The Heart of New Evangelicalism
I am convinced that few errors are as destructive to fundamentalist, Bible-believing churches as New Evangelicalism. When people leave our churches, where do they go? Do they join the Roman Catholic Church? Do they join a modernistic Protestant church? Do they join a cult like the Mormons? No, most people who leave staunch Bible-believing churches join the easy-going New Evangelical church down the street or across town.
It is therefore crucial that we understand the nature of New Evangelicalism. Elsewhere we have traced the history of New Evangelicalism and given an extensive definition thereof. (See the book New Evangelicalism: Its History, Characteristics, and Fruit, which is available from Way of Life Literature.)
In this article I want to describe what I believe to be the very heart and soul of New Evangelicalism. I want to give a practical definition of New Evangelicalism that can be understood and used by the members of independent Baptist and other fundamentalist, Bible-believing congregations to protect themselves and their children from this error.
The following definition comes from many years of dealing with and studying New Evangelicalism. When we arrived in South Asia in 1979 to begin our missionary work, I was very ignorant of the nature of New Evangelicalism. Little did I know that I was soon to have a crash course! In my ignorance and inexperience, I was under the impression that New Evangelicalism was basically a United States phenomenon and that believers in other parts of the world, though they might be aligned with New Evangelical type organizations, would not necessarily be infected with this type of compromise. How wrong I was!
During our first year in Nepal, I was invited by the national Campus Crusade for Christ organization to preach at an underground evangelistic meeting, which I did. (Gospel work was illegal at that time.) Using the book of Romans as an outline, I preached the Gospel, beginning with man's sin and God's holiness and judgment, and ending with God's love and grace through Jesus Christ. I started where the apostle Paul started and ended where he ended. After the service, the main leader took me aside and told me that my preaching was "too negative." This was to be expected, I suppose, considering the fact that Campus Crusade's “Four Spiritual Laws” starts on a positive note with "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." This was the first time, though, that I had direct dealings with those who had consciously rejected the negatives of biblical Christianity and strived always to put a positive spin on everything, and I was shocked at their blatant disregard for Scripture. We discussed the fact that the apostles dealt with men in a very negative manner, dealing first with man's sin and God's holiness before speaking of God's love and mercy, but they were unmoved in their philosophy that it is "too negative" to preach like this today. Nothing I could show them from the Word of God seemed to have any impact whatsoever upon them.
After a few months I was invited by the leaders of the Nepal Christian Fellowship (the head of which, at that time, was also the head of Campus Crusade for Christ in Nepal) to speak at some home Bible studies. I chose the topic of biblical separation, and it turned out to be a hot item! Knowing that the Jesuits had a strong foothold in that area and that some of the non-Catholic believers had close fellowship with them, I described the apostasy of Roman Catholicism and explained what the Bible says about separation from error. The response was quick and severe! When I closed my Bible, a female missionary who was working with an ecumenical organization and who taught in a girl's school, stood and loudly proclaimed, "You're not going to tell me I can't fellowship with my Roman Catholic friends! I attend mass with them and they attend church with me and I don't see anything wrong with it!" Though I was scheduled to teach a series of Bible studies, that first one became my last, because my hosts decided the teaching was too controversial.
After this I was invited by the same Fellowship to speak to a group of Nepali pastors. I was told that they had no Bible education and needed any help I could give them. They came to the capitol city from various parts of Nepal for these meetings, and I decided to use the book of Titus as an outline, dealing with some of the practical matters of church life. It seemed to be an ideal place to start. Titus was instructed by the apostle Paul in how to "set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city" (Titus 1:5). This was precisely what was needed in Nepal. There were a number of small, struggling churches that did not have proper organization or instruction. I started where Paul started in Titus chapter one, with God's standards for church leaders and how to deal with heretics (verses 6-16), but my "negative" preaching proved, once again, to be a hot topic!
One of the men who attended the meeting was from eastern Nepal and was considered the chief pastor among a number of churches scattered across that region. He was one of the most enthusiastic in telling me that my teaching was wonderful. After each session he would approach me and shake my hand cheerfully and tell me what a help these meetings were to him. I was encouraged. My ministry was appreciated! My gifts were recognized! I was getting through! There was going to be some godly change to the glory of Christ.
How deceived I was! I soon learned that this man, this very man, was living in total disobedience to the things we were looking at from God's Word. He had three wives. Not two, but three! He was living with the youngest one at his main church compound in a town near the Indian border, and the two older wives were living with their children on two other farms he owned. He visited them from time to time.
When I confronted him with the matter of his polygamy and warned him that he was not qualified to be a pastor, he was very discouraged. The next session he stood and addressed the group of men, describing a vision he had from God, supposedly, in which God commanded him to "preach to my sheep." I explained that he could preach and serve the Lord in certain ways, but that he was not qualified to be a pastor and that God would not contradict the Scriptures through a vision. He refused to listen, and the Campus Crusade leader and others encouraged the man NOT to quit the pastorate! They stayed up with him much of that night speaking to him and encouraging him NOT to obey the clear teaching of the Word of God.
