Neo-evangelicalism, or "new evangelicalism," was a movement within Christian evangelicalism focused on direct engagement with culture and, for some, cooperation with more liberal Christian groups. It was a response to the rift that grew in the early twentieth century between Fundamentalists and Modernists.
Neo-evangelicalism – What is it?
As Modernism prevailed in the culture, it affected Christian groups and increasingly became part of seminaries and various denominations. Modernists accepted the skeptical scholarship that the Bible was a human book. They saw Jesus as a good moral teacher and emphasized the need for Christians to love their neighbors. They also more willingly accepted the possibility that people outside of Christianity could be in relationship with God.
Fundamentalists, on the other hand, held to the fundamentals of the Christian faith such as biblical inspiration, the virgin birth, the deity of Jesus Christ, Jesus as the only way of salvation, and Jesus' Second Coming. Many either left the seminaries and denominations or were forced out. Fundamentalists not only separated from the more liberal Christians, but also separated from the culture—emphasizing moral abstinence from such activities as drinking, dancing, and attending movies. As they separated from the culture, they also believed it was their duty to evangelize the culture.
As Fundamentalists became more isolated, their influence and ability to evangelize became more difficult. Their dismissal of scholarship that led Modernists away from orthodox doctrine branded them anti-intellectual. Neo-evangelicalism rose out of discontent within the Fundamentalist group. Some thought Fundamentalists had isolated themselves too much and that Christians should engage culture more directly. They also thought that rejection of modern scholarship had led to abandonment of scholarship at all; instead, they emphasized evangelical scholarship.
Carl Henry's The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, published in 1947, encouraged evangelicals out of separatist Fundamentalism. Harold J. Ockenga was the first to use the term neo-evangelical to describe this movement. Billy Graham is a well-known face of the movement. Christianity Today, the magazine, also became a voice of neo-evangelicalism.
Neo-evangelical is an out-of-date term. Most of what it stood for in the mid-1900s would describe evangelicals today.
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