Am I Evangelical? (7)

NEW EVANGELICALISM

What of the so-called ‘New Evangelicalism’ as proposed by Cook? In beginning a discussion on this subject, David Cloud immediately launches into a defence of the ‘pure faith’ by saying, “I am convinced that few errors are as destructive to Fundamental, Bible-believing churches as New Evangelicalism.” Unfortunately, he has not even attempted to define New Evangelicalism yet, but has instead already made his entrenched position very clear. He does so even further by declaring that ‘few false philosophies more directly pull at members of Fundamental Baptist churches than New Evangelicalism.’ Is this openness to consider the views of others? Is this really what Evangelicalism is about?

And what, then, is New Evangelicalism? According to Ockenga, ‘It differed from Fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life.’

Those vehemently opposed to New Evangelicalism cited what they saw as the compromise of people like Billy Graham and others who entered into discussion of an ecumenical nature and countenanced Christians remaining within ‘denominations that were in error’, when they should have separated to the ‘pure’ church. In truth, the in-fighting almost beggars belief. Consider the following statements by David Cloud as found on the Internet:

“The Evangelical world has ignored the concerns of those who have lifted a voice of warning. New Evangelical thought has been adopted by such well-known Christian leaders as Billy Graham, Bill Bright, Harold Lindsell, John R.W. Stott, Luis Palau, E.V. Hill, Leighton Ford, Charles Stanley, Bill Hybels, Warren Wiersbe, Chuck Colson, Donald McGavran, Tony Campolo, Arthur Glasser, D. James Kennedy, David Hocking, Charles Swindoll, and a multitude of other men. Through publications such as Christianity Today and Moody Monthly, and through publishing houses such as InterVarsity Press, Zondervan, Tyndale House Publishers, Moody Press, and Thomas Nelson–to name but a few–New Evangelical thinking was broadcast across the world. In addition to the powerful influence of the printed page, compromised New Evangelical teaching was promoted by institutions such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Moody Bible Institute, Wheaton College, BIOLA, the Lausanne Conference for World Evangelism (LCWE), the National Association of Evangelicals, the World Evangelical Fellowship, National Religious Broadcasters, Radio Bible Class, Youth for Christ, Back to the Bible, Campus Crusade for Christ, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, World Vision, Operation Mobilization, and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. There have also been countless conferences which have been organized with the main purpose of promoting New Evangelical thought. Two of the largest and most influential were Amsterdam ’83 and Amsterdam ’86 which were sponsored by Billy Graham Ministries and were attended by thousands of preachers from across the world. Because of the tremendous influence of these men and organizations, New Evangelical thought has swept the world. Today it is no exaggeration to say that almost without exception those who call themselves Evangelicals are New Evangelicals; the terms have become synonymous. Old-line Evangelicals, except for rare exceptions, have either aligned with the Fundamental movement or have adopted New Evangelicalism.”

Furthermore, consider the tone of Cloud’s warning: ‘Beware of New Evangelicalism. To join hands with New Evangelicalism is to join hands with apostasy and is to turn one’s back on biblical Christianity.’ Evangelical unity? Hardly. I therefore contend that the future of Christianity does not lie in Evangelicalism, whatever flavour you choose. Where, then, does it lie?

TELL ME THE OLD, OLD STORY

It has been said, as Catherwood did, that, ‘whether we realise it or not, where we are now is a result of a long and often complex historical process.’ But actually, we are not the result of that process, we are ourselves a part of that process. As a (temporary) member of the Evangelical Alliance while I was at the Scottish Baptist College from 1999 to 2003, I was a part of that process; yet it is not to the Evangelical Alliance that I look for the future of Christianity.

In the beginning, the Spirit of God brooded. The Word spoke, and the Spirit created, the Father directed. God saw what he had made and he saw that it was good. Before there were committees, before there was the Evangelical Alliance, before there was any Scripture: God took responsibility. He still does.

The future of Christianity is in Christ’s hands. We are in Christ’s hands. Jesus saw what the Father did and he did the same; he heard what the Father said and he said the same. That is where the future of Christianity in Scotland lies. So what is the Father saying and doing in our land today? And what can we learn of the history in Christianity in Scotland over the last century that can help us prepare for the future?

We could surely learn something from the Alpha course that has crossed the boundaries of culture, country, language and Evangelicalism. As the Church Without Walls noted, ‘The success of courses like Alpha lies in the social focus of food and friendship as the context for discovering faith.’ Isn’t that what Evangelicalism is supposed to be about?

As that Church of Scotland’s report says so eloquently: ‘the theme of friendship could be developed further. It may be the key to many locked doors.’ Furthermore, the report honestly admits that ‘it has usually been a frustration that our church environment does little to encourage relationships – with God or with each other.’ Yet, isn’t that what church is supposed to be about?

Actually, that is what church is about. The years ahead will see God at work in our land in ways that we have not imagined; labels such as Evangelical will fall off, preconceived ideas will be abandoned, and Evangelicalism will become the spiritual equivalent of Jurassic Park. The future lies in the hands of those who dare to believe God, and who will not be constrained by labels. The future’s bright; the future’s Christ’s. Oh, and lest I forget. Am I Evangelical? No, I am Christ-centered.