confessional background. Evangelicalism may indeed be the ecumenical movement of the future because of this capacity to transcend age-old denominational and creedal barriers.
In the area of ethics, there is a developing consensus among evangelicals concerning the critical moral issues of our time. From the far right to the left, evangelicals find themselves in an unforeseen unity in their opposition to abortion on demand, pornography, euthanasia, and homosexuality as a valid alternative life-style. They are also increasingly acknowledging the sinfulness of divorce, a malady that has penetrated the evangelical as well as the secular world, though not to the same degree. Moreover, there is a growing agreement on the evils of nuclear and biochemical warfare. Billy Graham has become one of the leading voices on behalf of world peace.
A persistent temptation of modern evangelicalism is to rely on human strategy and technique in carrying out the great commission to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20). Evangelicalism needs to break out of its ideological bondage to technological materialism and affirm once again the freedom of the gospel. The Word of God makes its own way in the world. It calls for our acclamation and honor but not for any undergirding to insure its success.
Jesus Christ does not need our aid, but he wishes to enlist us in his service. He does not need to be bolstered by our feeble efforts, but he invites us to share in his victory. He alone procures the victory over sin and death, but we can proclaim and celebrate what he has done. We can also cooperate with the Spirit of God in manifesting and extending this victory. We are the beneficiaries, not the causes, of this victory; at the same time, we can be instruments of the Spirit as he carries the impact of the reconciling and redemptive work of Christ into the world.
Even more dangerous than the desire to accommodate to worldly patterns of success is the pretension to possess the treasure of the gospel. The evangelical church has been as guilty of this as the Roman Catholic Church. We need to recover the biblical truth that we as Christians can never be masters but only servants of the Word. We can prepare the way, but we cannot force God to yield the treasure of salvation (neither through importunate prayer nor meritorious works). God will act in his own time and way, and sometimes he will act despite, even against, all our efforts and strategies.
Evangelicals today can best serve the cause of the gospel by refusing to join their liberal colleagues in trying to make the Christian religion credible or palatable to the "man come of age." Instead, they should try to regain the robust confidence of Calvin, Wesley and Whitefield, a confidence in the gospel itself to convert and renew. This does not mean that the gospel should be thrown at the world like a stone (an accusation leveled at the early Barth), but it does mean that the gospel should not be converted into a bridge that rests partly on worldly wisdom. The message of the cross will always confound the wisdom of the philosophers. As Paul so dramatically put it: "Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God" (1 Corinthians 1:22-24 RSV; cf. 17-18).
Rather than a bridge, the gospel is more appropriately likened to a battering ram than breaks down the defenses of the city of the world. It employs, moreover, a definite strategy and has a specific aim. Those whom the Word commissions do not hesitate to make use of the prevailing thought forms and symbols of a culture in order to challenge its pretensions. There cannot be theological points of contact between the gospel and the world, but there must be sociological and cultural points of contact. We must speak the language of our age even while seeking to overthrow its follies and superstitions.
The question today is what branch of Christendom can best survive in the uncertain future before us. Much conflicting advice is being given. Some counsel that we as Christians must learn to bend with the times. Others advise a retreat to a confessional stance of the past. Still others advocate a minimizing of doctrine and an elevation of liturgy and priestly ministrations.
It is my position that the future belongs to that branch of Christendom that is willing to make itself expendable for the sake of the evangelization of the world to the greater glory of God. This may well involve the death of denominations, even of mission boards and agencies, for the life of the paganized masses in the West and East.
II. The Problem of Evangelical Identity
Between the man who is bound to a God in heaven, and another who knows nothing of this bond, there is a contrast deeper than all other contrasts which separate men from men.
Christianity is not the sacrifice we make, but the sacrifice we trust; not the victory we win, but the victory we inherit. That is the evangelical principle.
What disturbs me most about modern fundamentalism is its lack of spirituality, its utter carnality.
D. MARTYN LLOYD-JONES
Fundamentalism and orthodoxy in general are a petrification of Christianity; and modernism and all doctrines of immanence are its dissolution.
THE EVANGELICAL RESURGENCE forges ahead as conservative Protestant bodies gain in membership while the mainline denominations, including Roman Catholicism, barely hold their own in the light of the population increase or actually suffer losses in membership. Evangelicalism had one of its own in the White House in the person of Jimmy Carter, and its influence is also discernible in the Reagan administration.
While the evangelical renaissance continues, the term "evangelical" remains fluid. Even in the ranks of the far right, there is an amazing lack of consensus on what "evangelical" really implies.
In some strands of evangelicalism, there is an emphasis on experience over doctrine. We hear much of the "born-again experience" or the "experience of Pentecost," but very little of the need for correct theology and sacramental integrity. Evangelicals associated with the "New Pietism" frequently denigrate scholarship, especially in the area of theological and biblical studies. What they value is "relational theology," which focuses on cultivating a personal awareness of God and growing toward psychological and spiritual maturity.
Quite common in experientialist religion is a stress on extraordinary signs of having received the Holy Spirit. Miracles of healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy are considered integral aspects of the life of a church based on the "full gospel." Where these extraordinary gifts are lacking, it is said, there is no fullness of the Spirit.
In other branches of evangelicalism, the focus is on biblical inerrancy and the need for rational corroboration of the claims of faith. Thus epistemology, not soteriology, becomes the watershed of evangelical faith.1 Such a position betrays its distance from the Protestant Reformation, from early Protestant orthodoxy, and also from Pietism and Puritanism.
Modern evangelicalism is confronted with the embarrassing fact that its special emphases reveal considerable theological immaturity and even theological heterodoxy rather than dynamic, vibrant orthodoxy. Many of the cults and sects claim the signs, the special experiences, even inerrancy, yet their doctrines are manifestly unbiblical. The United Pentecostals, the Way, the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Moonies, and the Christadelphians are obvious examples. Several of
these groups are avowedly anti-Trinitarian. A further cause for embarrassment is the number of celebrities who claim the so-called evangelical experience and yet whose lives testify against the truth of their experience.
