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Fundamentalism, Modernism, And New-Evangelicalism

David W. Cloud

[The following material is from O Timothy magazine, Volume 12, Issue 1, 1995. Permission is given for free distribution of this material, but not for resale. All rights are reserved by the author. O Timothy is a monthly magazine. Annual subscription is US$20 FOR THE UNITED STATES. Send to Way of Life Literature, Bible Baptist Church, 1219 N. Harns Road, Oak Harbor, Washington 98277. FOR CANADA the subscription is $20 Canadian. Send to Bethel Baptist Church, P.O. Box 9075, London, Ontario N6E 1V0.] Copyright 1995 [Way of Life Literature, 1219 N. Harns Road, Oak Harbor, WA 98277.(360) 675-8311.]

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"The New Evangelicalism is a theological and moral compromise of the deadliest sort. It is an insidious attack upon the Word of God." --Dr. Charles Woodridge

I am convinced that few errors are as destructive to Fundamental, Bible- believing churches as New Evangelicalism. When people leave our churches, where do they go? Do they join the Roman Catholic church? Do they join a modernistic Protestant church, such as the United Methodist or the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. or the United Church of Canada? Do they join a cult? Very seldom. No, most people who leave Fundamental, Bible-believing churches join the easy-going New Evangelical church down the street or across town.

Few false philosophies more directly pull at members of Fundamental Baptist churches than New Evangelicalism. Church members are confronted with it on every hand--through popular radio and television preachers, at the local ecumenical bookstore, through members of Evangelical churches, through evangelistic crusades, through political activity.

It is therefore crucial that we understand the nature of New Evangelicalism.

We are concerned that a great many of the members of good churches do not have a clear understanding of exactly what New Evangelicalism is, nor of the history of the doctrinal battles which have been fought to preserve the Truth in the past 100 years.

To be ignorant of the insidious nature of New Evangelicalism is to be unprepared to identify and resist it. In this first section of we define New Evangelicalism in the context of the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversies of the first half of this century.


The term "Fundamentalism" has come to mean any number of things and is commonly used in a derogatory and slanderous way by those who do not believe the Scriptures. It is used to describe all sorts of extremism-- terrorist Muslims, snake-handlers, the demonically-possessed Jim Jones who caused the mass suicide of his followers, the racist Ayrian Nations.

In a historical Christian context, Fundamentalism arose out of the doctrinal controversies which embroiled American churches at the turn of the century when modernism began to take root in seminaries and Bible colleges and in leadership positions in the denominations.

Fundamentalism is a North American church phenomena, but it arose because of theological problems which originated in Europe.

Modernism (or Liberalism) had its origin in Europe, particularly in Germany, in the 19th century and was merely the rationalistic thinking of that time applied to Christianity. It was the dawn of the "scientific era"; many men felt they were on the verge of discovering the secrets of the universe and solving the problems of mankind. Anti-Christian thinkers such as Darwin, Hegel, and Marx led the movement to dethrone God and place Man in His place. Unregenerate "Christian" professors in European Bible seminaries had already rejected the Word of God, so they gladly accepted the humanistic thinking of the day and set out to apply evolutionary philosophies to the Bible and Christianity. The result was tragic: The Bible was considered simply another human book, inspired only in the sense that Shakespeare's writings were "inspired." Jesus Christ was considered a mere man--good and influential--but a mere man nonetheless.

Modernists taught that the Bible did not come to us by direct revelation from God through the Holy Spirit's ministry to holy men of old, but came, rather, as a purely human evolutionary process. Supposedly, as men's ideas about God became more sophisticated, the writers of the Bible drew an increasingly more sophisticated picture of God, until we come to the supposed higher theological ideas of the New Testament. Modernists do not believe the Bible's historical accounts are accurate and do not believe the miracles actually happened. They do not believe there actually was an Adam and an Eve, a Garden of Eden, a worldwide Flood, nor do they believe the miracles recorded in Exodus and other parts of the O.T. happened as recorded, but believe these are religious myths much like the Hindu stories. According to Modernism, the first five books of the Bible were not written by the historical Moses as He received it as Revelation from the hand of God, but were not assembled together in their present state until the time of Israel's kings. Many Modernists do not believe in that Christ was virgin-born, nor that He is truly God, nor that He actually rose from the dead, etc. They do not believe that the Gospel accounts of His life are factual, and they assume that we do not have an accurate idea of what Jesus Christ was truly like.

An example of Modernism is found in the writings of the men who translated the Revised Standard Version of 1951. This corrupted version was produced by apostates. Consider a few excerpts from their books:

"Revelation has sometimes been understood to consist in a holy book. ... Even on Christian soil it has sometimes been held that the books of the Bible were practically dictated to the writers through the Holy Spirit. ... I DO NOT THINK THAT THIS IS THE DISTINCTIVELY CHRISTIAN POSITION. If God once wrote His revelation in an inerrant book, He certainly failed to provide any means by which this could be passed on without contamination through human fallibility. ... The true Christian position is the Bible CONTAINS the record of revelation" (Clarence T. Craig, The Beginning of Christianity).


