Theology Thursday - Is Evangelical Theology Changing? (Part 1)

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This article was published in the March 1956 issue of “Christian Life” magazine. It was seen by fundamentalists as a direct repudiation of the movement. One fundamentalist scholar wrote that the contributors were “crystallizing new evangelical discontent with fundamentalism.”1Still another observed that fundamentalists “viewed the leadership of new evangelicalism as a group of compromisers who were abandoning the fundamentals of the faith in order to be accepted by the larger theological world.”2

Here is the article:

During Billy Graham’s 1955 Scotland crusade a B.B.C. interviewer asked him to define the fundamentalist label he’d been plastered with. Billy objected, “I don’t call myself a fundamentalist,” he said. There was an aura of bigotry and narrowness associated with the term—which he certainly hoped was not true of himself.

“I’d prefer to call myself a ‘constructionist,’” Billy said, explaining he was seeking to rebuild the church.

Billy Graham is not the only fundamentalist chafing under the term. Why? Because fundamentalism is no longer what most people think it is. Before going into what fundamentalism is today, let’s take a brief look at what it was.

In the 1920’s fundamentalist was the label for men who, like J. Gresham Machen, Princeton Seminary scholar, rushed to defend certain great doctrines under attack. These included the inspiration of the Scriptures, the deity of Christ, the Virgin Birth, the Atonement, the Resurrection.

Then what started as a high-level theological discussion degenerated into a cat and dog fight. The Virgin Birth ran neck and neck with murder on the front pages of newspapers. Evolution was pitted against the Bible in the Scopes trial of 1925. Fundamentalism began to be a catch-all for the lunatic fringe; Holy Rollers, snake handlers, even Mormon polygamists were calling themselves fundamentalists.

That’s why to the man on the street fundamentalism got to be a joke. As an ignorant, head-in—the-sand, contentious approach to the Christian faith, it seemed as out-dated as high-button shoes. But all the while there was a solid core behind the garish shell. Even before World War II that core began to push out.

When the war was over, the crust split wide open. Out popped a younger generation. They agreed with their elders. But they thought there was more to Christianity than being on the defensive all the time. They wanted to build on the contributions of older leaders a positive, not a reactionary, movement.

Fundamental theologians took time out to look at themselves, to find out just what fundamentalists of 1956 believe. Here’s one thing they found: fundamentalism is still a protest against the mishmash liberal Protestantism made of Christianity. It’s still as concerned over preserving the Christian essentials as were the early fundamentalists. But it is something more: a positive witness for God’s redemptive love, wisdom and power as revealed in Jesus Christ.

In short, fundamentalism has become evangelicalism.

The fundamentalist watchword is “Ye should earnestly content for the faith.” The evangelical emphasis is “Ye must be born again.”

That’s the major change in conservative theological thought. What other trends in evangelical thought mark it as different from fundamentalism? A spate of books and magazine articles has recently appeared to give clues. But to get even more authoritative answers CHRISTIAN LIFE went directly to the leading evangelical theologians. For the most part, it found them ready to talk freely—in itself an indication of a new spirit.

The currents of thought brought out into the open by CHRISTIAN LIFE—many for the first time in any publication—are vital to every alert Christian.

Here they are:

A Friendly Attitude Toward Science

For a long time the scientist was regarded as the arch enemy of the fundamentalist. This was natural. For it was denominational Protestantism’s capitulation to so-called science that led it down the path to modernism.

But today, science is steadily getting humbler. And evangelicals, while maintaining there are areas where science shouldn’t presume to tread, are holding out the olive branch.

In 1941 evangelical scientists started with the American Scientific Affiliation (which accepts only men with a doctorate degree in some science). Then it had 44 members. Today it has close to 700. A major contribution of the Affiliation is the book Modern Science and Christian Faith (1946).

Then in 1955 came The Christian View of Science and Scripture by evangelical Bernard Ramm, professor of Religion at Baylor University.

Wrote Ramm: “Evangelical Christianity of today owes to science a great debt in setting us free from the superstitious, the animistic and the grotesque. It has helped in the purification of our theology, our exegesis (explanation of Scripture) and our spiritual life.”

Ramm plumped for the “progressive creationism” theory (God plans, God puts his plan into motion by distinct creative acts and the Holy Spirit, through nature, carries out his plan).

Other opinions: that theologians are wrong to attempt to say how old man is, that the day of Genesis 1 are “pictorial days” not 24-hour days and that the flood was local.

Ramm’s book was roasted by some evangelical reviewers, but the December 1955 issue of the Journal of the American Scientific Affiliation gave it three favorable reviews.

Representative of the views of theologians on the book is probably this statement by Vernon Grounds of Conservative Baptist Theological Seminary. He says: “Ramm has simply been courageous enough to put on paper ideas which have circulated sub voce among evangelical scholars. His book, whatever its defects and weaknesses, is a challenge to a thorough-going evangelical re-examination of some cherished opinions.” 