Although evangelicalism constantly warns against the encroachment of worldliness, its accommodation to cultural norms and values is almost as noticeable as in liberalism. While it has been eager to maintain sharp lines of distinction from liberal theology, it has been too ready to come to terms with the technocratic mentality of our age. Busyness is considered more important than being in the truth, activism more commendable than contemplation. Evangelism is regarded as a technique to be mastered, not as a surprising movement of the Spirit into which one is caught. Professors in evangelical colleges and seminaries are esteemed more as transmitters than as thinkers. Original, creative scholarship meets with suspicion in many of these circles. Significantly, many evangelical institutions of higher learning do not even grant sabbaticals to their faculties.
The electronic church, which is consciously evangelical, generally features those who are seen as successful according to the standards of a consumerist, technological culture. Sin is often portrayed as failure to make something of oneself rather than as revolt against God. With their emphasis on happiness and prosperity through faith in God, the electronic preachers tend to confirm the bourgeoisie in their complacency rather than convert people to a new way of thinking and living that calls into question the commonly accepted values of the technological society.2
The alliance of a major segment of evangelicalism with the political right is likewise a cause for concern on the part of those who affirm biblical Christianity.3 Here the principal enemy is secular humanism, but there is no comparable prophetic indictment of technological materialism or nationalism. Far-right evangelicals often assail humanism as antifamily and propornography, but they tend to overlook the fact that at least some so-called secular humanists are actively engaged in combating evils of this kind.4 Because of its stress on the autonomy and infinite possibilities of mankind, secular humanism (a life- and world-view having its roots in the Renaissance and the Enlightenment) does pose a serious challenge to the Christian understanding of life and traditional Christian values.5 But secular humanism is not the only enemy, and it may not always be the principal enemy.6
Those who are sometimes known as "young evangelicals" often display a similar imbalance in their uncritical fascination with left-wing ideologies. For them the enemy is big business and capitalism; the shortcomings of socialism remain virtually unheeded. Their tirades against Anglo-American imperialism, without any comparable indictments of international Communist subversion, can only give comfort to the Soviet Union and its allies. This one-sided approach can also destroy the impact of their sometimes valid critiques of Western society.
Evangelicalism is in crisis not only because of its theological immaturity and isolation and its ideological coloration but also because of its marked sectarian propensity. It is inclined to function as a party within the church that promotes its own particular interests rather than as a genuine movement of renewal that is ready to sacrifice itself for the good of the wider church. A sectarian mentality exacerbates the tensions within the church by elevating nonessentials, whereas a catholic mentality binds the wounds of the church by focusing attention on essentials. Ideally, evangelicalism should be a spiritual movement of purification and renewal that breaks down ideological polarization, party division and class distinction within the church universal. In practice, evangelicalism has too often been an ideological movement of reaction which polarizes rather than unites and which fortifies rather than overcomes ethnic and class loyalties and biases. It should be recognized that in some periods of history evangelicalism has indeed approached the idea of being a unifying and renewing force within world Christianity. If it could disengage itself from those forces that pull it in an ideological and sectarian direction, it might yet become the spiritually revolutionary and dynamic movement that it essentially was and is.
Today, some of the definitions of what it means to be evangelical are too narrow. To equate evangelicalism with a belief in biblical inerrancy is to leave out many in the past and present who staunchly affirm the gospel in all its breadth and depth and yet who recoil from applying the term "inerrancy" to Scripture. "Inerrancy" can indeed be used to describe Scripture, but even many of its supporters acknowledge that it is an ambiguous term capable of lending itself to various interpretations. The term "infallibility" is stronger, in my estimation,
but it, too, is not without ambiguity, since it can be used to denote quite different understandings of biblical authority. This does not mean that neither term should ever be employed, but it does mean that the essence of being evangelical must not be tied to any one symbol or slogan.
The experiential criterion is also too narrow in determining the substance of evangelical faith, particularly when this means a datable, rapturous experience. Even Philip Spener and Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf, two of the luminaries of German Pietism, did not claim this kind of experience as integral to their faith.
Some scholars limit the term "evangelical" to eighteenth- and nineteenth-century revivalism and its descendants. But this disregards the awakening movements within Reformed and Lutheran churches in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It overlooks the resolute evangelical witness that has continued within Anglicanism from the sixteenth century on. Worse still, it leaves out the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, which can only be rightly understood as a rediscovery of the biblical gospel in an age dominated by formalism, scholasticism and superstition.
Even if we included the whole of the evangelical tradition within Protestantism, this would still be too limiting. An evangelical thrust has not been entirely lacking in the Catholic and Orthodox churches. Cyril Lucaris, Orthodox Patriarch of Constantinople in the seventeenth century, vigorously affirmed the priority and sovereignty of grace, through his teaching were condemned by synods held at Constantinople (1638, 1642), Jassy (1642) and Jerusalem (1672). Russian Orthodox bishop Tikhon in the eighteenth century based his spirituality almost exclusively on the Scriptures and had a warm sympathy for German Pietists and English Evangelicals. A number of Roman Catholic theologians, notably Augustine, Ambrose, Ambrosiaster, Pascal7 and in our own day Hans Urs von Balthasar and Ida Friederike Gorres, are identified with such evangelical themes as divine election, the radical pervasiveness of sin, the sovereignty of grace, the cruciality of faith for salvation, and the substitutionary atonement. One could also make a case that there is a definite evangelical strand in Thomas Aquinas8 and in some of the Catholic mystics (though not in all).9
In some circles today, evangelicalism is virtually equivalent to premillennialism and even to dispensationalism. One of the key issues
is whether the rapture of the saints will occur before or after the great tribulation at the end of the age. Such a position connotes a sectarian mentality, for it reduces evangelicalism to a sect or party within the church, sadly out of contact with the broader stream of Christian tradition.
At the opposite extreme, we find those who conceive of evangelicalism in too broad or inclusive a way. Some argue that anyone can be called evangelical who acknowledges Jesus as Savior and Lord. But this would include many Unitarians and Arians, who clearly stand outside the mainstream of evangelical, catholic faith. Others contend that anyone who experiences forgiveness or inner peace must be an evangelical Christian. This would then open the door to any number of cults that deny the basic precepts of historic Christian faith. A similar problem arises with those who base the case for evangelicalism on the reality of a personal communion or personal relationship with Jesus Christ. To make evangelicalism roughly tantamount to Christian supernaturalism or classical theism is to risk confusing evangelical theology theology with a philosophy of religion in which the saving work of Christ plays no crucial role.