"The dates and figures found in the first five books of the Bible turn out to be altogether unreliable" (Julius Brewer, The Literature of the Old Testament).

"The writers of the New Testament made mistakes in interpreting some of the Old Testament prophecies" (James Moffatt, The Approach to the New Testament).

"One cannot of course place John on the same level with the synoptic Gospels [Matthew, Mark, Luke] as A HISTORICAL SOURCE" (William Albright, From the Stone Age to Christianity).

"He [Jesus Christ] was given to overstatements, in his case, not a personal idiosyncrasy, but a characteristic of the oriental world" (Henry F.

Cadbury, Jesus, What Manner of Man?).

"As to the miraculous, one can hardly doubt that time and tradition would heighten this element in the story of Jesus" (Ibid., Cadbury).

"A psychology of God, IF that is what Jesus was, is not available" (Ibid., Cadbury).

"According to the ENTHUSIASTIC TRADITIONS which had come down through the FOLKLORE of the people of Israel, Methuselah lived 969 years" (Walter Russell Bowie, Great Men of the Bible).

"The story of Abraham comes down from ancient times; and how much of it is fact and how much of it is LEGEND, no one can positively tell" (Ibid., Bowie).


"This phrase [`Thus saith the Lord'] is an almost unfailing mark of SPURIOUSNESS" (William A. Irwin, The Problem of Ezekiel).

"Only bigotry could bring us to deny an EQUAL VALIDITY WITH THE PROPHETS OF ISRAEL in the religious vision of men such as Zoraster or Ikhnaton or, on a lower level, the unnamed thinkers of ancient Babylonia" (Ibid., Irwin).

"The narrative of calling down fire from heaven upon the soldiers sent to arrest him is PLAINLY LEGENDARY" (Fleming James, The Beginnings of Our Religion).

"What REALLY happened at the Red Sea WE CAN NO LONGER KNOW" (Ibid., James).

"We cannot take the Bible as a whole and in every part as stating with divine authority what we must believe and do" (Millar Burrows, Outline of Biblical Theology).

A more recent illustration of Modernism comes from the pen of John Shelby Spong, a bishop in the Episcopal Church in America:

"Am I suggesting that these stories of the virgin birth are not literally true? The answer is a simple and direct `Yes.' Of course these narratives are not literally true. Stars do not wander, angels do not sing, virgins do not give birth, magi do not travel to a distant land to present gifts to a baby, and shepherds do not go in search of a newborn savior. ... To talk of a Father God who has a divine-human son by a virgin woman is a mythology that our generation would never have created, and obviously, could not use. To speak of a Father God so enraged by human evil that he requires propitiation for our sins that we cannot pay and thus demands the death of the divine-human son as a guilt offering is a ludicrous idea to our century. The sacrificial concept that focuses on the saving blood of Jesus that somehow washes me clean, so popular in Evangelical and Fundamentalist circles, is by and large repugnant to us today" (John Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism: A Bishop Rethinks the Meaning of Scripture, Harper, 1991, pp. 215,234).

It is shocking to see how these supposed Christian scholars deny the Holy Scriptures. Modernism flies under many flags, and not all Modernists are as bold and plain speaking as Bishop Spong, but all deny the perfect inspiration of Holy Scripture and question the miraculous.

It is important to remember that all of this was prophesied by the Holy Spirit. The Lord's Apostles warned that many unregenerate false teachers would creep into the churches and would deceive many, and in fact, such false teachers were already active during the times of the Apostles. See Ma. 7:15-23; 24:5,24; Ac. 20:28-30; Ro. 16:17-28; 2 Co. 11:1-20; Ga. 2:4; Ph. 3:1,2; 3:18-19; Co. 2:4-8; 1 Ti. 1:19-20; 4:1-3; 6:20-21; 2 Ti. 2:14- 21; 3:1-13; 4:1-4; Tit. 1:10-16; 3:9-11; 2 Pe. 2:1-22: 3:1- 18; 1 Jo. 2:18- 19; 4:1-6; 2 Jo. 7-11; Ju. 3-19; Re. 2:2,6, Re. 2:14-15; Re. 2:20-23; Re. 3:15-17; Re. 17.

Modernism quickly increased in popularity, especially from the middle to the end of the 19th century, and by the early 1900s had became the predominant theology among Christian leaders in Germany and most other parts of Europe and had been introduced to American denominations through men who studied in prestigious (though apostate) European seminaries and through European professors who visited American schools and churches.

Though there were some who resisted Modernism in Europe, it more easily spread there than in America because of the fact that the majority of Christianity in Europe was already apostate when Modernism arose. Apart from Roman Catholicism, Protestant state churches were the predominant forms of Christianity in Europe, and since most of these groups taught infant baptism and were very ritualistic, they had become filled with unregenerate members and spiritual death long before the end of the 19th century. They had no power to resist Modernism, and the comparatively few independent churches in Europe were not influential enough to cause much of an uproar against the Modernistic teaching.


