Characteristics and Positions

In general, a neo-evangelical would be defined as one who has taken a "lower view" of Scripture, has developed a more open, inclusivistic spirit toward liberalism, and has become ecumenical in evangelism efforts. The movement was one born of compromise, nurtured on pride of intellect, growing on appeasement of evil, and doomed by the judgment of God's Word (Lightner, p. 109). In general, the neo-evangelicals "are radical -- theologically, politically, and socially" (Pickering, p. 131). One of the chief spokesmen of neo-evangelicalism would be Billy Graham; chief neo-evangelical scholars would be Edward Carnell, Carl Henry, and Bernard Ramm; major neo-evangelical organizations would be the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), The World Evangelical Fellowship, the Lausanne Committee, Campus Crusade for Christ, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship; and major neo-evangelical periodicals would be Christianity Today and Moody Monthly. Following are some of the characteristics and positions of the leading neo-evangelicals (see Overview below) (Where indicated, quotes and excerpts are taken from Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, by Ernest Pickering, pp. 131-138; Neoevangelicalism Today, by Robert P. Lightner, 208 pages; or from a Grace Seminary course syllabus on "Biblical Fundamentalism" by John C. Whitcomb, 1979, pp 1-2.):

Leading Characteristics of Neo-Evangelicals:

(1)  Espousal of, or toleration toward, questionable views of Scripture; e.g., most neo-evangelicals, to one degree or another, have scuttled the doctrine of total, complete inerrancy of the Bible (regardless of the lip-service given to it); there is evidence of the acceptance of a conceptual theory of inspiration, but the neo-evangelical hesitates to accept the total verbal inspiration of the Bible. The issue becomes: "Is the Bible inerrant in all its pronouncements [the conservative fundamental view], or is it merely an inerrant record of some inspired truth [the neo-evangelical view]?" A "popular view of the Bible now promoted" among neo-evangelicals is that "the Bible is inerrant when it is teaching us about God and His redemptive works (that is, when instructing in important doctrinal matters [revelational]), but it may contain errors in other areas about which it speaks [non-revelational matters]" (Lightner, pp. 80-81, 84; Pickering, pp. 132-133). 

(2)  The sufficiency of Scripture is effectively denied as evidenced by neo-evangelical attempts to "Christianize" pagan ideas and systems founded upon unbelief (i.e., psychology/psychiatry, numerology, astrology, personality theory, etc.) In effect, the Bible is deemed NOT sufficient for all matters pertaining to life and godliness (cf. 2 Pe. 1:3,4). Emphasis has been shifted from the authority of Bible doctrine to the realm of human experience, thereby causing churches to move toward a seminar type of ministry rather than an authoritative and dogmatic preaching ministry. 

(3)  The neo-evangelical's weak view of the inerrancy of Scripture has inevitability led to the toleration of a wide diversity of theological viewpoints (Pickering, p. 131).

(4)  Expresses a dangerous subservience to science; the desire to gain intellectual acceptability has led to a friendly attitude toward science, almost to the point of placing scholarship and science in the seat of authority. This is evidenced in a friendliness toward, or acceptance of, evolutionary theories (e.g., progressive creation and/or theistic evolution), with particularly broad concessions to organic evolutionism and uniformitarianism at the expense of a consistent and normal interpretation of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. (Lightner, p. 76; Pickering, p. 132; Whitcomb, p. 1)

(5)  Emphasis upon the implications of the social gospel; neo-evangelicals view the gospel as being two-pronged in nature -- individual and social, thereby neglecting New Testament priorities. As a result, rather than making the gospel applicable to the world, the gospel tends to get watered down to make it acceptable to the world. "The societal impact which [the neo-evangelical] proposes to make fosters the connotation of a 'Christianization' of society ..." which frequently speaks of a "'Christian culture,' a 'new society,' and a 'new social order,' ... [the neo-evangelical aligns] himself and his church with existing social reform movements." (Pickering, p. 134; Whitcomb, p. 1; Lightner, pp. 67-68, 91-92)

(6)  Enthusiasm over cooperative evangelism, even to the extent of aligning with groups that have been traditionally subversive of Bible truth (e.g., Roman Catholicism). (Pickering, p. 134) Billy Graham, more than any other, has epitomized this inclusivistic approach to evangelism (as opposed to the Biblical separatistic approach). Official neo-evangelical evangelism projects following this approach would be "AD 2000 Evangelism" and "Discipleship 2000," both claiming the goal of reaching all the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by the year 2000.

