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Post-Reformation and Contemporary Developments



The word is often used in a number of ways. Robert Webber (The Younger Evangelicals) notes four:

(1)           Biblically - as a reference to the gospel (euangelion), i.e., the "good news" that God has acted savingly in Jesus Christ

(2)           Historically - as a reference to any movement or individual, primarily subsequent to the Protestant Reformation, that is committed to a recovery and restoration of the historic Christian faith, especially in times of spiritual lethargy or theological apostasy

(3)           Theologically - as a reference to anyone or any movement that embraces the supreme authority of Scripture and the early ecumenical creeds as accurate expressions of the faith

(4)           Culturally - Anyone that identifies with the values of Billy Graham, Campus Crusade for Christ, James Dobson, Wheaton College, etc.

A brief overview of 20th century Evangelicalism

1.             The Origins of the Movement (1910-1925)

  • The emergence of Dispensationalism (John Nelson Darby, 1800-82)
  • The influence of the Princeton Theology
  • The Holiness movement
  • The reaction to Modernism

Phillips/Okholm define modernism as "the attempt to save the Christian faith by modifying Christianity to meet the intellectual standards and scientific findings of the day; it stressed cultural adaptation, an optimism regarding human potential and progress, the immanence of God in the evolution of the human race, and a stress on ethics and natural religious feelings over against beliefs" (251).

  • Publication of the 'The Fundamentals' (1910-1915)

A series of twelve books that focused on (1) the inerrancy of Scripture; (2) the virgin birth of Christ; (3) the substitutionary atonement of Christ; (4) the bodily resurrection of Christ; (5) the second coming of Christ.

  • Sermon by Harry Emerson Fosdick on May 21, 1922 - "Shall the Fundamentalists Win?"
  • The Scopes 'Monkey Trial' of 1925
  • J. Gresham Machen and the founding of Westminster Theological Seminary (1936)

2.             Characteristics of Fundamentalism (1925-1945)

  • "Fundamentalism arose as a religious reaction within American culture to the rise of a secular culture" (McGrath, 28) / "Fundamentalism is orthodoxy in confrontation with modernity" (James Davison Hunter) / "Fundamentalism in any context takes form when members of already conservative or traditional movements experience threat" (Martin Marty).
  • Characterized by a "siege mentality"; a defensive attitude toward secular society
  • Culturally isolationist
  • Intellectually narrow-minded and resistant to engagement with emerging ideas
  • Ecclesiastically separatistic (when internal reform proves impossible, separate from the denomination and form a new and doctrinally pure church)
  • Socially inactive
  • Relationally angry
  • "Certain central doctrines . . . [are] treated as barriers, intended as much to alienate secular culture as to give fundamentalists a sense of identity and purpose" (McGrath, 29).
  • Bob Jones University

3.             The New Evangelicalism (1945- )

The neoevangelical movement was, in many respects, a reaction among theological conservatives to the anti-intellectual and cultural isolationism of fundamentalism.

  • Creation of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE; 1942)
  • Publication of Carl F. H. Henry's Remaking the Modern Mind (1946) and The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947)
  • The founding of Fuller Theological Seminary (1947)
  • The establishment of Christianity Today (1956)
  • The emergence and influence of Billy Graham in America and John Stott in England
  • The ministries of numerous para-church organizations: Campus Crusade for Christ, Young Life, Youth for Christ, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, etc.
  • Newsweek magazine declared that 1976 was the "Year of the Evangelical"

4.             Evangelical Diversity

Characteristic or Controlling Convictions

David Bebbington (Evangelicalism in Modern Britain) identifies four primary characteristics:

1.             Conversionism, or an emphasis on the experience of being "born again" (emphasis is not placed on any particular theology of conversion, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, but simply on the need for it)

2.             Biblicism, or an emphasis on the Bible as one's ultimate religious authority

3.             Activism, or a concern for sharing one's faith (evangelism) and reaching beyond the boundaries of the church to impact the world for Christ

4.             Crucicentrism, or a focus on the centrality of Christ's redemptive work on the cross.

"Together," notes Bebbington, these "form a quadrilateral of priorities that is the basis of Evangelicalism" (2-3).

Alister McGrath (Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity) recognizes six:

1.             "The supreme authority of Scripture as a source of knowledge of God and a guide to Christian living" (55).

2.             "The majesty of Jesus Christ, both as incarnate God and Lord and as the Savior of sinful humanity" (56).

3.             "The lordship of the Holy Spirit" (56).

4.             "The need for personal conversion" (56).

5.             "The priority of evangelism for both individual Christians and the church as a whole" (56).

6.             "The importance of the Christian community for spiritual nourishment, fellowship and growth" (56).

Timothy Phillips and Dennis Okholm (A Family of Faith) have a similar list of five distinctives:

1.             "Evangelicals insist that Jesus Christ is the incarnate God and thus the definitive self-revelation of God" (15).

2.             "Evangelicals affirm the authority of the Bible as the truthful, absolutely reliable, divinely inspired, and uniquely normative guide for Christian belief and practice" (16).

3.             "Evangelicals believe that our salvation was established only through Jesus Christ's life, atoning death, and resurrection, and that Christ's work must be personally appropriated by faith alone" (16).

4.             "Evangelicals commit themselves to a life of active piety under the lordship of Christ" (16).

5.             "Evangelicals engage themselves in evangelism, aimed at the conversion of individuals of the church" (16).

Areas of diversity and disagreement among Evangelicals:

1.             Political convictions and party affiliation

2.             Denominational vs. Non-denominational or Trans-denominational

3.             Secondary lifestyle issues

4.             Economic issues

5.             Role of women in church and ministry

6.             Eschatology

7.             War: just-war advocates vs. pacifists

8.             Ecumenical involvement

9.             Ministry of the Holy Spirit

10.          Church polity / theology of the sacraments