The situation was different in America. There were no state-controlled and affiliated denominations in the U.S., and America had been blessed with some powerful revival movements in the 1800s and the early 1900s. Christianity in the U.S. was therefore much livelier than in Europe. As Modernism began gaining adherents in U.S. denominations, Christian leaders who were saved and who believed the Bible began to take a stand against it. The battle that followed was called The Fundamentalist/Modernist controversy.

The name "Fundamentalist" was popularized by a series of books which were written by Bible-believing men for the purpose of expounding the Fundamental doctrines of the Christian faith, of the Bible. Published over a five-year period from 1910-1915, the series, titled The Fundamentals, was composed of 90 articles written by 64 authors. With the financial backing of a wealthy Christian businessman, hundreds of thousands of copies of The Fundamentals were distributed to Christian workers in the United States and 21 foreign countries. The articles defended the perfect inspiration of the Bible, justification by faith, the new birth, the deity, virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and other Bible truths. They dealt not only with the heresy of Modernism, but of Romanism, Socialism, and the Cults.

Some have attempted define Fundamentalism as is only a concern for "the five fundamentals of the faith." G. Archer Weniger shows the falicy of this view:

"The five fundamentals have only to do with the Presbyterian aspect of the struggle with modernism. ... The bulk of Fundamentalism, especially the Baptists of every stripe who composed the majority by far, never accepted the five fundamentals alone. The World's Christian Fundamentals Association, founded in 1919, had at least a dozen main doctrines highlighted. The same was true of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship, which originated in 1920. A true Fundamentalist would under no circumstances restrict his doctrinal position to five fundamentals. Even Dr. Carl F.H. Henry, a New Evangelical theologian, listed at least several dozen doctrines essential to the Faith. The only advantage of reducing the Faith down to five is to make possible a wider inclusion of religionists, who might be way off in heresy on other specific doctrines. It is much easier to have large numbers of adherents with the lowest common denominator in doctrine" (G. Archer Weniger, quoted in Calvary Contender, Apr. 15, 1994).

An accurate definition of Fundamentalism was given by the World Congresses of Fundamentalists:

  • A Fundamentalist is a born-again believer in the Lord Jesus Christ who--
  1. Maintains an immovable allegiance to the inerrant, infallible, and verbally inspired Bible.
  2. Believes that whatever the Bible says is so.
  3. Judges all things by the Bible and is judged only by the Bible.
  4. Affirms the foundational truths of the historic Christian Faith: The doctrine of the Trinity; the incarnation, virgin birth, substitutionary atonement, bodily resurrection and glorious ascension, and Second Coming of the Lord Jesus Christ; the new birth through regeneration by the Holy Spirit; the resurrection of the saints to life eternal; the resurrection of the ungodly to final judgment and eternal death; the fellowship of the saints, who are the body of Christ.
  5. Practices fidelity to that Faith and endeavors to preach it to every creature.
  6. Exposes and separates from all ecclesiastical denial of that Faith, compromise with error, and apostasy from the Truth.
  7. Earnestly contends for the Faith once delivered.

Many varying definitions of Fundamentalism have been given through the years, and the truth of the matter is that Fundamentalism has taken a great variety of forms. As a movement it has been largely interdenominational, yet many independent, separatist churches, such as independent Baptists and independent Bible churches, have accepted the label. Regardless of this variety, though, one of the chief hallmarks of Fundamentalism--its very essense, if you will--has always been a MILITANCY for the Faith of the Word of God. Anyone who is not truly militant in standing for the Truth has no title to biblical Fundamentalism.

The battle grew hotter as the years passed and as Modernistic thinking increased in popularity in American denominations, theological schools, and Christian organizations. Many Bible-believers, realizing that liberalism, having become rooted, could not be effectively resisted (1 Co. 5:6; Ga. 5:9), separated themselves from those groups which were giving Modernism a home. They formed new churches, denominations, and organizations.


Evangelicalism of the 1990s is a different creature than that of the 1940s and earlier. Fifty years ago the term "Evangelical" was a word which referred to strong, Bible-believing Christianity. Though the term "Evangelical," like Fundamentalism, has never had an established definition, as a rule it had traditionally described Protestants who were stridently anti-Roman Catholic and who preached the new birth. For the most part, the Evangelicals of Europe and North America a generation ago were stalwart soldiers for Christ.

Some trace the term "Evangelical" to the English revivals of the Wesleys and Whitefield. Others trace it back further to the earliest days of the Protestant Reformation. In either case, we can see that Evangelicalism of old was dogmatic and militant. It was old fashioned Protestanism. Luther was excommunicated by the Pope; John Wesley was barred from Anglican churches. Anyone familiar with the old Lutheran and Methodist creeds can understand why this was the case. Those men, though we Baptists don't see eye to eye with them on many important points, definitely stood militantly for what they believed to be the truth. Not only did these Evangelical Protestants define what they believed the Bible taught, but they defined it in contradiction to error. This is exactly what the New Evangelical refuses to do.

  • Consider examples of this from the Methodist Articles of Religion:

"Transubstantiation, or the change of the substance of bread and wine in the Supper of our Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ, but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of the ordinance, and hath given occasion to many superstitions. ... The Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshiped."

"...the sacrifice of masses in the which it is commonly said that the priest doth offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, is a blasphemous fable, and dangerous deceit."