There are many who define "evangelical" on the basis of a particular approach to Holy Scripture. Some hold that the hallmark of evangelical Christianity is an affirmation of the divine authority and inspiration of the Bible. Yet this could include sacramentalist Roman Catholics, Moonies, Mormons, the Local Church of Witness Lee, the more tradition-bound Eastern Orthodox, and many others who would find it difficult if not impossible to accept the basic message of the Protestant Reformation.
In an illuminating and provocative article in The Christian Century, Peter Schmiechen maintains that all Christian theology is by definition evangelical and that it is wrong for any particular theological movement to claim the word "evangelical" for itself.10 Yet this is to overlook the fact that many theologians, though speaking out of a Christian orientation, tacitly if not explicitly deny the motifs that have characterized evangelical Christianity in the past sola gratia (salvation only by the grace of God), sola fide (justification by faith alone), sola scriptura (Scripture as the final arbiter for faith and practice).11 We can certainly consider a theology that does not incorporate these themes as deficiently Christian, but can we condemn it as non-Christian? Pelagius in his battle with Augustine surely cannot
be described as evangelical, but he can still be regarded as representative of a continuing theological position in the church.12 Similarly, Erasmus, who was drawn into a conflict with Luther on the sovereignty of grace and the bondage of the will, was still writing Christian theology, albeit not evangelical theology. Albert Schweitzer could accept neither the deity of Christ nor his vicarious, substitutionary atonement; it was the mystical Christ that was the focus of his concern. His admirers claim that he was a model Christian, but he certainly stood outside the circle of evangelical faith.13 There are theologians in the contemporary period who underline the need for an existential encounter with Christ and yet view the Bible as a basically unreliable witness. Can they in all honesty be included under the rubric of evangelical?
Dietrich Bonhoeffer is instructive in this connection. Though acutely aware of the dangers of religious triumphalism, he nonetheless held that some communions are closer to the truth of the gospel than others. In his view, the Evangelical church, the church that stands in the tradition of the Reformation, is "the true one," even though it cannot claim to be in and of itself "the essential church."14 It can claim, however, to be "the church of the Gospel," for, despite its faults, it can be deemed a more fitting instrument of the grace of God than the church that rejected the Reformation. Yet Bonhoeffer readily acknowledged that the fellowship of the saints (sanctorum communio) was also present in the Roman Catholic Church and in various sects.
For Bonhoeffer, the Evangelical church exists in tension not only with Catholicism but with liberal Protestantism as well. He contrasted "the church of the Gospel" with the hodgepodge of voices in the ecumenical:
The churches included in the World Alliance have no common recognition of the truth. It is precisely here that they are most deeply divided. When they say "Christ" or "Gospel," they mean something different.15
Before redefining "evangelical," it is necessary to explore the historical background of this word. It was not used in a partisan or
polemical sense until the sixteenth century when the Reformers increasingly designated themselves as Evangelical as opposed to Roman Catholic.16 As early as 1520 Luther referred to "those who boldly call themselves Evangelicals" and in 1522 to "this common Evangelical cause." Several years later Erasmus acknowledged the common usage by describing "some who falsely boast they are Evangelicals." When the Reformers called themselves Evangelicals they did not think of themselves as a schismatic group within the church but as representatives of the true church the church founded by Jesus Christ and based on the biblical gospel.17
In the spiritual movements of purification subsequent to the Reformation, Pietism and Puritanism, the term "evangelical" became further refined to include the necessity for the personal appropriation of the gospel. The so-called Evangelical movement in eighteenth-century England, Scotland and Wales associated with the names o George Whitefield, John and Charles Wesley, Daniel Rowlands and Howel Harris gave special emphasis to the new birth without intending to minimize or downplay justification (though the dialectic between justification and regeneration was not always maintained).18
"Evangelical" is derived from the Greek word evangelion, meaning the gospel or message of good news concerning what God has done for us in Jesus Christ. Because this message is the dominant theme of the New Testament and is indeed present in anticipatory form even in the Old Testament, evangelicals maintain a high view of Scripture as well as fidelity to the gospel. Because the gospel focuses upon God's free, unconditional grace rather than on human achievement or merit, evangelicals steadfastly affirm sola gratia (salvation by grace alone).
"Evangelical" can therefore be said to indicate a particular thrust or emphasis within the church, namely, that which upholds the gospel of free grace as we see this in Jesus Christ. An evangelical will consequently be Christocentric and not merely theocentric (as are the deists and a great many mystics). Yet it is not the teachings of Jesus Christ that are considered of paramount importance but his sacrificial life and death on the cross of Calvary. The evangel is none other than the meaning of the cross.
Evangelicalism may take the form of a particular party within the church, but its intention is not to remain a mere party but instead to
serve as a catalyst that unifies the whole church under the gospel.19 Today, as in the time of the Reformers, the Pietists and the Puritans, evangelicalism is best understood as a movement of spiritual renewal within the wider church. Its purpose is not simply to enhance the spiritual life, moreover, but to renew the church by calling it back to its theological and biblical foundations. It is a movement based on and reformed by the gospel as attested in Holy Scripture. It seeks not to advance itself but to serve the cause of Jesus Christ and his kingdom. Though ready and willing to challenge heresy, its basic orientation is positive, since it focuses on the glad tidings of God's act of reconciliation and redemption in Jesus Christ. Unlike ideological movements, it is willing to sacrifice or lose itself for the truth of the gospel and the well-being of the church. It seeks to confess not a party line (a characteristic of sects) but the holy catholic faith, the faith shared by the entire church.
The substitutionary atoning work of Christ on the cross has special significance for evangelicals. This is not the whole of the gospel, but it is the essence of the gospel. A key verse is 1 Cor. 15:3: "Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures" (KJV). What is at stake in the battle that evangelicals wage is not only the significance of Christ and the meaning of his salvation but also the integrity of Holy Scripture. Scripture's account of Christ's life, passion, death and resurrection must be seen as trustworthy and reliable.
In stressing the vicarious atoning death of Christ for our sins, evangelicals see this as an act performed not simply by Christ as man but by Christ as God. Various cults incorporate theories of penal redemption and substitutionary atonement but deny the deity of Jesus Christ. The Jehovah's Witnesses are a contemporary example of this aberration.
