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The Neo-Evangelical Coalition Breakdown

Why has the coalition broken down? I don’t know for sure, but I think the following two are contributing factors:

First, some evangelicals who were nurtured in fundamentalism never really softened enough to be big tent evangelicals. They simply cooperated as long as it was the best American evangelicalism had to offer. Such folks never really were comfortable with or welcoming of the broader reaches of the neo-evangelical coalition, whether it was the charismatics or liturgics or Wesleyans or Anabaptists that concerned them. They have survived and can now be found in more strident forms of a fundamentalist evangelicalism.

Second,
big tent evangelicalism tended toward the reductionistic when it came
to theology because it sought to cooperate for the good of evangelism
and evangelicalism. The more reductionistic it became, the less robust
it could be. Eventually, in my limited viewing of the last forty years,  the
minimalism became too minimal. I point now to one dramatic element of
big tent evangelicalism: the megachurch phenomenon. And here I speak not
simply of big churches but of big churches that did not develop a
robust theological infrastructure. What I mean is this: megachurch
evangelicalism, at times, tended toward a theology that was not much
bigger than God loves you, Jesus died for you, accept him, and get busy.
Anything that smacked of theological robustness or finesse, anything
that demanded theological sophistication, and anything that required
serious study was seen as “extra” or “non-essential” or “for the elite.”
This thin theological foundation, which began in the neo-evangelical
spirit of coalition but which developed into even thinner ways among
some evangelical pastors and leaders, could not handle the challenges of
evangelicalism as it shifted from a genuinely Christian culture into a
postmodern non-Christian pluralism. 

And
I’m not participating here in the all-too-popular megachurch bashing
that I see among some. Instead, I’m contending that megachurches rode
the wave of the coalition and part of that wave was a developing lack of
interest in theological vision.

What
we are seeing in the NeoReformed, in the emerging, and in the
Ancient-Future movements is a yearning for a more robust theological
vision.


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