David Otis Fuller, speaking of these Evangelical soldiers of bygone days, said,

"Each man possessed the same fierce conviction--that all truth is absolute, never relative. For these men, truth was never a nose of wax to be twisted to suit their system of dialectics or deceptive casuistry. Two times two made four. In mathematics, their supreme authority was the multiplication table; in theology, their absolute authority was the Bible" (D.O. Fuller, Preface, Valiant for the Truth, New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1961, pp. ix,x).

Baptist C.H. Spurgeon is another example of what "Evangelical" meant in generations past. Charles Haddon Spurgeon's ministry was characterized by faithfulness to the truth, holiness of life, a pure gospel of grace, and unhesitating exposure of error. Though slandered, hated, and misunderstood, Spurgeon did not draw back from separating from the Baptist Union of Britain because of the false doctrine which was being countenanced. He also stood unhesitatingly against Roman Catholicism. Consider this excerpt from one of Spurgeon's sermons:

"It is impossible but that the Church of Rome must spread, when we who are the watchdogs of the fold are silent, and others are gently and smoothly turfing the road, and making it as soft and smooth as possible, that converts may travel down to the nethermost hell of Popery. We want John Knox back again. Do not talk to me of mild and gentle men, of soft manners and squeamish words, we want the fiery Knox, and even though his vehemence should `ding our pulpits into blads,' it were well if he did but rouse our hearts to action" (Sermons, Vol. 10, pgs. 322-3).

When was the last time you read something like that in Christianity Today!

Old Spurgeon hit the nail on the head. Sadly, today's Evangelicalism is indeed in the business of turfing the road of Romanism to make it smooth for those traveling thereon to Hell.

Many other examples could be given to show that Evangelicalism of past generations involved contending for the faith. Evangelical warriors of a bygone age did not fail to label Rome "that old harlot, drunk with the blood of the martyrs" and would have considered it unthinkable to have fellowship with Romanism or Modernism or with any other form of apostasy.


It was at this point that there came yet another division--that of New Evangelicalism. When godly men began to separate completely from Modernism and to refuse to have anything to do with those churches and institutions which were protecting the Modernists, there were many who claimed to be Evangelical Bible believers yet did not agree with the principle of separation. Until that time the term "Evangelical" generally referred to those who preached the necessity of the new birth through faith in the Blood of Jesus Christ and who stood firmly for the pure doctrine of the Scriptures. Evangelical had referred, in other words, to obedient, Bible- believing Christians. Now there arose those who claimed the title "Evangelical" but who refused to obey some of the teachings of Scripture.

  • These began to be called "New Evangelical".

Sadly, therefore, Evangelicalism is no longer a term for the stalwart defense of the Word of God. A generation of Evangelicals has arisen that, though rich in all manner of worldly benefits, has abandoned the spiritual zeal of their forefathers. Blindly following their compromised leaders, Evangelicals of this generation have removed the landmarks and knocked down the fences which were carefully set up by their wise forebears. With the rise to prominence of Billy Graham, another kind of Evangelicalism emerged.

The term "New Evangelicalism" was coined by the late Harold Ockenga to define a new type of Evangelicalism and to distinguish it from those who had heretofore bore that label. Ockenga has had a phenomenal influence upon today's Evangelicalism. He was the founder of the National Association of Evangelicals, co-founder and one-time president of Fuller Theological Seminary, first president of the World Evangelical Fellowship, a director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and chairman of the board and one-time editor of Christianity Today. In the foreword to Dr. Harold Lindsell's book The Battle for the Bible, Ockenga stated the position of New Evangelicalism:

"Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civic Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of Fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many Evangelicals. -- 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."

Ockenga and the new generation of Evangelicals, Billy Graham figuring most prominently, determined to abandon a militant Bible stance. Ockenga contended that Evangelicals should practice infiltration rather than separation, meaning they should stay in the apostate denominations and organizations and try to change them from within rather than separate from them and serve God in pure churches and organizations. He contended that Evangelicals should practice dialogue rather than exhortation, that they should not be negative in their message by rebuking and warning false teachers publicly, but should attempt to change the false teachers through dialogue. He taught that Evangelicals should reexamine their idea of worldliness and not be as strict about separating from worldly evils as Bible-believing Christians had been in earlier days.

Ockenga decided that Evangelicals should consider the possibility that modern science was right in some areas where it disagreed with the Bible. The prime example of this was in the origin of the world. Ockenga did not think Christians should so easily ignore the teaching of evolution as separatists were accustomed to do. He taught that there could be a synthesis between modern science and the Bible, and it is this New Evangelical principle that led to such strange ideas as theistic evolution.

Ockenga also believed that Christians should aim to meet Modernists and the men of the world on their own scholastic level and therefore contended that Christian leaders should be as well educated in the social sciences and liberal arts as unregenerate scholars and as well-versed in Bible criticism as the Modernists. The idea was that the Christian leader should seek to influence men through human wisdom and scholarship rather than purely though the power of the Holy Spirit and the preaching of the Word of God as we see in the ministries of the Apostles.

