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The neo-evangelical movement began with the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942. The neo-evangelical movement was a lead by Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Billy Graham. The movement started by these men, was one of building institutions, publications, and ministries. This movement was post-fundamentalist in that it rejected the separatism and elitism characteristic of some of the fundamentalists. The partnership still built itself o two core theological beliefs, the full authority of the inspired Scripture and the insistence on the doctrine of substitutionary atonement.

Harold John Ockenga, one of the prime movers of the new coalition, was convinced that what was needed was “a progressive fundamentalism with an ethical message.”‘ This became the passionate concern of the rising breed of conservative leadership. There soon followed respectable journals, such as Christianity Today, top-notch seminaries, such as Fuller and Trinity, and with an arena for theological discourse, the Evangelical Theological Society, Evangelicals began to be accepted in the academy. The one man who really led Evangelicals to the intellectual spectrum was Carl F. H. Henry.

Henry’s influence shaped American Evangelicalism (AE) as we know it. The infrastructure of our sub-culture was laid and shaped by these men and their legacies. AE has become a vast sub-culture. Randall Balmer, in Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory, spent a few chapters devoted to exposing the amount of money that is spent within our own sub-culture, Christian bookstores, Bible colleges, even Christian theme parks and vacation destinations. Where would we be without all the corny Christian t-shirts? I wonder if Henry and the others knew of the animal that would surface from their creation. Despite our critiques, our infrastructure is a big part of who we are.

Another problem is that the founders of the neo-evangelical movement thought that if the two core doctrines remained strong, the full authority of the inspired Scripture and the doctrine of penal substitutionary atonement, Evangelicals would be given liberty in other areas of doctrine. Other areas of liberty were issues of church polity (women in ministry), the continuation or cessation of spiritual gifts, the mode of baptism, and views on the millennium. But what began as an allowance for liberty turned into an abrogation of doctrine. These other areas of doctrine began to be seen as secondary issues, or ultimately, unimportant.

Evangelicalism today is plagued with doctrinally thin churches. What Henry and the others intended to be a way to unite around the gospel, ultimately produced dumb Christians. Evangelicals hold two things dear to their hearts today, their Bibles and a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. This is directly a result of the neo-evangelical coalition.

What is interesting is that the same kind of coalition is being made in AE today. There is currently a movement called, “Together for the Gospel,” (T4G)…the neo-neos. T4G began as a friendship between four pastors, Mark Dever, Ligon Duncan, C. J. Mahaney, and Albert Mohler. These friends differed on a number of theological issues, like baptism and the charismatic gifts. But they were committed to standing together for the main thing, the gospel of Jesus Christ. I am thankful that these men are standing for the gospel. These men are my heroes. I trust these men. But I can’t help but be concerned. I am concerned these men may be setting evangelical churches up to reducing Christianity again. Please don’t hear that I am saying that focusing on the gospel is reductionism, rather I am questioning if this is how the problems were started with the post-World War II evangelical giants.

 

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