(7)  Strong criticism of traditional fundamentalism, particularly criticism of its doctrinal emphasis, which is said to have caused neglect of the social application of Christianity to the world (Pickering, p. 135; Lightner, pp. 133-134); this criticism usually includes the call for preaching only a "positive message," as often expressed by the statement, "God called me to win souls, not to criticize others."

(8)  The ways of the world are readily accepted by the neo-evangelical; there is a tendency toward finding justifiable reasons condoning and using that which evolves from a carnality, sensuality, secularism, and worldliness (especially in regards to music, theatrics, emotionalistic and psychological manipulations, promotionalism, and general appearance).

(9)  Pleas for more political involvement and "Christian" Activism (Pickering, p. 135).

(10) Unbiblical views regarding God's role for women (Pickering, p. 135).

(11) Based upon a generally weak view of Scripture, there has been a natural shift from objective Biblical doctrine to subjective experience -- allowance for the possible validity of apostolic sign-gifts for our own day (prophecy, tongues, miracles of healing through special persons, etc.) (Whitcomb, p. 2).

(12) Shift away from dispensational premillennialism to some form of "historic premillennialism" (even postmillennialism views are becoming widespread), together with a minimizing of the importance of Biblical eschatology in general, not from doctrinal conviction, but for ecumenical opportunity (Whitcomb, p. 2; Lightner, p. 101).

(13) Emphasis upon the unity of the church in preference to its purity. "Neo-evangelicals either tone down or completely neglect ecclesiastical separation from apostasy and personal separation from the world until these are virtually denied." (Pickering, p. 135; Lightner, p. 16) (See later in report for more specific comments on this neglect of the Biblical doctrine of separation.)

Further Descriptions of Neo-Evangelicalism:

William Ashbrook -- "A movement born of compromise, nurtured on the pride of intellect, growing on the appeasement of evil, and doomed by the judgment of the Word of God."

Charles Woodbridge -- "A movement with a new mood (toleration of false teachers, ridicule of fundamentalists), with a new method ('the end justifies the means'), a new theology (questioning the canon of the Bible, its inerrant authority, and the nature of its content), and a new ethic (repudiation of personal separation for interaction with the culture). ... following the downward path of toleration of error, accommodation to error, cooperation with error, contamination by error, and capitulation to error."

Ernest Pickering -- "It lacks moral courage in the face of the great conflict with apostasy. It lacks doctrinal clarity in important areas of theology. It makes unwarranted concessions to the enemies of the cross of Christ."

Francis Stiles -- "Neo-evangelicalism is a religious philosophy. It attempts to reach and minister to man through his felt needs. It seeks to commend man for his achievements and realign his energies for good. It emphasizes unity at the expense of truth and reduces the Biblical requirements of purity and separation unto God until they are obscure. Man and his present circumstances, rather than God and His eternal precepts, are the core of its concern.

Position of Neo-Evangelicals with Regard to Separation

[Separation from modernism, neo-orthodoxy, and all other errant philosophies and doctrines.]

(1) Willingness to remain within old-line denominations, even those that are clearly apostate, under the guise of favorably influencing them with the gospel. The neo-evangelical hopes to emphasize points of agreement with the liberal and the neo-orthodox rather than points of disagreement, in order to "recapture" denominations. (Pickering, p. 136; Lightner, p. 57)

(2) Ecclesiastical separation is considered to be merely a matter of conscience rather than a command of Scripture; the neo-evangelical ignores Rom. 16:17,18. (Lightner, pp. 94, 152-153)

Maintains broad ecumenical fellowship, even to the extent of being involved in the apostate National and World Council of Churches; evangelicals are even urged "to obtain all or part of their training at liberal universities and seminaries" in order to "give evangelism more clout." The conservative is called upon to welcome the neo-orthodox as friends and brethren since "truth is welcomed wherever it is preached." This ecumenism generally involves the elevation of "love" above doctrine. (Pickering, pp. 136-137; Whitcomb, p. 1; Lightner, p. 56)

(4) Participates in ecumenical missionary efforts, clearly placing a higher priority on "opportunity" than on "purity of testimony." (The neo-evangelical also tends to justify questionable methods in missions or evangelism by pointing to successes, e.g., the popularity of the enterprise, numbers, "conversions," etc.) Leaders in this effort would be Billy Graham, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and the Latin American Mission. (Pickering, pp. 137-138; Lightner, p. 155)