God says, "Walk ye in the old paths," but the New Evangelical reassesses the old paths. God says, "Remove not the ancient landmarks which thy fathers have set" but the New Evangelical has removed them one by one. God says, "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness," but the New Evangelical reasons that such fellowship is necessary. God says, "A little leaven leaventh the whole lump," but the New Evangelical thinks he can reform the already leavened lump. God says "evil communications corrupt good manners," but the New Evangelical thinks good manners can uplift evil communications. God says, "I resist the proud but give grace to the humble," but the New Evangelical thinks the way to reach the world is by meeting them on their own proud territory, matching them scholarly degree with degree.

The result of this new thinking has been dramatic. Within a mere fifty years, Evangelicalism has lost all semblance of its past purity, power, and glory. New Evangelicalism is blind and naked, but is not aware of it. In fact, New Evangelicalism glories in its new-found acceptance by the world and apostate Christendom, its vast material wealth, its satellites and transmitters, its worldwide television and radio networks, its vast publishing enterprises, its massive conferences.

It is God who has commanded that His people separate from error and from those who teach and practice it; it is God who has commanded that His people "earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints." And when these and other aspects of old-time Evangelicalism were rejected, the power and blessing of God was removed just as it was from Samson of old when he broke his Nazarite vow.

Even key Evangelical leaders have noted the spiritual decline of their movement. Harold Lindsell, former editor of Christianity Today, made this amazing statement at the 27th annual conention of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in Apr. 1969: "Evangelical Christianity is in spiritual jeopardy right now. Complacent, affluent, self-satisfied, we are lacking of great spiritual dynamic" (D.A. Waite, What's Wrong with the N.A.E. - 1969?). By 1985, Lindsell had become even more forceful about the decline of Evangelicalism: "Evangelicalism today is in a sad state of disarray. ... It is clear that Evangelicalism is now broader and shallower, and is becoming more so. Evangelicalism's children are in the process of forsaking the faith of their fathers" (Christian News, Dec. 2, 1985).

At the 1976 convention of the NAE in Washington D.C., Francis Schaeffer spoke on "The Watershed of the Evangelical World," which is the perfect inspiration of Holy Scripture. Schaeffer observed: "What is the use of Evangelicalism seeming to get larger and larger in number if significant numbers of those under the name of `Evangelical' no longer hold to that which makes Evangelicalism evangelical?" (D.A. Waite, What's Wrong with the N.A.E. - 1976?).

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.

Independent Baptists have historically been separatists and have therefore identified with Fundamentalism--though most Fundamental Baptists reject the interdenominationalism and nonchalantness toward ecclesiology of the Fundamentalist movement as a whole. Today, sadly, there is growing sympathy on the part of many supposed Fundamental Baptists with New Evangelicalism.

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.


In the previous section we traced the history of New Evangelicalism and gave the classic, historic definition thereof. In this section I want to detail what I believe to be the very heart and soul of New Evangelicalism. I want to give a practical definition of New Evangelicalism which can be understood and used by the members of independent Baptist and other Fundamental, Bible-believing congregations.


The following definition comes from many years of dealing with and studying New Evangelicalism. When we arrived in South Asia in 1979 to begin our missionary work, I was very ignorant of the nature of New Evangelicalism. Little did I know that I was soon to have a crash course in the subject. In my ignorance and inexperience, I was under the impression that New Evangelicalism was merely a United States phenomenon and that believers in other parts of the world, though they might be aligned with New Evangelical type organizations, would not necessarily be infected with compromise and error. How wrong I was!

During our first year in Nepal, I was invited by the national Campus Crusade for Christ people to preach at an underground evangelistic meeting, which I did. (Gospel work was illegal at that time in Nepal.) Using the book of Romans as an outline, I preached the Gospel, beginning with man's sin and God's holiness and judgment, and ending with God's love and grace through Jesus Christ. I started where Paul started and ended where he ended. After the service, the leaders took me aside and told me that my preaching was "too negative." This was to be expected, I suppose, considering the fact that Campus Crusade's Four Spiritual Laws starts on a positive note with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." This was the first time, though, I had direct dealings with those who had consciously rejected the negatives of biblical Christianity and who strived always to put a positive spin on everything, and I was shocked at their blatant disregard for Scripture. We discussed the fact that the Apostles approached men in a very negative manner, dealing first with man's sin and God's holiness before speaking of God's love and mercy, but they were unmoved in their philosophy that it is "too negative" to preach like this today. Nothing I could show them from the Word of God seemed to have any impact whatsoever upon them.

After a few months I was invited by the leaders of the Nepal Christian Fellowship (the head of which, at that time, was also the head of Campus Crusade for Christ in Nepal) to speak at some home Bible studies. I chose the topic of biblical separation, and it turned out to be a hot item! Knowing that the Jesuits had a strong foothold in that area and that some of the non-Catholic believers had close fellowship with them, I detailed the apostasy of Roman Catholicism and explained what the Bible says about separation from error. The response was quick and severe! When I closed my Bible, a female missionary who was working with an ecumenical organization called United Mission to Nepal and who taught in a girl's school, stood and loudly proclaimed, "You're not going to tell me I can't fellowship with my Roman Catholic friends! I attend mass with them and they attend church with me and I don't see anything wrong with it!" Though I was scheduled to teach at a series of Bible studies, that first one became my last.

