The Heart Of New Evangelicalism
David W. Cloud
[The following material is from O Timothy magazine, Volume 12, Issue 2, 1995. Permission is given for free distribution of this material, but not for resale or for use in fundraising. 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, P.O. Box 610368, Port Huron, MI 48061. 866-295-4143. The phone number is (360) 675-8311. FOR CANADA the subscription is $20 Canadian. Send to Bethel Baptist Church, P.O. Box 9075, London, Ontario N6E 1V0.]
In the last issue of O Timothy we featured an article on the history and nature of New Evangelicalism. I am convinced that few errors are as destructive to Fundamental, Bible-believing churches as this one. 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.
It is therefore crucial that we understand the nature of New Evangelicalism. Last month we traced the history of New Evangelicalism and gave the classic, historic definition thereof. In this issue 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:
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
A MOOD OF NEUTRALISM
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).
"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
"When we bow before God we never know what may come of it. We are in the presence of a greatness which gives to our slightest acts an infinite significance; and though our prayers may not live in the thought and memory of mankind, they always have effects which stretch out into eternity." --R.W. Dale
"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
"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
"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