In evangelical theology, Scripture is the source; the atonement or message of the cross is the central content. Later Protestant orthodoxy referred to the first as the formal norm and the second as the material norm of faith. The incarnation of Christ is, of course, also vigorously affirmed, but always the incarnation seen in the light of the cross. As opposed to the mystical tradition in Catholicism, evangelicalism subordinates the incarnation to the cross, not vice versa. Christ came into the world to save humankind through his dying
and rising again. It is not simply the event of the incarnation but the purpose of the incarnation that is decisive for our salvation.
From the evangelical perspective, true Christianity entails doctrine, experience and life. Whenever any one of these elements is underplayed or denied, something crucial to the faith of the church is lost. The great luminaries of evangelical Christianity Irenaeus, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Pascal, Forsyth and Karl Barth sought to do justice to all these elements, though some assigned more importance to one than to another. It can be said that we are deficiently evangelical if we emphasize the person and work of Christ and treat lightly the effect of Christ in the lives of his people. Evangelicals, particularly in the tradition of Pietism and Puritanism, have underlined the need for regenerate theologians as well as correct theology. Here we see the difference between a formalistic orthodoxy and a vital, biblical faith.
At this point it is appropriate to define evangelical more precisely: An evangelical is one who affirms the centrality and cruciality of Christ's work of reconciliation and redemption as declared in the Scriptures; the necessity to appropriate the fruits of this work in one's own life and experience; and the urgency to bring the good news of this act of unmerited grace to a lost and dying world. It is not enough to believe in the cross and resurrection of Christ. We must personally be crucified and buried with Christ and rise with Christ to new life in the Spirit.20 Yet even this is not all that is required of us. We must also be fired by a burning zeal to share this salvation with others.21 To be evangelical therefore means to be evangelistic. We are not to hide our life under a bushel but manifest this light so that God might be glorified in the world (Matthew 5:15-16).
If asked to list the key elements in a vital Christian faith, an evangelical in the classical sense might well reply: biblical fidelity, apostolic doctrine, the experience of salvation, the imperative of discipleship, and the urgency of mission. Holding firm to the doctrine taught by the prophets and apostles in Holy Scripture, evangelicals stress the need for personal experience of the reality of Christ's salvation as well as the need to carry out the great commission to teach all people to be his disciples and to call all nations to repentance.
Undergirding this whole patter of discipleship and mission is a further element in the evangelical vision: the eschatological hope.
Evangelicals affirm as belonging to the essence of faith not only belief in the first advent of Christ but also hope for his second advent. While the messianic kingdom is already present in the community of faith, this kingdom is yet to be consummated and fulfilled in the kingdom of glory. Evangelicals look forward not to a gradual evolution of humanity into a kingdom of freedom (the Enlightenment position) but to a cataclysmic intervention of the Son of God into human history at his second coming. Yet this eschatological vision not only has an apocalyptic dimension (dualism, supernatural intervention) but also includes elements of the prophetic hope an earth transfigured by the glory of God.
Evangelical theology not only entails the explication of the message of Scripture, but it is done by those who have experienced the Holy Spirit as the interpreter of Scripture. This means that theology is not only the language about faith but also the language of faith. It cannot be stressed too often that true theology presupposes converted or regenerate theologians.
Evangelicals maintain a high view of Scripture. They affirm its divine authority and its full inspiration by the Holy Spirit. They do not hesitate to speak of the inspiration of words as well as of authors, though this does not commit them to any theory of mechanical inspiration or dictation. They acknowledge Scripture as the medium by which those who earnestly seek hear the voice of the living God (cf. Romans 16:25-26). With St. Paul they regard Scripture as "the sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17), the sword by which the powers of sin and death are routed and lives renewed. Scripture is more than edifying religious literature: It is the divinely chosen vehicle of redeeming grace.
Furthermore, evangelicals have a high view of God. They affirm his sovereignty over the world he created. In contrast to many immanentalist theologians today, they have no difficulty in addressing God as "Lord" and "Master," even though they also see him as Savior and Friend, but he is Lord before he is Savior, Master before he is Friend. What Kierkegaard called the infinite qualitative distinction between God and humanity, eternity and time, is integral to evangelical faith. Even when they speak of the mystical union between Christ and the believer, they are acutely aware that this union does not obliterate but instead more fully reveals the abysmal gulf between deity and humanity. In upholding the sovereignty of God,
evangelicals also affirm the sovereignty and sufficiency of his grace. The word of God goes forth from him mightily and does not return to him void (Isaiah 55:11).
Similarly, evangelicalism emphasizes the sovereign love of God, the love that conquers and does not simply accept. This love, moreover, is a holy love, since God is infinite majesty and holiness as well as boundless compassion. These attributes are inseparable, yet distinct. They were fully reconciled in the incarnation and cross of Jesus Christ where God both satisfied the demands of his holy law and demonstrated his incomparable self-giving love that goes beyond the law.
Despite a profound sense of absolute dependence on God, evangelicals are reluctant to speak of God's absolute power, since this connotes arbitrariness or lawlessness. They prefer to speak of God's sovereign will and to understand this as a will to love. Instead of focusing on the power of God's eternal decree, they dwell on the power of his suffering yet conquering love. In contrast, theologies that concentrate on the unrestricted, absolute power of God as well as those that posit a secret will of God at variance with his revealed will are in philosophical rather than biblical territory. To be evangelical means to affirm both the invincibility and the universal outreach of God's love. Indeed, the heart of the gospel message is that God loved the whole world, that he justified the ungodly even while they were yet in their sins (cf. John 3:16; Romans 4:5; 5:6).
Finally, evangelicals have a high view of man. We were given dominion over the animals and made a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5-8 KJV). We were created in the image of God and elected for salvation by God. We were even chosen to be covenant partners with God. Yet evangelical theology does not have an exaggerated view of humanity. There is no identity with God even in the exalted state of mystical union. Nor is there deification of this means being transformed into divinity.
Evangelicals are pessimistic with regard to what human beings can do on their own but optimistic about what God can accomplish in and through them. Grace does not reduce man to nothingness but instead raises him to fellowship with his Creator. Irenaeus put it succinctly: "The glory of God is man fully alive." Amandus Polanus, sixteenth-century Basel professor and Reformer, stated the complementary truth:
"The glory of man is the living God." In other words, the glory of man lies outside himself in Jesus Christ.