After this I was invited by the same Fellowship to speak to a group of Nepali pastors. I was told that they had no Bible education and needed any help I could give them. They came to the capitol city from various parts of Nepal for these meetings, and I decided to use the book of Titus as an outline, dealing with some of the practical matters of church life. It seemed to be an ideal place to start. Titus was instructed by the Apostle in how to "set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city" (Titus 1:5). This was precisely what was needed in Nepal. There were a number of small, struggling house churches which did not have proper organization or instruction. I started where Paul started in chapter one, with God's standards for church leaders and with how to deal with heretics (verses 6-16). My "negative" preaching proved, once again, to be a hot topic!

One of the men who had attended the meeting was from eastern Nepal, and was considered the chief pastor among a number of house churches scattered across that entire region. He was one of the most enthusiastic in telling me that my teaching was just wonderful. After each session he would approach me and shake my hand cheerfully and tell me what a help these meetings were to him. I was encouraged. My ministry was appreciated! My gifts were recognized! I was getting through!

How deceived I was! I soon learned that this man, this very man, was living in total disobedience to the things we were looking at from God's Word. He had three wives. Not two, but three! He was living with the youngest one (what a coincidence, huh?) at his main church compound in a town near the Indian border, and the two older wives were living with their children on two other farms he owned in that region. He visited them from time to time. He also, I learned, had a poor testimony in regard to certain matters having to do with money and properties.

When I confronted him with this matter and warned him that he was not qualified to be a pastor, he was very discouraged. The next session he stood and addressed the group of men, detailing a vision he had from God, supposedly, in which God commanded him to "preach to my sheep." I explained that he could preach and serve the Lord in certain ways, but that he was not qualified to be a pastor and that God would not contradict His Word by a vision. He refused to listen, and the Campus Crusade leader and others encouraged the man NOT to quit the pastorate! They stayed up with him much of that night speaking to him and encouraging him NOT to obey the clear teaching of the Word of God.

I was not again invited to speak at Evangelical meetings in Nepal. I had only been there a year or so and already my career as a popular ecumenical speaker was finished. Praise the Lord for His mercy and kindness to an ignorant young missionary! I learned that if you stand strictly upon the Word of God you will be "too negative" for the New Evangelical crowd.


Since that time I have studied New Evangelicalism intensely. I learned that it is the predominant form of Christianity today apart from Romanism, Modernism, and the Cults, and I have wanted to understand it.

I have found that the heart of New Evangelicalism is this: It is a repudiation of the negative aspects of biblical Christianity.

This is what confuses so many people. They hear a Chuck Colson or a Chuck Swindoll or a Billy Graham or a Luis Palau or a Jack Van Impe, and they proclaim, "Everything he said was good; I didn't hear anything unscriptural." That is often correct. The chief problem with New Evangelicalism is not so much what it preaches that is wrong but what it refuses to preach that is right!

The New Evangelical will NOT preach plainly against sin. He will NOT practice separation. He will NOT identify and expose false teachers. He has repudiated this type of negativism, in spite of the fact that it is plainly a part of the whole counsel of God. Consider some examples of this. We will begin with statements by Billy Graham, one of the fathers of New Evangelicalism:

"I am far more tolerant of other kinds of Christians than I once was. My contact with Catholic, Lutheran and other leaders--people far removed from my own Southern Baptist tradition--has helped me, hopefully, to move in the right direction" (Billy Graham, "I Can't Play God Any More," McCall's magazine, Jan. 1978).

Note the word "tolerant." This is a keynote of New Evangelicalism. My friends, it is utterly impossible to be tolerant in the sense that Graham is speaking and be faithful to the Word of God. God is not tolerant of sin or error. How can His preachers think they can be tolerant of such and be pleasing to Him? It is confusion.

"Q. In your book you speak of `false prophets.' You say it is the `full- time effort of many intellectuals to circumvent God's plan' and you make a quotation from Paul Tillich. Do you consider Paul Tillich a false prophet?"

"A. I have made it a practice not to pass judgment on other clergymen."

"Q. Do you think that churches such as The United Church of Canada and the great liberal churches of the United States that are active in the ecumenical movement ... are `apostate'?"

"A. I could not possibly pass this type of judgment on individual churches and clergymen within The United Church of Canada ... Our Evangelistic Association is not concerned to pass judgment--favorable or adverse--on any particular denomination" ("Billy Graham Answers 26 Provocative Questions," United Church Observer, July 1, 1966).

  • In this interview we note another standard New Evangelical characteristic.

The New Evangelical will warn of false teaching in a very general sense, but he refuses to identify false teachers plainly. The New Evangelical's hearers therefore are not protected in any specific manner from error. They are not told exactly what the error is or who teaches it. Further, the New Evangelical will fellowship with and quote false teachers indiscriminately and thereby send signals that the false teachers are genuine brethren in Christ.