Ramm wasn’t even the first to do this. Back in 1948 Edward J. Carnell, now President of Fuller Theological Seminary wrote An Introduction to Christian Apologetics, probably the outstanding recent conservative theological work. He criticized both science and the church for declaring their independence of each other. But he admitted: “the Church has repented of its rashness; it confesses humbly today that it cannot fulfill God’s command to subdue nature without the precision of the scientific method.”

A Willingness to Re-Examine Beliefs Concerning the Work of the Holy Spirit

Time was when Calvinists and Arminians, Pentecostals and holiness groups had no truck with one another. They drew up their skirts and swept on. But now laymen, preachers and theologians are working together. This was out of the question 20 years ago. A good example is the still-young Evangelical Theological Society which got going only in 1949. Membership is now around 300.

Some results of this spirit: some holiness groups are edging away from the old holiness line of second blessing that brings entire and final sanctification. Instead they’re veering to the view that baptism of the Holy Spirit is just the beginning of a new walk which will continue to show gradual growth in grace.

At the same time evangelicals who shied away from holiness experiences are wondering if there might not be some truth to a second “crisis experience” after conversion.

Says Stanley Horton of Central Bible Institute (Assemblies of God): “Fundamentalists now can even discuss tongues without getting hot under the collar—something unheard of a few years ago.”

Conservative theologians (as well as liberals) are doing some soul-searching on the subject of divine healing. Many decry emotional “healing meetings.” But they are seriously mulling over the idea that Christ meant His disciples to heal physical ills as well as spiritual ills.

Says Wilbur Smith of Fuller Theological Seminary: “There has been an obvious change in the attitude of the Church toward ‘faith healing.’ An enormous literature has appeared during the last ten years on this subject … The Christian Church needs to re-examine thoroughly this question.”

He adds, though: “My opinion, however, is that we are being ungrateful to God in placing so much emphasis upon healing when we ought to thank God for the uninterrupted years of health most Christian people enjoy.”

To be continued …

Notes

1 Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled: The Failed Strategy of Modern Fundamentalism (Greenville, SC: Ambassador Emerald International, 2004), 338.  

2 Larry Oats, The Church of the Fundamentalists (Watertown, WI: Maranatha Baptist Press, 2016), 107.  

Anonymous

The article has no byline. It was written by the editors of the magazine.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

Is this magazine long defunct?

 

On a first, casual reading, I initially jumped to the conclusion that the article in question had been published in  Christianity Today.  (The date of publication, March 1956, probably contributed to my confusion, since I knew that CT was first published in 1956.) 

On second glance though, I realized that the header states it was published in Christian Life.  (And a quick Google search came up with October of 1956 as being CT's first issue, so the article in question predates CT's first issue  by a few months.)

Is anyone familiar with Christian Life  magazine?  Who published it?

Googling - what I found

http://www.rapidnet.com/~jbeard/bdm/Psychology/neoe.htm

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.

AND

https://books.google.com/books?id=rjqTZRzdelcC&pg=PA12&lpg=PA12&dq=Is+ev...

 

Christian Life

I know very little about the magazine. I do know it was eventually purchased by what became Charisma. As for the contributors to the article, behold:

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

About 10 years ago, Mrs.

About 10 years ago, Mrs. Stewart Custer told me that she knew Vernon Grounds when they were younger. She said that Vernon Grounds hated Fundamentalists and Fundamentalism.
 

Wally Morris

Charity Baptist Church

Huntington, IN

amomentofcharity.blogspot.com

Convergent?

Behold this paragraph:

When the war was over, the crust split wide open. Out popped a younger generation. They agreed with their elders. But they thought there was more to Christianity than being on the defensive all the time. They wanted to build on the contributions of older leaders a positive, not a reactionary, movement.

We can disagree about their pragmatic methods (and there is a lot to critique in this article, and the rest it of next week), but what about the substance of their disagreement? Is this a valid goal?

I know you're out there, Don . . . Smile

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

without pointing, even

It strikes me that anyone in any movement ought to be able to think of a way of improving it.  The simple reality of sin and the simple process of sanctification guarantee this.  In the case of fundamentalism, you simply have to recognize the strengths and weaknesses of where the movement came from, and where it's gone--Victorian/Edwardian age, suspicion of academic institutions, culture of dominant men, etc..  If you don't know where you've been, five will get you ten that you're going to carry your cultural assumptions in without realizing where they came from.

Terms

Behold these definitions from a sidebar in the original article, specifically the definition they provided for evangelicalism:"

 

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

TylerR wrote:

TylerR wrote:

Behold this paragraph:

When the war was over, the crust split wide open. Out popped a younger generation. They agreed with their elders. But they thought there was more to Christianity than being on the defensive all the time. They wanted to build on the contributions of older leaders a positive, not a reactionary, movement.

We can disagree about their pragmatic methods (and there is a lot to critique in this article, and the rest it of next week), but what about the substance of their disagreement? Is this a valid goal?