While recognizing the myriad possibilities given to humanity in creation and the new powers of faith, hope and love given in redemption, evangelical theology is agonizingly aware of the lostness and despair of humanity as well. It fully accepts the biblical testimony that sin has penetrated into every area of human existence, thereby distorting and corrupting the creative accomplishments of humankind (Ps. 14:1-3; 36:1-4; 53:1-3; Isa. 64:6; Jer. 17:9; Romans 3:9-12, 23; 7:18; Eph. 2:3; 4:18). It is not averse to speaking of the bondage of the will, the incapacity of sinful human beings to come to God or to do the good that God demands. Although fallen humanity is still free in the things below, it is not free in the things above in the area of morality and salvation. As sinners we still have free choice, the freedom to do what we please, but it is only by grace that we receive the liberty of the children of God, the freedom to do what pleases God.
EVANGELICALISM, ORTHODOXY AND FUNDAMENTALISM
From this list of theological distinctives, it might be inferred that evangelicalism is merely a form of traditionalism or what might be called orthodoxism. Such is far from the case. Evangelicalism seeks to be orthodox, but it places its orthodoxy under the judgment of the Word of God. The ruling norm for faith is not the creeds and confessions of the church, nor the consensus of the church fathers, nor the affirmations of the Reformers (though all of these may function as subordinate norms). Instead, the infallible standard is the biblical Christ whose word is communicated through and attested in Holy Scripture. Church tradition also serves as a vehicle and witness of the living Word of God, but as a secondary, not a primary witness (unlike Holy Scripture).
Evangelical theology holds that what Christ says today does not contradict what his witnesses say in Scripture but may go beyond it, as the Spirit of Christ clarifies and makes explicit what may be only implicit in the text. Against an orthodoxy that is content to live in the past and does not seek a fresh word from God in Scripture, evangelical theology shares the confidence of the Puritan divine John Robinson
that "the Lord has more light and truth yet to break forth out of his holy Word."
At the same time, evangelicals vigorously object to the current tendency in neo-Protestantism to draw a cleavage between God's self-revelation in Christ and the biblical testimony. We have this revelation only in the earthen vessel of the prophetic and apostolic witness in the Bible. To bypass this witness or to seek a Word that in effect supersedes this witness is to veer either toward rationalism, in which we interpret the Bible through the eyes of a secular philosophy, or toward mysticism, in which we try to get beyond words and concepts altogether. Neo-Protestants following Schleiermacher and Hegel often appeal to the Spirit over the Bible. But the Spirit does not overthrow God's inspired Word, but instead enables us to hear it anew, to understand it rightly, and to apply it to our lives.
Doctrinal orthodoxy will always rank high on the agenda in authentic evangelicalism, but orthodoxy in thought is never enough: We must also have orthodoxy in life, orthopractice. Christian practice is as necessary as Christian doctrine, though in some periods of history one of these will probably have to be stressed more than the other. The evangelical seeks to be not only a herald of the true gospel but also a servant of the One who has embodied this truth.
Just as evangelicalism is not to be identified with an orthodoxy oriented to the past or divorced from life, so it must not be confused with fundamentalism. Fundamentalism as a folk religion elevates human traditions to practically the same level as God's self-revelation in Christ, attaching inordinate importance to such things as the pre-tribulation rapture, the seven dispensations, Sabbatarianism, and the various taboos on liquor, tobacco, dancing, the theater, etc.
The preaching of the gospel, it might be supposed, would be central in worship services of fundamentalist churches. The sad but irrefutable fact is that in many cases the sermons consist largely of reductionist Bible studies (in which the biblical passage is reduced to a topic of current interest) instead of the proclamation of the good news of God's act of reconciliation in Jesus Christ.22 In some of these so-called biblical sermons, the grace of Christ is barely mentioned, and what we then have is the preaching of law rather than gospel. Equally disturbing is the frequency with which sectarian themes form the content of the sermonic witness rather than God's saving work in Jesus Christ. Or the preacher begins sharing his own
personal experiences, and the gospel is then in danger of being confused with an interior state of subjective illumination.23 Still another temptation is to politicize the gospel, to show how faith in God undergirds the American Way of Life. Here as elsewhere an affinity can be discerned between cultural fundamentalism and an accommodationist religious liberalism.24
Evangelicalism unashamedly stands for the fundamentals of the historic faith, but as a movement it transcends and corrects the defensive, sectarian mentality commonly associated with fundamentalism. Though many, perhaps most, fundamentalists are evangelicals, evangelical Christianity is wider and deeper than fundamentalism, which is basically a movement of reaction in the churches in this period of history. Evangelicalism in the classical sense fulfills the basic goals and aspirations of fundamentalism but rejects the ways in which these goals are realized.
II. The New Conservatism
We do not belong to our Lord Jesus Christ, nor can we be of God's church, except it be by following the pure doctrine of the law and the gospel.
Orthodoxy is a willingness to fight and, if necessary, die for the continuity and authenticity of the tradition.
So carnal is the body of Christians which composes the conservative wing of the Church, so shockingly irreverent are our public services in some quarters, so degraded are our religious tastes in still others, that the need for [sanctifying] power could scarcely have been greater at any time in history.
He who boasts of orthodoxy ... sins against Justification by Christ alone, for he justifies himself by appeal to his own beliefs or his own formulations of belief and thereby does despite to the Truth and Grace of Christ. Once a Church begins to boast of its "orthodoxy" it begins to fall from Grace.
THEOLOGICALLY CONSIDERED, the new conservatism is by no means a monolithic movement. It includes a wide variety of people from the far right to the right of center on the theological spectrum. Depending on one's perspective, it even embraces some who could properly be classified as centrist and yet who are especially intent on preserving the abiding values and essential doctrines of the historic faith. All of the various strands in the new conservatism would gladly accept the term "evangelical" with very few exceptions (mainly on the far right). Even pastors and theologians who stand in the theological tradition of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner have no compunction in identifying themselves as evangelical, though the left wing of the neo-orthodox movement might feel uncomfortable with this designation.1
In this chapter I shall delineate the various movements that are part of the new theological conservatism and name persons and churches associated with each one. I shall be frank in stating my own allegiance and showing where the future of a vital evangelical Christianity lies.