"Quite frankly, my Brother, I wish some of the brethren would take off their boxing gloves and pick up a towel. Perhaps if people began to wash one another's feet, there might be more love and unity" (Warren Wiersbe, letter to D.W. Cloud, May 23, 1986).

I had written to Dr. Wiersbe and asked him why he was associated with Christianity Today (he was an associate editor at the time) and other New Evangelical organizations, why he refused to speak plainly against such things as Romanism and Modernism. He replied with the above comment. Of course, we do need to remove our boxing gloves if we are fighting merely for self interest or for some pet peeve that is not a part of the Word of God, or if we are striving merely out of a carnal love for quarreling, if we are merely a problem maker wherever we go. But Wiersbe's advice was given in the context of contending for the faith, and if ever there were a day in which God's men need to put on the gloves and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints it is today!

"That's the wrong spirit--AVOID the liberal! I love to be with liberals, especially if they are willing to be taught, much more than with hard- boiled Fundamentalists who have all the answers. ... Evangelicals should seek to build bridges" (Stephen Olford, cited by Dennis Costella, "Amsterdam '86: Using Evangelism to Promote Ecumenism," Foundation, July- August 1986).

Dennis Costella of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association attended the Billy Graham Amsterdam '86 conference with press credentials and heard Stephen Olford speak. Costella noted that Olford delivered a strong message on the authority of Scripture and had mentioned the danger of Modernism and had warned the preachers in a general way to beware of it. Later, when Costella had opportunity to interview Olford, he asked this question, "You emphasized in your message the dangers of liberalism and how it could ruin the evangelist and his ministry. What is this conference doing to instruct the evangelist as to how to identify liberalism and the liberal so that upon his return home, he will be able to avoid the same?" Olford replied with the comment in the previous paragraph. Again we see the New Evangelical trait of refusing to be specific about error. They will warn of false teaching in general but will refuse to deal with false teaching according to the Word of God. The truth is that the New Evangelical is far more concerned about Fundamentalism than he is about Modernism or Romanism or any other form of apostasy.

"At Fuller we are characterized by balance in that we are an institution of `both-and' rather than `either-or.' We seek to be both Evangelical and ecumenical ..." (David Allan Hubbard, President, Fuller Theological Seminary (Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1989, p. 71).

What doublespeak! A "both-and" Christianity is as unscriptural as it possibly can be, yet this is what the New Evangelical strives for and glories in.

Bill Hybels [pastor of the 12,000-member Willow Creek Community Church near Chicago] took a survey and found that people always left church feeling guilty (the Christian message was too negative with `sin,' etc.). Hybels' solution was to `program our Sunday morning service to non-believers ... By this means, Hybels hoped the newcomers would `feel welcome, unthreatened, and entertained' (The BDM Letter, Oct. 1992).

This is the New Evangelical positive approach at your service. Many New Evangelicals will not go as far as Hybels does in giving the unsaved what they want, but the philosophy behind this is definitely New Evangelical.

Hybels is VERY popular in Evangelical circles.

"I'm not a charismatic. However, I don't feel it's my calling to shoot great volleys of theological artillery at my charismatic brothers and sisters. ... More than ever we need grace-awakened ministers who free rather than bind: Life beyond the letter of Scripture ... absence of dogmatic Bible-bashing" (Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, pp. 188,233).

The dogmatic Bible-bashing so despised by Charles Swindoll is exactly the ministry of the Word of God exercised and enjoined by the Apostles. Consider Peter's message in 2 Peter 2. It would be difficult to use language harsher or plainer than this to describe false teachers. A "grace- awakened" minister by Swindoll's definition is one who is tolerant of error and who emphasizes the positive in every situation. This is not how Paul acted. In the Pastoral Epistles alone he identifies false teachers and compromisers 10 times (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:10,14).

The Apostles were NOT New Evangelicals. Regarding false teachers, they gave the following instruction: (1) Mark and avoid them (Rom. 16:17,18). (2) Come out from among them (2 Cor. 6:14-18). (3) Shun their babblings (2 Tim. 2:16,17). (4) Turn away from them (2 Tim. 3:5). (5) Reject them (Tit. 3:10). (6) Do not receive them nor bid them God speed (2 Jn. 10-11).

"LUIS PALAU'S form of worship presents such a broad Christian message that it appeals to Protestants and Catholics alike ... [Palau] carefully avoids the controversial differences between Catholics and Protestants" (The Arizona Republic, Oct. 31, 1992).

This is a good description of New Evangelicalism. It presents a "broad" Christian message and carefully avoids controversial matters. It is interesting that this discerning description is given by the secular press.

"MALIBU - ... it was a week in which Christianity came with top-notch food served by waiters, bikini-clad girls, water skiing, immaculate facilities, games galore, rock music, new friends, affection and some of the most glorious scenery in Creation.

"One hundred miles north of Vancouver ... the Malibu Club brings in about 4,000 teenagers each summer.

"Malibu teaches the teens that Christianity can be a blast.

"'It's just they make God, like, really fun,' said Crystal Primrose, 15, from North Vancouver.