Contemporary Fundamentalism is defined by the doctrine and practice of Biblical separation. To a large degree the difference between Conservative Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism is a matter of separation. Contemporary Fundamentalism maintains stricter views of moral and ecclesiastical (or doctrinal) separation than Evangelicalism. While many spiritual leaders in conservative evangelical circles would practice separation from apostates and Roman Catholics, virtually none would practice separation from [professing] believers who persist in sinful doctrine or sinful practice. In many cases, while certain conservative evangelical leaders would oppose false doctrine by actively teaching against it, few would actively separate from [professing] believers who persist in false doctrine. History has vindicated the Fundamentalist view of separation; that is, no doctrinal position can be maintained over time apart from the practice of separation. (Source: Rocco Piserchia)

Part of the immediate problem is that many so-called evangelical churches and leaders spent much of the mid-twentieth century separating themselves from those who preached separation from unbelief. The neo-evangelicals had such a horror of separation that they had to separate from the separationists. Carl Henry was one of the leaders of the neo-evangelicals. He and others wanted to lead a movement that would distance itself from fundamentalism, and neo-evangelicalism was born. This in turn led quickly to Billy Graham's acceptance of liberal churches as sponsors of his crusades in the 1950s, and in the 1960s to acceptance of Romanist churches as sponsors of the crusades. What the Bible teaches on theological and ecclesiastical separation was ignored; and compromise, though under different labels, became the modus operandi of the neo-evangelicals. It was called "cooperation" -- and who is anti-social enough to oppose cooperation? It was called "engagement," and who is isolationist enough to reject engagement? It was called "co-belligerence," a metaphor borrowed from war in which two parties fighting a third party do not fight each other. But the idea of co-belligerence -- let alone the notions of cooperation and theological alliance -- is itself a betrayal of Christ; it is abandoning theological warfare for cultural warfare. Co-belligerence involves deciding that Christians will neither criticize Romanism nor evangelize Roman Catholics, nor criticize Arminianism nor evangelize Arminians, nor criticize Judaism nor evangelize Jews -- because they are our allies in the Culture Wars against the secularists. But fighting Culture Wars is not the Great Commission; Scripture knows only Theology Wars, and in those Wars, all unbiblical thoughts and institutions are the enemies of Christ. Making a separate peace with any one of them, as co-belligerency requires, is treason to Christ.

Overview: The following overview of Neo-Evangelicalism is excerpted from Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church, by Dr. Ernest D. Pickering (copyright 1979, Regular Baptist Press), pp. 127-130:

Some errors are openly evident to true believers. Others are far more difficult to discern. The old modernism was transparently erroneous. God's people saw immediately that men who denied great truths taught in Scripture, such as the virgin birth of Christ and His substitutionary death, were obviously heretics. They were branded as such and duly rejected.

In more recent years, however, systems of thought have been espoused by men thought of as evangelical, teaching in evangelical schools, or ministering to multitudes in evangelism. These are more subtle in their compromises and are much more difficult for the average believer to detect. The more truth contained in a specific system of thought the more difficult it is to isolate the errors. So it has been with the system which has been named the "new evangelicalism."

Someone has said that the new evangelicalism had its beginnings with a mood. Perhaps this is true, and it makes it the more pernicious because a mood is extremely difficult to describe. You may feel it, but you cannot verbally diagnose it.

After the great struggles between modernism and fundamentalism, a group of younger men arose who had been reared, for the most part, in the homes and churches of fundamentalism. They were intellectually bright and aspiring scholars, many of them trained in either completely secular or liberally oriented religious schools. They were embarrassed by what they viewed as the "backwoodsy" provincialism of fundamentalism. Somehow they wanted to make evangelical truth more "relevant" and acceptable to a larger segment of society. No doubt many of them were sincere in their desire to do so. This mood which characterized them, however, was to lead them into strange paths.

Among these young scholars a more open spirit developed toward liberalism. Not that they openly embraced it, for they did not. But they desired to have more interaction with liberal scholars and leaders, with the hope of learning from them and hopefully imparting some Biblical truth to them as well. It was also their fervent desire that evangelical scholarship have wider recognition. They noted that evangelicalism (fundamentalism) was viewed as unscholarly by society as a whole. Why could not evangelicals win recognition through the writing of books and by securing faculty appointments at prestigious institutions? Of course, to win such recognition before unbelieving scholars, who, for the most part, were bitter enemies of Biblical truth, it would be necessary to show that evangelicals were sufficiently broad-minded and flexible to be able to accept new ideas and work them into their system of thought. Two areas were particularly troublesome to humanistic, unregenerate scholars: the doctrine of Biblical infallibility and the doctrine of creationism. But rising young evangelical thinkers were prepared to make concessions in these areas. Some began to adopt compromising positions regarding creationism. They accepted certain evolutionary premises, using such terms as "theistic evolution" or "threshold creationism." It was an attempt to incorporate at least parts of the theory of evolution into a Biblical framework.