I was not invited to speak any more at evangelical meetings in Nepal. I had only been there a year or so and already my career as a popular ecumenical speaker was finished! Praise the Lord for His mercy and kindness to an ignorant young missionary! I learned that if you stand strictly upon the Word of God, you will be "too negative" for the New Evangelical crowd and there will soon be a parting of the ways.
A REPUDIATION OF THE NEGATIVE ASPECTS OF BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY
Since that time I have studied New Evangelicalism intensely. I learned that it is the predominant form of Christianity today apart from Romanism, Modernism, and the Cults, and I have wanted to understand it.
I have found that the heart of New Evangelicalism is this: It is a repudiation of the negative aspects of biblical Christianity.
This is what confuses so many people. They hear a Chuck Colson or a Chuck Swindoll or a Billy Graham or a Luis Palau or a Jack Van Impe, and they proclaim, "Everything he said was good; I didn't hear anything unscriptural." That is often correct. The chief problem with New Evangelicalism is not so much the heresy that it preaches but the truth that it neglects.
The New Evangelical will NOT preach plainly against sin. He will NOT practice separation. He will NOT identify and expose false teachers. He has repudiated this type of negativism, in spite of the fact that it is plainly a part of the whole counsel of God. Consider some examples of this. We will begin with statements by Billy Graham, one of the fathers of New Evangelicalism:
"I am far more tolerant of other kinds of Christians than I once was. My contact with Catholic, Lutheran and other leaders--people far removed from my own Southern Baptist tradition--has helped me, hopefully, to move in the right direction" (Billy Graham, "I Can't Play God Any More," McCall's magazine, Jan. 1978).
Note the word "tolerant." This is a keynote of New Evangelicalism. My friends, it is utterly impossible to be tolerant in the sense that Graham is speaking and to be faithful to the Word of God. God is not tolerant of sin or error. How can His preachers think they can be tolerant of such things and be pleasing to Him? It is confusion.
In 1966 Graham was asked the following questions by a reporter for the very liberal United Church of Canada:
"Q. In your book you speak of 'false prophets.' You say it is the 'full-time effort of many intellectuals to circumvent God's plan' and you make a quotation from Paul Tillich. Do you consider Paul Tillich a false prophet?"
"A. I have made it a practice not to pass judgment on other clergymen."
"Q. Do you think that churches such as The United Church of Canada and the great liberal churches of the United States that are active in the ecumenical movement ... are 'apostate'?"
"A. I could not possibly pass this type of judgment on individual churches and clergymen within The United Church of Canada ... Our Evangelistic Association is not concerned to pass judgment--favorable or adverse--on any particular denomination" ("Billy Graham Answers 26 Provocative Questions," United Church Observer, July 1, 1966).
From this interview we observe another standard New Evangelical characteristic. The New Evangelical will warn of false teaching in a general, vague sense, but he refuses to identify false teachers plainly. The New Evangelical's hearers therefore are not protected from error. They are not told exactly who teaches it. Further, the New Evangelical will fellowship with and quote false teachers indiscriminately and thereby send signals that they are genuine brethren in Christ.
In 1986 the very popular evangelical teacher Warren Wiersbe gave me the following advice in a letter:
"Quite frankly, my Brother, I wish some of the brethren would take off their boxing gloves and pick up a towel. Perhaps if people began to wash one another's feet, there might be more love and unity" (Warren Wiersbe, letter to D.W. Cloud, May 23, 1986).
I had written to Dr. Wiersbe and asked him why he was associated with Christianity Today (he was an associate editor at the time) and other New Evangelical organizations, why he refused to speak plainly against such things as Roman Catholicism and Modernism. He replied with the above comment. Of course, we do need to remove our boxing gloves if we are fighting merely for self interest or for some pet peeve that is not a part of the Word of God, or if we are striving merely out of a carnal love for quarreling, if we are merely a carnal problem maker. But Wiersbe's advice was given in the context of contending for the faith, and if ever there were a day when God's men need to put on the gloves and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered to the saints, it is today!
The following statement was made at the Amsterdam ’86 conference for itinerate evangelists:
"That's the wrong spirit--AVOID the liberal! I love to be with liberals, especially if they are willing to be taught, much more than with hard-boiled Fundamentalists who have all the answers. ... Evangelicals should seek to build bridges" (Stephen Olford, cited by Dennis Costella, "Amsterdam '86: Using Evangelism to Promote Ecumenism," Foundation, July-August 1986).
Dennis Costella of the Fundamental Evangelistic Association attended Billy Graham’s Amsterdam '86 conference with press credentials and heard Stephen Olford speak. He delivered a strong message on the authority of Scripture, mentioned the danger of theological modernism, and warned the evangelists in a general way to beware of it. Later, when Costella had opportunity to interview Olford, he asked this question,
"You emphasized in your message the dangers of liberalism and how it could ruin the evangelist and his ministry. What is this conference doing to instruct the evangelist as to how to identify liberalism and the liberal so that upon his return home, he will be able to avoid the same?"
