New Evangelicalism

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Time Period
1947
Description
Following World War II (1939-1945), conservative Protestants in the United States sought to revive the conversion-oriented Protestantism of the Great Awakenings while also providing a viable alternative to the Modernist-Fundamentalist divisions of the 20th century. Whereas many Modernist Christians accommodated Christianity to contemporary developments and Fundamentalist Christians resisted all secular engagement, "new evangelicals" negotiated a middle-ground where conservative beliefs were retained while simultaneously engaging with the non-Christian world for evangelistic purposes.

New evangelicalism became prominent in various organizations, publications, and religious figures. The founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (1942), Fuller Seminary (1947) and Christianity Today (1956) represented the growing appeal of new evangelicalism. The popularity of Billy Graham and his crusades also reflected the ideals of engaged traditionalism that evangelicals espoused and promoted.

Evangelicalism remains prominent today, composing approximately one-fourth of the United States population as of 2014.
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Narrative
In the mid-20th century, a new ethos materialized among evangelicals in the United States. Along with a growing spirit of interdenominational cooperation, it was marked by a burgeoning impulse toward greater cultural, social, and global engagement. The movement was both a renaissance and a revival, as evangelicals emerged from the cultural shadows with a renewed vision for cultural engagement and vigor for worldwide evangelism. As a revitalized sense of evangelical solidarity drew conversion-oriented Protestants into this "new evangelicalism," the movement found expression in organizations, schools, and periodicals. It further affected evangelicals at every level: academic elites, ministerial leaders, and laity. Its efforts, leaders, and demeanor shaped the future of 20th-century evangelicalism in the United States.

Historical Context

As the 19th-century came to a close, the last remnants of Protestant unity that characterized the earlier portion of the century also came to end. In the first quarter of the 20th century, two main movements emerged from within Protestantism in the United States. The first group, which deliberately sought to accommodate Christianity to contemporary developments, became known as Modernism while the latter group, which deliberately sought to resist any such accommodation, became known as Fundamentalism. In the court of public opinion and in apparatus of several denominations, the Modernists emerged victorious over the Fundamentalists who were unfairly labeled as obscurantists, in part due to the notoriety of the Scopes Trial in 1925. The Fundamentalist movement retreated into the cultural shadows for a time, buttressing their own network of denominations, churches, conferences, and schools. After World War II, however, a new evangelical coalition would emerge in a movement known as the new evangelicalism.

A New Evangelicalism

As World War II came to a conclusion, conservative Protestants in the United States were drawn together in a renewed sense of evangelical solidarity. Positively, centripetal forces came from their shared evangelical convictions. Negatively, they were pressed together by frustration with the place of cultural privilege occupied by what came to be known as Mainline Protestantism. At the same time, they were confronted with the challenges of the postwar world, which birthed a renewed sense of responsibility. Soon a new ethos percolated among these conversion-oriented Protestants, leading them toward more vigorous engagement with culture, society, and the world. Engagement with the world took various forms as a whole host of pan-evangelical efforts blossomed in the 1940s and 1950s.

Both traditional mission efforts and new forms of cooperative evangelical ministry benefited from this upsurge in evangelical cooperation. In the wake of the Pax America and the abundance of military surplus equipment, overseas missions exploded as these conversion-oriented Protestants flooded the mission field. They swelled the ranks of old stalwarts such as China Inland Mission (CIM) while launching bold new efforts, such as like Missionary Aviation Fellowship (1945). Further, renewed concern for "the least of these" led to the birth of World Relief (f. 1944), World Vision (f. 1950), and Compassion International (f. 1952).

As the Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944 (a.k.a. the G.I. Bill) ballooned college enrollment, the new impetus toward cultural and intellectual engagement led evangelicals to secular campuses. The nascent InterVarsity Christian Fellowship-USA (f. 1941) expanded its efforts, while entrepreneurial Bill Bright launched Campus Crusade for Christ (now Cru) in 1951.

Amid their efforts to reengage the culture, leaders remained committed to the historic evangelical focus on conversion as the foundation of the Christian life. Thus, while they expanded efforts to engage the world intellectually and socially, they also flocked to the evangelistic efforts of Youth for Christ (f. 1944) and were ecstatic over the blossoming evangelistic ministry of its most famous alumnus, Billy Graham (1918-Present).

The NAE, Fuller Seminary, and Christianity Today

Three organizations represent the heart of the new evangelical ethos: the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), Fuller Seminary, and Christianity Today. The NAE became the greatest institutional expression of the new evangelicalism. Catalyzed by the cooperative vision of J. Elwin Wright’s New England Fellowship, conservative Protestants of all stripes met in St. Louis in 1942 to launch an endeavor that would give a unified voice to evangelicals in the United States. The following year (1943), a constitutional convention in Chicago officially birthed the NAE. Adopting a brief seven-point doctrinal statement and the motto "cooperation without compromise," it intentionally embraced groups heretofore excluded from cooperative evangelical efforts -- groups such as Pentecostal and ethnic denominations. In the 1950s, the NAE’s intentionally broad approach gradually distinguished it from the more exclusionary, separatist mindset of old-line fundamentalists represented by the American Council of Christian Churches (ACCC).