"A casually dressed club director, John McNichol, led the final night's session in which he asked kids to make a commitment to Jesus. He told the teens they have doubts about whether they'd still have fun if they became Christian and about what their friends might think if they converted. `But don't worry. God is like the king of fun,' said McNichol, who earlier in the day dressed up as James Bond for a comedy skit" (Report on YOUNG LIFE'S Malabu, The Spectator, Hamilton, Ontario, Sat., Oct. 1, 1994).

Fun Christianity. That is New Evangelicalism. The New Evangelical's God is not the awesomely holy God of Scripture, the God who requires repentance, the God who is to be served in "reverence and godly fear," the God who requires the crucified life; he is the king of fun. If someone protests that this is not the case, I challenge that one to observe any New Evangelical youth ministry. You will quickly see that we know whereof we speak.

"Wagner makes negative assessments about nobody. He has made a career out of finding what is good in growing churches, and affirming it without asking many critical questions" (Tim Stafford, "Testing the Wine from John Wimber's Vineyard," Christianity Today, August 8, 1986, p. 18).

Fuller Seminary professor C. Peter Wagner is a popular church growth proponent in Evangelical circles. This description of his ministry illustrates what we are saying about New Evangelicalism. It has a conscious goal of being positive, even to the degree of ignoring or downplaying error.

Thus we see that the foremost trait of New Evangelicalism is its repudiation of the negative aspects of biblical Christianity. If the preacher you listen to avoids such things as Hell, Judgment, and Separation; if he never pointedly identifies apostasy, speaking of error on in the most general terms; if he studiously avoids being controversial; if he speaks more of self-esteem than self-denial, you are probably listening to a New Evangelical preacher.


Another way of identifying New Evangelicalism is its mood of neutralism. New Evangelicalism is a philosophy, but it is also a mood. In his discerning book on Evangelicalism, subtitled The New Neutralism, John Ashbrook notes: "[New Evangelicalism] might more properly be labeled The New Neutralism. It seeks neutral ground, being neither fish nor fowl, neither right nor left, neither for nor against--it stands between!" (p. 2).

New Evangelicalism can be identified by the following terms: Soft, cautious, hesitant, tolerant, pragmatic, accommodating, flexible, non- controversial, non-offensive, non-passionate, non-dogmatic.

Whenever you encounter churches and preachers who are characterized by these terms, you have encountered New Evangelicalism.

Contrast Bible Christianity, which is characterized by other terms: Strong, bold, fearless, dogmatic, plain, intolerant and unaccommodating (of sin and error), inflexible (in regard to the truth), controversial, offensive (to those who are disobedient to God), passionate.

While the battle between Truth and Error rages, New Evangelicalism tries to sit on the sidelines.

Beware of New Evangelicalism. It is a great error, and to adopt it is to enter a downward path which often leads to increasing blindness. Behold Billy Graham, who, in the early days of his ministry preached against Romanism, Communism, and Modernism, today sees no great problem with any of these, today calls the pope a great evangelist and a friend of the saints. Behold Jack Van Impe, who only two decades ago preached in Fundamental circles today holds forth the pope of Rome as a defender of the faith! Behold James Robison, who only a few years ago lifted his voice boldly against apostasy, today thinks the pope is a saved man and a great example of morality.

"The New Evangelical advocates toleration of error. It is following the downward path of accommodation to error, cooperation with error, contamination by error, and ultimate capitulation to error" (Charles Woodbridge).

"Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. 15:33).

"But shun profane and vain babblings: for they will increase unto more ungodliness" (2 Tim. 2:16).

"The truth is being lost in our churches, not by those who teach errors, but by the men who don't care. They sit indifferently as though they weren't involved, as though they could be noble gentlemen by being above all such struggling. They don't realize that all we need to do to lose the truth is nothing. Then there are those who throw the dirt of slander at the finest fighters. They'll have to face God for that" (Christian News, June 22, 1992).

"Those who defend heretics, even if they do not believe in their teachings, are guilty of lending credibility to their heresies, and will be held accountable to God for the souls that are destroyed as a result." --Al Dager

"From the Liberality which says that everybody is right; from the Charity which forbids to say that anybody is wrong; from the Peace which is bought at the expense of Truth; may the good Lord deliver us." --J.C. Ryle

"On all hands we hear cries for unity in this and unity in that; but in our mind the main need of this age is not compromise but conscientiousness. `First pure, then peaceable...' It is easy to cry, `A confederacy,' but that union that is not based on the truth of God is rather a conspiracy than a communion. Charity by all means: but honesty also. Love of course, but love to God as well as love to men, and love of truth as well as love of union. It is exceedingly difficult in these times to preserve one's fidelity before God and one's fraternity among men. Should not the former be preferred to the latter if both cannot be maintained? We think so." --C.H. Spurgeon

"To seek unity with false prophets without challenging their errors leaves one's own beliefs open to questions. Those who defend heretics, even if they do not believe in their teachings, are guilty of lending credibility to their heresies, and will be held accountable to God for the souls that are destroyed as a result. It's up to those that know the truth to defend the church against false teachers whatever the cost to unity or to personal benefit." --Al Dager

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