Fundamentalism represents the right wing of the evangelical movement, though it contains thrusts and ideas that signify a divergence from classical Protestant orthodoxy. Essentially, fundamentalism is a phenomenon of the late nineteenth century and the twentieth century. It arose specifically to counter the growing modernism in the churches, evidenced in the often uncritical acceptance of the theory of evolution and the historical-critical method in biblical interpretation. Fundamentalism has thus for the most part been a defensive movement designed to safeguard the supernatural elements in the faith.
The movement derived its name from twelve pamphlets entitled The Fundamentals : A Testimony to the Truth, published from 1910 to 1915.2 It took on a more organized form in May of 1919, which saw the convening of the World Conference on Christian Fundamentals in Philadelphia. Among the doctrines affirmed were the divine inspiration of Scripture, the deity of Christ, the substitutionary atonement, the creation and fall of man and the personal and imminent return of Christ. On the whole, fundamentalism has stressed
the plenary, verbal inspiration of Scripture, and only in its later development has special emphasis been placed on biblical inerrancy.3
One of the hallmarks of fundamentalism is the inordinate attention given to eschatology. Besides the visible, imminent return of Christ, it has generally upheld the millennial reign of Christ on earth before the final consummation of all things in the kingdom of God. This premillennial doctrine differentiates fundamentalism from the theology of the Reformation (which was basically amillennial) and from the Puritans and Pietists (who were generally post-millennial).4 One strand of fundamentalism has adopted the dispensational form of premillennialism in which history is said to be divided into seven dispensations, the last of which will be the millennial reign of Christ from an earthly Jerusalem. Dispensationalism makes a sharp distinction between the church and the messianic kingdom of Christ and speaks of the rapture of the saints into glory before the great tribulation that immediately precedes the premillennial coming of Christ. Dispensationalism was given special promotion in the widely circulated Scofield Reference Bible.
Another hallmark of fundamentalism is its separatism. This is most prominent among the dispensationalists, who dwell on the twilight of the church in the end times and the need to separate from the apostate (mainline) churches. Fundamentalists like to appeal to Paul's warning against fellowship between the children of light and the children of darkness (2 Cor. 6:14). The hard core of the fundamentalist movement has expressed its displeasure with Billy Graham because of his willingness to cooperate with nonfundamentalist Christians in his evangelistic crusades. Graham's participation in a Russian Orthodox-sponsored peace conference in Moscow (May, 1982), in which he acknowledged a certain degree of religious freedom in the Soviet Union, has further riled the evangelical right wing
In the area of epistemology, fundamentalism represents a kind of evangelical rationalism, since it identifies the revelation of God with the propositions of Scripture. Its approach is either deductive, by which we deduce logical conclusions from metaphysical first principles (as with Gordon Clark) or inductive, by which we reason from particular facts to general conclusions (as with Charles Hodge). Being a defensive movement, fundamentalism gravitates toward an apologetic theology which seeks to justify the tenets of the faith at
the bar of reason. Any conflict between reason and revelation is due either to faulty logic or to a misleading use of Scripture. One of their critics contends that for fundamentalists "saving faith" is indistinguishable from "warranted belief," belief validated by the canons of scientific rationality.5 Not all fundamentalists elevate reason over faith, but even a theologian like Cornelius Van Til, who argues that one must begin with faith presuppositions, calls Christianity "an absolute rationalism."
Fundamentalism is also noted for its emphasis on individual salvation and the church's spiritual mission. Needless to say, it has been conspicuously deficient in the areas of ecclesiology and social ethics. This is not to suggest, however, that it is without a social vision. The early fundamentalists were one of the main forces behind the prohibition movement, and their spiritual descendants are active in the right-to-life and antipornography movements. Yet its social message can be criticized for focusing on curtailing wayward human passions while neglecting the plight of the economically deprived and the politically oppressed (including racial and ethnic minorities.).
What has prevented fundamentalism from being in the foreground in the battle against social injustice is its tacit and sometimes open alliance with capitalism.6 It is common in these circles to identify Christians values and the American Way of Life, and to regard economic prosperity as a providential sign of sanctity.
Fundamentalism as a religious movement is a complex phenomenon, and there is some disagreement in scholarly circles on how it should be defined. Ernest Sandeen sees the roots of fundamentalism in the coalescing of the eschatological orthodoxy of the so-called Princeton School of Theology (Charles Hodge, A.A. Hodge, Benjamin Warfield).7 George Marsden regards fundamentalism as a broader movement, including a large part of the revival tradition, and argues that it is the direct heir of nineteenth-century evangelicalism.8 In my estimation, fundamentalism is a distinctly modern expression of historic evangelicalism, reflecting as well as obscuring significant motifs and emphases of the evangelical heritage.
One strand of fundamentalism has its roots in evangelical Pietism. The spirituality of this group is manifested in the Bible and missionary conferences that still continue across the nation and in other countries. The other strand is closer to confessional or scholastic orthodoxy.
Its conferences are inclined to be of a more intellectual nature, with an emphasis on points of doctrinal precision. The Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology is an heir to this particular tradition, though the sponsors of the conference have moved from a rigid fundamentalist posture and are better classified as neofundamentalist or neoevangelical.9
Fundamentalism has made special inroads in the Presbyterian and Baptist churches. Pockets of fundamentalism remain in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the Reformed Church in America, the American Lutheran Church, the Lutheran Church in America, the American Baptist Churches in the U.S.A., and the Southern Baptist Convention.
Churches today that stand more or less in the tradition of separatistic fundamentalism are the following: The General Association of Regular Baptist Churches [GARB], the Conservative Baptist Association of America, the Independent Fundamental Churches of America, the Independent Fundamental Bible Churches, the Baptist Bible Fellowship, the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, the Bible Presbyterian Church, the Missionary Church, the Christian (Plymouth) Brethren, the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches and Grace Gospel Fellowship. There are some other denominations that have been noticeably influenced by fundamentalism, but their ethnic or confessional particularity differentiates them from the wider fundamentalist movement. They include the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod; the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod; the Churches of Christ; and the Reformed Episcopal Church. Parachurch movements that can be categorized as fundamentalist are the American Council of Churches, the International Council of Churches, the World Fundamentalist Fellowship, Word of Life, Youth for Christ, Operation Mobilization and Campus Crusade for Christ.