Olford replied with the comment in the previous paragraph about how that he loves liberals much more than fundamentalists. Again we see the New Evangelical characteristic of refusing to be specific about error. They will warn of false teaching in general but they refuse to deal with it in the way required by the Word of God. The shocking truth is that the New Evangelical hates fundamentalism far more than he hates Modernism or Romanism or other true heresies.
The following statement was made by David Hubbard, the president of Fuller Theological Seminary:
"At Fuller we are characterized by balance in that we are an institution of 'both-and' rather than 'either-or.' We seek to be both Evangelical and ecumenical ..." (Hubbard, Christianity Today, Feb. 3, 1989, p. 71).
What doublespeak! A "both-and" Christianity is as unscriptural as it possibly can be, yet this is what the New Evangelical strives for and glories in.
The very popular Charles Swindoll made the following statement:
"I'm not a charismatic. However, I don't feel it's my calling to shoot great volleys of theological artillery at my charismatic brothers and sisters. ... More than ever we need grace-awakened ministers who free rather than bind: Life beyond the letter of Scripture ... absence of dogmatic Bible-bashing" (Charles Swindoll, The Grace Awakening, pp. 188, 233).
The “dogmatic Bible-bashing” that Swindoll so despises is a perfect description of how the apostles ministered God’s Word. Consider Peter's message in 2 Peter 2. It would be difficult to use language harsher or plainer than this to describe false teachers. A "grace-awakened" minister by Swindoll's definition is one who is tolerant of error and emphasizes the positive in every situation. This was not the characteristic of the apostle Paul’s ministry. In the Pastoral Epistles alone he identified false teachers and compromisers ten times (1 Tim. 1:20; 2 Tim. 1:15; 2:17; 3:8; 4:10, 14).
The apostles were NOT New Evangelicals. Regarding false teachers, they gave the following instruction: (1) Mark and avoid them (Rom. 16:17-18). (2) Come out from among them (2 Cor. 6:14-18). (3) Shun their babblings (2 Tim. 2:16-17). (4) Turn away from them (2 Tim. 3:5). (5) Reject them (Tit. 3:10). (6) Do not receive them nor bid them God speed (2 Jn. 10-11).
Another example of the heart of New Evangelicalism is Luis Palau’s ministry:
"LUIS PALAU'S form of worship presents such a broad Christian message that it appeals to Protestants and Catholics alike ... [Palau] carefully avoids the controversial differences between Catholics and Protestants" (The Arizona Republic, Oct. 31, 1992).
This is a good description of New Evangelicalism. It presents a "broad" Christian message and carefully avoids controversial matters. It is interesting that this description is given by the secular press.
Consider the following description of Peter Wagner’s ministry:
"Wagner makes negative assessments about nobody. He has made a career out of finding what is good in growing churches, and affirming it without asking many critical questions" (Tim Stafford, "Testing the Wine from John Wimber's Vineyard," Christianity Today, August 8, 1986, p. 18).
Wagner is a popular church growth expert in evangelical circles. This description of his ministry illustrates what we are saying about New Evangelicalism. It has the goal of being positive, even to the degree of ignoring or downplaying error.
Thus we see that the foremost trait of New Evangelicalism is its repudiation of the negative aspects of biblical Christianity. If the preacher you listen to avoids such things as Hell, Judgment, and Separation; if he never pointedly identifies apostasy, speaking of error on in general terms; if he studiously avoids being controversial; if he speaks more of self-esteem than self-denial, you are doubtless listening to a New Evangelical preacher.
A MOOD OF NEUTRALISM
Another way of identifying New Evangelicalism is its mood of neutralism. New Evangelicalism is a philosophy, but it is also a mood. In his discerning book on New Evangelicalism subtitled The New Neutralism, John Ashbrook observes that New Evangelicalism “might more properly be labeled The New Neutralism. It seeks neutral ground, being neither fish nor fowl, neither right nor left, neither for nor against--it stands between!" (p. 2).
New Evangelicalism can be identified by the following terms: Soft, cautious, hesitant, tolerant, pragmatic, accommodating, flexible, non- controversial, non-offensive, non-passionate, non-dogmatic.
Whenever you encounter churches and preachers that are characterized by these terms, you have encountered New Evangelicalism.
In contrast to New Evangelicalism’s mood of neutralism, Bible Christianity is characterized by terms such as strong, bold, fearless, dogmatic, plain, intolerant and unaccommodating (of sin and error), inflexible (in regard to the truth), controversial, offensive (to those who are disobedient to God), and passionate.
While the battle between truth and error rages in the last hours of the church age, New Evangelicalism tries to sit on the sideline.
Beware of New Evangelicalism. It is a great error, and to adopt it is to enter a downward path that leads to increasing blindness. Behold Billy Graham. In the early days of his ministry he preached against Romanism, Communism, and Modernism, but today sees no great problem with any of these. Today he calls the pope of Rome a great evangelist and a friend of the saints. Behold Jack Van Impe. Three decades ago he preached in fundamentalist circles, but today he holds forth the pope as a great defender of the faith! Behold James Robison. Only a few years ago he lifted his voice boldly against apostasy, but today he thinks the former pope was a saved man and a great example of morality.
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