In 1947, Fuller Seminary matriculated its first class. Founded by evangelist Charles Fuller (1887-1968) and pastor-scholar Harold John Ockenga (1905-1985), Fuller Seminary received its first class in 1947. They cast the new seminary in the mold of "Old Princeton" -- intellectually rigorous, ministry-focused, and evangelistic. In these things, it served as a microcosm of the new evangelicalism itself. The seminary welcomed both faculty and students with evangelical sentiments that were members of mainline denominations. This distinguished Fuller Seminary -- and the new evangelicalism on the whole -- from its fundamentalist cousins, who insisted on separation from what they considered apostate denominations. One of the risings faculty stars at the new seminary was Carl F. Henry (1913-2003).

In 1956, Carl Henry left Fuller Seminary to become editor-in-chief of Christianity Today (CT), a new biweekly magazine inaugurated to provide an alternative to The Christian Century. With Henry at the helm (1956-1966), it was a serious intellectual journal that engaged the issues of the day from an evangelical perspective. Henry published material by evangelicals and of interest to evangelicals. In its early years, CT successfully found its way into the hands of educated evangelical ministers and leaders just as intended by co-founder Billy Graham.

Billy Graham

In many ways, Billy Graham embodied the "new evangelicalism." From a fundamentalist background, he received a solid evangelical education at Wheaton College before joining Youth for Christ and embarking on a career as an evangelist. Contemporary in his approach and winsome in his delivery, Graham’s platform grew as he engaged the society, world, and culture with a traditional message regarding the necessity of conversion. Graham’s decision to work with mainline churches in his New York City Crusade (1957) both represented the broader approach of the new evangelicalism and helped cement a rift between its adherents and an older fundamentalism.

Legacy

During the 1940s and 1950s, although many spoke of "new evangelicalism," the terms evangelical, fundamentalist, and conservative Protestant were employed interchangeably. Gradually though, the developments of those decades demarcated the growing difference between a recrudescent fundamentalism and an emerging evangelicalism of a different sort. The former would continue in its social separation, albeit to a lesser extent than in the past. Dissatisfied with the quietism of yesteryear, the latter would build on a renewed desire for cultural engagement and a greater impetus toward addressing significant social issues in the United States and abroad. It was this latter group, known as the new evangelicalism, whose efforts and demeanor would predominantly shape late 20th-century evangelicalism.

In the decades following 1960, evangelicals in the United States became more engaged with the world at every level. The mission endeavors launched during the immediate postwar period expanded as evangelicals sought to evangelize the nation and the world. Other ministries founded after World War II also grew in both size and influence as the 21st century approached. Evangelical seminaries and colleges also grew; they were increasingly staffed with evangelicals trained at top schools in an effort to engage the cultural and intellectual currents of the day. Further, evangelical concern for society meant that evangelicals became more engaged in the political process. Although most aligned with the political right, a smaller group aligned themselves with progressive causes. Additionally, the evangelical coalition itself expanded, encompassing a wider breadth of conversion-oriented Protestants than had been the case in past pan-evangelical movements. All told, all of these developments grew out of the new evangelicalism and its impetus toward culture engagement and concern for society.
Biographies
Ockenga, Harold John
Fuller, Charles Edward
LaHaye, Timothy "Tim"
Warren, Rick
Piper, John
Bakker, Tammy Faye
Meyer, Joyce
Graham, William "Billy"
Events
National Association of Evangelicals Founded
Billy Graham's Los Angeles Crusade
Billy Graham's New York Crusade
Elisabeth Elliot Publishes Through Gates of Splendor
Photographs

Billy Graham speaking at a Youth for Christ rally- Flickr- photo by Richard Bromley (CC BY 2.0)

Fuller Theological Seminary- Flickr- photo by Bill Comstock (CC BY 2.0)

NAE Founding Convention, 1942- photo courtesy of the National Association of Evangelicals

Harold Ockenga preaching- David Allan Hubbard Library, Archives and Special Collections, Fuller Theological Seminary

World Vision relief efforts- Wikimedia Commons- photo by World Vision (CC BY 3.0)
Book/Journal Source(s)
Kurian, George Thomas, and Mark Lamport (Eds.), 2016. The Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Web Source(s)
https://rowman.com/ISBN/9781442244320/The-Encyclopedia-of-Christianity-in-the-United-States-5-Volumes
If you enjoyed reading this entry, please buy the Encyclopedia of Christianity in the United States at the link above.
Web Page Contributor
Miles S. Mullin II

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