As they moved along in their efforts, the doctrine of the inerrancy of Scripture became more and more of a stumbling block. If the Bible were without error when speaking in areas of biology, cosmology, geology and the like, then evangelicals would have no latitude to formulate views that would accommodate to contemporary scientific theories. So, many evangelicals began to equivocate on the doctrine of infallibility.

There were also the pressures of ecumenicity. Ecumenism is a hot commodity these days. Everyone who is anyone is in favor of getting together. For one to be against all [professing] Christians working together is like being opposed to the most sacred things in human life. The ecumenical fever struck many evangelicals. They disdained the isolationism of fundamentalism and longed for wider fellowship and broader horizons. They felt that the evangelical viewpoint should be represented in ecumenical circles. Definite moves were made to see that it was.

With these attitudes prevailing, several historical incidents took place, which were important stepping-stones to the public, visible ascendancy of the new evangelicalism. One of the earliest was the organization of Fuller Theological Seminary (1947). Named after Charles Fuller, famous radio preacher, one of its main purposes, according to its first president, Harold Ockenga, was to train young men to go back into the old-line denominations and win a place for evangelicalism. Because millions of people were acquainted with Charles Fuller through the "Old-Fashioned Revival Hour," and because he was a strong Bible believer and preacher, the public naturally assumed that the school which bore his name would also occupy his theological position. In this they were sadly misled. Fuller became one of the major fountainheads for the new evangelical philosophy, and it has drifted farther and farther from the position of the man whose name it bears.

In 1956, articles appeared in Christian Life magazine entitled "Is Evangelical Theology Changing?" The conclusion of most of those interviewed was that it was changing. Among those responding to the question were Vernon Grounds, Bernard Ramm, and Edward Carnell. They felt that fundamentalism was changing for the better by having a more open attitude toward the gift of tongues, by being less dispensational, and by evidencing a more accepting attitude toward science.

In 1956, the magazine Christianity Today was begun. It was intended as an evangelical counterpart to the prestigious liberal journal Christian Century. In early issues, two editorials appeared which showed the direction of the magazine. These were entitled "Beyond the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy" and "Dare We Renew the Controversy?" The thought was expressed that too much time has been wasted on fighting the battles with modernism; evangelicals should now progress to more productive efforts. Another editorial, "The Perils of Independency," supported the mediating view of the NAE [National Association of Evangelicals] as over against the views of independency (fundamental separatism) or church unionism (ecumenism). The editors of the periodical expressed the opinion that "the apostasy condemned by Independency is not as clearly discernible as it is assumed" (Editorial, "The Perils of Independency," Christianity Today, Nov.12, 1956, pp. 20-23).

Interestingly, in the early days of Christianity Today's existence, the Conservative Baptist Fellowship submitted a display ad for the famous Casebooks written by Chester Tulga. These books exposed various forms of modernism and unbelief. The magazine refused to run the ad, explaining the reaction of their editorial committee thus:

"There was a strong feeling, however, that in view of our circulation among many different groups, and of our announced intention to win the liberal, we would be, by running this ad in an early issue, standing the risk of alienating the very persons whom we are trying to win" (Quoted by R.T. Ketcham, "Christianity Today--An Analysis," Baptist Bulletin, XXII, March 1957, pp.8,9).

The ministry of evangelist Billy Graham also aided the rise of the new evangelicalism, since he was one of its chief spokesmen. His crusades, mixed in nature as they were, gave popular expression to the whole philosophy behind new evangelicalism.

Many of the new evangelicals were authors, some of them prolific. Books and articles began to appear from their pens. Edward Carnell, Carl Henry, Bernard Ramm and others produced works which had widespread influence and promoted aspects of the new evangelical position.

The National Association of Evangelicals became an organizational haven for leaders of this movement. The NAE made no official statements about it, but its own approach to the question of the apostasy made it a natural gathering place for the new evangelicals.

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Biblical Discernment Ministries - Revised 8/01