Theological schools reflecting the fundamentalist mentality include Dallas Theological Theological schools reflecting the fundamentalist mentality include Dallas Theological Seminary, School of Religion of Bob Jones University, Grace Theological Seminary, Capital Bible Seminary, Western Conservative Baptist Seminary, Liberty Baptist College and Seminary, Luther Rice Theological Seminary, and Faith Evangelical Lutheran Seminary. One could add to this list a large number of Bible schools, for example the Criswell Bible Institute, the Moody Bible Institute, Northeastern Bible College, the Multnomah School of the Bible,
Washington Bible College, the Philadelphia College of the Bible and the Prairie Bible Institute. Some of these institutions (such as Dallas Seminary and the Moody Bible Institute) represent a more open fundamentalism, not averse to cooperating with other evangelical Christians. Others (such as Bob Jones University) typify a closed fundamentalism, which anathematizes those who engage in fellowship with Christians regarded as heterodox.
A number of publishing houses are committed to advancing the fundamentalist cause: the Moody Press, Vision House, Victor Books (Scripture Press), Regal Books, and Loizeaux Brothers. Some of these also publish books from authors whose spiritual affinities are closer to neofundamentalism and neoevangelicalism.
Magazines that mirror the fundamentalist ethos are the Fundamentalist Journal, publishing are of Jerry Falwell's ministry; the Southern Baptist Journal; the Baptist Bible Tribune; Christian News; Sword of the Lord; Christian Beacon; Bibliotheca Sacra, a high-powered theological journal based at Dallas Seminary; Voice, published by the Independent Fundamental Churches of America; Moody Monthly; and Lutherans Alert.
Among the spiritual leaders and philosophical lights of the fundamentalist movement in its early days were William B. Riley, Arthur T. Pierson, Charles R. Erdman, J. Frank Norris and R.A. Torrey. More recent on the scene are John R. Rice, Carl McIntire, Ian Paisley, J. Oliver Buswell, Cornelius Van Til, Gordon Clark, John F. Walvoord, Robert Lightner,10 Rene Pache, Hal Lindsey, James Robison and Jerry Falwell.11 Princeton Theological Seminary professors Benjamin Warfield and A.A. Hodge, whose roots lay in the older scholastic Calvinist orthodoxy, prepared the way for fundamentalism by contending that Scripture is without error in matters of science and history as well as faith and morals.12 Norman Geisler, professor of systematic theology at Dallas Seminary seeks to combine Thomism and dispensationalism. His empathies are with an open fundamentalism that is willing to engage in dialogue with opposing views.13 J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary, rejected the fundamentalist label and preferred to be known simply as "orthodox."
In recent years political movements such as Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority, Christian Voice and Religious Roundtable indicate that a
resurgent fundamentalism is breaking away from privatism and individualism. Among characteristic themes of these movements are the right to life, a strong military defense, the integrity of the family, the evil of forced busing, prayer in the public schools and free enterprise. Their strength belies the ever recurring rumor that fundamentalism is in eclipse.14
Fundamentalism at its best has preserved the supernatural dimension of the faith in an age when the mainline churches and seminaries have too readily accepted the naturalistic presuppositions of the higher critics. It has also maintained a needed critical stance toward the theory of evolution, whose scientific basis is still very much in question.15 Again, it has fostered personal fellowships of faith where the innermost needs and concerns of its people are satisfied, where the koinonia (fellowship of love) is very much in evidence. The recent involvement of fundamentalism in politics is not altogether to be deplored. Though it is inclined to oversimplify and take an absolutist position against abortion, its advocacy of the rights of the unborn child is consistent with the historic Christian witness on this question. Fundamentalism, moreover, has continued the strong missionary emphasis that certainly belongs to a vital evangelical Christianity.
At its worst, fundamentalism has promoted divisiveness in the church by elevating sectarian tenets (such as the pretribulation rapture) into doctrinal essentials. It has also been guilty of maintaining a docetic view of Scripture which in fact denies the true humanity of Scripture. By refusing to deal with the question of historical and cultural conditioning in the writing of Scripture and by insisting on the literal facticity of practically everything reported in Scripture, it encourages obscurantism and thereby sets up false stumbling blocks to faith. Finally, in the area of interpersonal relationships, fundamentalism can be justly accused of promoting a rigid patriarchalism which has denied to women their rightful role in the ministry of the church.
Since the end of the Second World War, there has been a significant shift in the attitudes and concerns of many of those who have come out of fundamentalism. While the doctrinal basis is still
more or less intact, the emphasis has changed, and it is therefore appropriate to speak of a "neoevangelical" movement. This is one of the principal strands in the emerging new evangelicalism, which is broader and deeper than any one movement or school. Neoevangelicalism seeks to relate the historic evangelical faith to current needs and problems in the church and in the wider society.
Within neoevangelicalism, moreover, two distinct strands can be detected. The first signifies a cautious opening to modern trends which might best be described as neofundamentalism. The second is a more progressive evangelicalism which seeks to move beyond a rigid position on biblical inerrancy. Both these movements with to be known as evangelical rather than fundamentalist, but only the second is inclined to reject the fundamentalist label.
While the right wing of the neoevangelical movement is particularly insistent on the inerrancy of Scripture, the moderate and left wings prefer to speak of the infallibility of Scripture.16 Following Hodge and Warfield, the right-wing evangelicals nonetheless qualify inerrancy, claiming that only the original manuscripts or autographs (which are no longer available) are without error. This allows for critical textual work on the various copies and translations. When moderate neoevangelicals employ the term "inerrancy" in reference to Scripture, they generally have in mind its teaching or doctrine.
A rationalistic apologetics is still very much in evidence among neoevangelicals; at the same time, there is an attempt to dialogue with antirationalistic modern philosophies and learn from them. As in the older fundamentalism, there is a special interest in the rise of the cults and the need to meet this challenge. The task of reconciling the conflicting claims of science and religion is also a major preoccupation.17 Among the moderate and left-wing evangelicals, there is a marked openness to theistic evolution, the idea that God is at work in the process of evolution.18 C.S. Lewis is held in high esteem by almost all neoevangelicals and is considered a model in the apologetic task.
In contrast to the older fundamentalism, neoevangelicals have not hesitated to speak out on the problems of race, poverty and war. Carl Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism was a harbinger of an awakened evangelical social consciousness.19 Neoevangelicals have also become involved in the rich-to-life movement,
but they generally maintain a critical stance toward the political new right.
