Jesus Creed

BillyGra.pngHere is a part of a piece posted last Monday at, which was also picked up by WaPo. But, I want to have a discussion about it here so I will spread it out over three days (MWF) on this blog to facilitate conversation on a variety of topics:

are announcing the end of evangelicalism, like former evangelical and now anti-evangelical
journalist, Christine Wicker. Others, like evangelical sociologist, Bradley
Wright, describe a movement that is holding its own if not actually gaining
some ground. David Wells, theologian and author, speaks for many when he
contends the theological bottom is falling out of much of contemporary populist
evangelicalism, while megachurch after megachurch pastor reveals an optimism
that numbers are growing. From a variety of angles, then, evangelicalism is
under investigation, and one of the concerns is its future. What is the future
of evangelicalism?

neither a prophet nor the son of a prophet. So answering the question about the
future of evangelicalism is something I can only probe into on the basis if
what I know and see and hear and sense.

Evangelicalism: What
is it?

we could begin with some definitions. If we define “evangelical” as those who
faithfully sustain the Reformation’s central impulses, like justification by
faith and the solas, I would contend
that evangelicalism will be here for a long time. There are plenty who will
keep the Reformation’s gospel and theology alive. If we define “evangelical” as
those who are faithful to the Great Awakening(s) and revivals of America, who
carry on the work of folks like Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley and D.L. Moody,
along with the missionary movement that flowed from that kind of
evangelicalism, I would say that movement is sputtering along and is not likely
to go away anytime soon. But I would caution that the great drive for
evangelism has seriously waned on American soil, and the promptings that
created missionary work all over the world has fallen on dry days. And,
finally, if we define “evangelical” as the coalition that was created in the
1940s and 1950s and 1960s around such luminaries as Billy Graham, Carl Henry,
John Stott and J.I. Packer, I would say the days are numbered.

The Neo-Evangelical

needs to be said about the nature of the evangelical coalition that I see
falling apart. The evangelicalism that formed in the 1940s and 1950s, more accurately
called “neo-evangelicalism,” was a reaction to strident forms of
fundamentalism, a call to serious intellectual engagement so that
evangelicalism could gain both theological and academic credibility again, and
a big tent coalition to work together for evangelism and theological
development.  By and large, this
big tent coalition combined the Calvinist and Wesleyan segments of
evangelicalism, found places for Christian colleges and parachurch ministries
and missionary societies and a plethora of magazines and radio stations, and
gave special places to evangelical leaders like Billy Graham and Carl Henry.
This big tent evangelicalism did not spend its energies fighting over theological
issues so much as it galvanized those energies for missional and theological
work. One reason it did not fight theologically is because its theology, though
it clearly embraced those across a wide spectrum, was more or less grounded in
a common affirmation of the centrality of the Bible, the necessity of
conversion, the clarity of an atonement-shaped gospel message, and an
expectation that real Christians were hard at work in local churches, in
evangelism, and in community-focused activism.

that coalition has all but broken apart, and not just because that theology is
less central. It is only heritage-rich institutions like Christianity Today and memories in 50 and 60 and 60somethings that
perceive both what neo-evangelicalism was and what it has become..  The only way the older coalition can
survive is if Christianity Today
and I see no other genuine alternative – can continue to attract
consensus-shaped evangelicalism.

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