Well, this is exactly what we are saying when we say the convergence is like the new evangelical movement. The philosophy/driving force is the same. There are some differences, but the same thinking. I don't think they were right in substance then, don't think the convergents are right in substance now.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Process Improvement

Don wrote:

Well, this is exactly what we are saying when we say the convergence is like the new evangelical movement. The philosophy/driving force is the same. There are some differences, but the same thinking.

We need to be careful here. There is a clear difference between the following two individuals:

  1. Somebody who repudiates a fundamentalist view of ministry and embraces a pragmatic philosophy and methodology
  2. Somebody who believes in fundamentalism, recognizes mistakes good men made in the past, and seeks a more Biblical way forward  

The former is bitter and reactionary, the latter is biblical - in effect, he is "always reforming." I understand what you're saying, Don, but I still think you're painting with far too broad a brush. There is nothing inherently sinful with process improvement - based on the Bible.

TylerR is a former Pastor. He lives with his family in Olympia, WA. He blogs here.

How would we know?

Don Johnson wrote:

Yes, but the convergents aren't #2.

...we're still waiting for a working definition and some examples, Don.  Ahem.

Jim

  1. Was it Fundamentalism or Neo-Evangelicalism then?
  2. While 60 years later there is a third choice of conservative evangelicalism?

Here's my stab at your questions:

1. From what I've read and the classes I took, the choice was presented as binary, although (IIRC) Dr. Bauder has mentioned that there were a third group of people who basically stayed out of the fray and kept themselves occupied with ministry and other things rather than get sucked into a fight over labels.

​2. Yes, I think that the conservative evangelicals / mythical 'convergents' are a third choice - they are people who reject the extremes of fundamentalism and evangelicalism.  They are not pursuing scholarship and academic respectability, nor are they willing to discuss opening a dialogue with heretics on  on Biblical inerrancy. Those are two examples from the list of 7 that someone linked to earlier in the thread.

It would certainly help if Don or one of our FBFI brethren would define the convergents.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Bauder's Article

From CBTS' website:

A few months ago I wrote an essay entitled “Let’s Get Clear on This.” That essay argued the following:

(1) conservative evangelicals are not neo-evangelicals; (2) conservative evangelicals are making a substantial contribution to the defense and exposition of the Christian faith; (3) substantial differences continue to distinguish conservative evangelicals from fundamentalists; but (4) fundamentalists must not treat conservative evangelicals as enemies or even opponents. These points are, I think, as clear in reality as they were presented to be in the essay.

What “Let’s Get Clear on This” did not do was to explore the differences between conservative evangelicals and fundamentalists. Such an exploration would have been beside the point in that essay. Nevertheless, those differences remain important. What I have proposed to do is to examine the ways in which fundamentalism differs from conservative evangelicalism.

Partly, this is an empirical evaluation based upon an examination of the two movements as they actually exist at this point in time. But only partly. In my examination of the differences, I am deliberately opting for an a priori definition that excludes some self-identified fundamentalists.

So it seems as though Dr. Bauder also sees a difference between the early Neo-Evangelicals and today's conservative evangelicals.  Maybe he will drop in and discuss it with us some more?

​Edit - the entire series (all twenty four parts) is available here.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Vaguely Familiar.....

 

The more I thought last night that I'd seen something before regarding the Christian Life article referenced in the OP, the more a little bell started to ring in my head.  Finally it occurred to me where I had seen it.

Going to my bookshelves, I pulled out The Great Conservative Baptist Compromise, by Richard V. Clearwaters (pastor of Fourth Baptist in Minnesota from 1940 - 1982; founder of both Pillsbury Baptist Bible College and Central Seminary).  Chapter Three (pages 37 - 58) of this book reprints a response to the Christian Life article that Clearwaters wrote shortly after its March, 1956 publication.  (This book was published by Central Seminary Press, and lists no publication date; but a couple of references on page 207 clearly indicate it is circa 1974.) 

In his response, Clearwaters takes on each of the article's eight points (the first two being "A Friendly Attitude Toward Science" and "A Willingness to Re-Examine Beliefs Concerning the Work of the Holy Spirit" that are listed in the OP article above).  Something I found particularly interesting is Clearwater's staunch 1956 defense of Billy Graham.  (The rift between fundamentalism and Graham would not take place until 1957.)

Clearwaters wrote (page 44): "We do not consider it good journalism that this article in Christian Life should begin and end with Billy Graham's name purely as a punch line, as it does.  We have worked with Billy Graham and sat in his meetings in Minneapolis and Wimbley [sic], London, and there is not any of the eight points listed above that has any significance whatsoever in his Gospel.  Billy's characteristic phrase is "The Bible says!" which is the "evangelical volume" [note: a quote from the Christian Life article] that he is proclaiming, not explaining!"

Further down page 44, contrasted against some "liberal" criticism of Graham that he cites, Clearwaters wrote: "The writer agrees heartily with Billy Graham and stands with him against these critics in this matter."

Being a history buff, having on many occasions sat under "Doc" Clearwaters' preaching for a decade (1972 - 1982), and knowing in hindsight what soon after took place, I found this reminder of days gone by fascinating.... 


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