An openness to Christians of other traditions is another salient feature of neoevangelicalism, marking a definite break with the separatistic mentality of the older fundamentalism. The emphasis is no longer on separation from the mainline denominations but rather on the infiltration of these denominations. Many people who can be categorized as neoevangelical cooperated in the ecumenical evangelistic campaign known as Key '73, and nearly all identifying with the Billy Graham crusades, with sometimes even have Catholic sponsorship. The anti-Catholicism that has so often tainted fundamentalism is not nearly so evident in neoevangelicalism; yet there is a continued resistance to many of the emphases and practices within Catholicism.
Among neoevangelicals, premillennialism recedes into the background, though this is still the dominant position of those on the right. Many moderate and left-wing evangelicals are moving toward amillennialism and some even toward postmillennialism.20 All neoevangelicals are united with their fundamentalist brethren in affirming the second advent of Christ and seeing it as a cataclysmic intervention into human history.
Whereas fundamentalists of the dispensational variety look to late nineteenth-century revivalism and those of the Reformed variety appeal to the Calvinistic Reformation and Protestant orthodoxy, neoevangelicals are ready to include among their spiritual forbears not only the Reformers and their orthodox interpreters but also the Pietists and Puritans. The Puritans in particular are being increasingly appreciated, especially in the neo-Reformed strand of neoevangelicalism.
In the area of biblical interpretation, we find a growing diversity in the ranks of neoevangelicalism. In the right wing, there is a general acceptance of textual or lower criticism but still a profound distrust of higher or historical-literary criticism. The moderate and left-wing neoevangelicals have no difficulty in accepting historical investigation of Scripture, including even form and redaction criticism, but they are emphatic that such investigation must be separated from the naturalistic presuppositions that have dominated this kind of study in the past.21 Moderate evangelicals now stress the need to discover the intention of the author in the hermeneutical task.
Those in the neofundamentalist camp continue to hold to the Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, the single authorship of Isaiah, the early date for Daniel, and the first eleven chapters of Genesis a literal history. A growing number of evangelical scholars, however, are willing to entertain other positions.
Neoevangelicals generally hold to propositional revelation, but not all are willing to equate revelation with the very words of Scripture. While recognizing that revelation may take propositional form, they are acutely aware that it contains a personal and historical dimension as well. Bernard Ramm prefers "conceptual revelation" to "propositional revelation," since the latter term tends to reduce faith to mental assent and pictures God as "dictating Euclidean theological statements to the prophets and apostles."22 For Carl Henry, on the other hand, revelation, even though mediated through history and personality, is essentially ideational and propositional.23
The left wing of the new evangelical movement sees as the main theological issue not the inerrancy of Scripture (as in the right wing) nor biblical hermeneutics (as in the moderate wing) but the authenticity of a gospel existence. It is not right doctrine nor methods of biblical interpretation but faithfulness in vocation that should be given top priority. Some of the new breed of evangelicals sense an affinity to liberation theology, but they generally eschew violence as a means of accomplishing social justice, and they are not hesitant to subject the Marxist analysis of society to the scrutiny of Scripture. One part of the evangelical left is also involved in the feminist movement, though it repudiates the call of radical feminists for a new religion. Paul Jewett takes issue with many evangelical feminists in resisting their demand for a new inclusive gender language regarding God and Christ.24
Evangelical theologians who still move within the thought patterns of fundamentalism but try to engage in dialogue with the modern world include Francis Schaeffer, R.C. Sproul, James Boice, James Packer, Harold O.J. Brown, John Gerstner, John Warwick Montgomery and Harold Lindsell. Scholars noted for their ecumenical openness and innovative spirit but who generally remain within the framework of the Hodge-Warfield position on biblical authority and inerrancy are Carl Henry, Roger Nicole, John R.W. Stott, Morris Inch, Vernon Grounds, Ronald Nash and Kenneth Kantzer. Other scholars have questioned the emphasis on inerrancy but still
see the Bible as the infallible standard for faith and practice. Among these are Clark Pinnock, F.F. Bruce, Bernard Ramm, H.M. Kuitert, Ray S. Anderson, Stephen Davis, Bruce Metzger, George Eldon Ladd, Kenneth Grider, Robert Johnston, Richard Coleman, Jack Rogers, Richard Mouw, James Daane, Ward Gasque, Paul Jewett, Lewis Smedes. M. Eugene Osterhaven and Timothy L. Smith. Not all these theologians would jettison the term "inerrancy," but they would reinterpret it in order to do justice to the true humanity of Scripture. The Lausanne Covenant, which declares that the Bible is "without error in all that it affirms," reflects the viewpoint of the dominant stream in neoevangelicalism today.25
Magazines that mirror the new mood in evangelicalism include Eternity, Christian Scholar's Review, United Evangelical Action, Crux, The Evangelical Quarterly, Evangel and Evangelical Newsletter. Concerns of the evangelical right find expression in the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, The Westminster Theological Journal and Trinity Journal. The influential Christianity Today, which reaches a wide and ever-growing audience, seeks to speak for both the evangelical right and center. The Presbyterian Journal has a similar orientation except that its clientele is mainly Reformed and Presbyterian. More avante-garde are TSF Bulletin (edited by Mark Branson) and Themelios, both reflecting concerns of the Theological Students Fellowship (the seminary branch of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship). Representing the evangelical left are Sojourners, The Other Side, Radix, Katallagete and the Wittenburg Door. The first freely acknowledges its indebtedness to the Anabaptists.
Neoevangelicalism has also made an impact among publishing companies. Those addressing themselves to neoevangelical concerns but still seeking to retain their fundamentalist constituency include Zondervan Publishing House, Thomas Nelson, Baker Book House, Tyndale House Publishers and Banner of Truth Publishing Company. More receptive to new trends in theology and the church but still unreservedly evangelical are the William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, InterVarsity Press, Fleming H. Revell. Word Books and Paternoster Press.
Seminaries that are open to the new mood but retain distinctives associated with fundamentalism (such as premillennialism and biblical inerrancy) are Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Denver
Theological Seminary, Covenant Theological Seminary and Talbot Theological Seminary (the last can also be place in the category of open fundamentalism). Some other schools have moved further
Spell-checked to here 10/7/17
from fundamentalism but still preserve the evangelical heritage: Fuller Theological
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