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“Bible-believing Christians would do well to beware of the New Evangelicalism for four valid reasons.
● First, it is a movement born of compromise.
● Second, it is a movement nurtured in pride of intellect.
● Third, it is a movement growing on appeasement of evil; and
● Finally it is a movement doomed by the judgment of God’s Holy Word.
Strong language, this? Let us face the facts.” William E. Ashbrook (John E. Ashbrook’s father), The New Neutralism.
| Note: Pastor John E. Ashbrook wrote New Neutralism II long after his father William E. Ashbrook wrote The New Neutralism. They stood together on the authority of God’s Word and led two generations of believers forward on God’s narrow and difficult road of uncompromising faith in the unchanging truth of the gospel. As John Ashbrook tells us in his Foreword, God provides strength to persevere:
New Neutralism II, Chapter 2
I believe that the mainspring of new evangelicalism is found in three determinations of its founder which may be clearly traced in the state of things today.
- First, new evangelicalism determined to reject Biblical separation.
- Secondly, new evangelicalism determined to find acceptance by the world.
- Thirdly, new evangelicalism determined to add the social gospel to the Scriptural gospel….
Dr. Harold John Ockenga coined the name “Neo-evangelicalism.”
When the National Association of Evangelicals was born in 1942, its first President was Harold John Ockenga. As a pastor he occupied the pulpit of Park Street Congregational Church on the edge of Boston Common. When Fuller Theological Seminary was founded in 1947, its first President was Dr. Harold John Ockenga. Christianity Today, the daily racing form of new evangelicalism, had its birth in 1956 as the brainchild of Billy Graham and his father-in-law, Dr. L. Nelson Bell. The Chairman of the Board of the new magazine was Dr. Harold John Ockenga. When the World Congress on Evangelism convened in 1966, one of the three featured speakers was Dr. Harold John Ockenga. Just to see if you have been following my train of thought, I will ask a question: Whom do you suppose was President of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Divinity School at the same time in the 1970s? If you miss the answer, you have not been paying attention. In the history of new evangelicalism, there is no more important name than that of Dr. Harold John Ockenga….
With this bit of background about the father of the movement, we begin to look at the three determinations which spawned the movement.
1. REJECTION OF BIBLE SEPARATION
First, new evangelicalism determined to reject Biblical separation. Dr. Ockenga wrote the foreword to Dr. Harold Lindsell’s book The Battle for the Bible, published in 1976. In that foreword he said:
“Neo-evangelicalism was born in 1948 in connection with a convocation address which I gave in the Civil Auditorium in Pasadena. While reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism, this address repudiated its ecclesiology and its social theory. The ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many evangelicals. … It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separatism and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day. It had a new emphasis upon the application of the gospel to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life.”
[W]hat new evangelicalism has determined to repudiate is Biblical separatism. Separation is God’s prescription for treating the disease of apostasy. It is not ours to repudiate, for it is a divine command, not a human idea….
“Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty.” [ 2 Corinthians 6:17,18]
The same doctrine is taught in passages such as Ephesians 5:11 which says, “And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather reprove them.” It is the theme of 2 John, culminating in verses 10 and 11: “If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds.” …
In a much earlier press release dated December 8, 1957, Dr. Ockenga made the following statements:
“The New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration. Instead of static front battles, the new theological war is one of movement. Instead of attack upon error, the New Evangelicals proclaim the great historic doctrines of Christianity … The strategy of the New Evangelicalism is the positive proclamation of truth in distinction from all errors without delving in personalities which embrace error.”
In a war, generals may change strategy, but that is not the prerogative of the Christian when God has given a command. Obviously separation is God’s command, and infiltration is man’s idea. The irenic statement above sounds rather noble in man’s eyes…. But how does that square with Jude 3 and 4?
“Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints. For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
What do you think of the new evangelical suggestion that we can proclaim truth “without delving in personalities which embrace error?” Throughout church history, heresies have always been identified with the men who perpetrated them. Almost every heresy of the past has been associated with a personality. You cannot erase nineteen centuries of church history with a cute phrase. Certainly Dr. Ockenga was aware that the battle for the faith in the 1920’s was between a Baptist unbeliever, Dr. Harry Emerson Fosdick, and Presbyterian believers…. The idea of preaching positively without contending for the faith is a compromise of Biblical truth….
SEEKING ACCEPTANCE BY THE WORLD
Secondly, new evangelicalism determined to find acceptance by the world. I have seen boys and girls feverishly seek the acceptance of their peers. A new child comes to visit, and they rush to show him every toy in the effort to be accepted. [See also Isaiah 39:1-5]This is a note not to be ignored in the new evangelical profile. It shows itself in the desire to be accepted in the world of academia, and it also shows in the desire to make the gospel more palatable to the natural man. Let me begin by going back to Dr. Ockenga’s foreword to The Battle for the Bible:
“It differed from fundamentalism in its repudiation of separation and its determination to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day.”
Reentering the theological dialogue with modernism was an important cause to new evangelicalism. Notice that it is described as “dialogue,” not debate. A debate is a conflict which clarifies a position. A dialogue is a conversation which compromises a position. (That may not be correct according to Webster, but it comes from observing theological dialogue.) Lest you think I am being picky with this matter, let me go further in the quotation from the foreword of The Battle for the Bible to show the specific items about which Dr. Ockenga desired to dialogue:
“Neo-evangelicals emphasized the restatement of Christian theology in accordance with the need of the time, the reengagement in the theological debate, the recapture of denominational leadership, and the reexamination of theological problems such as the antiquity of man, the universality of the flood, God’s method of creation, and others.”
I call this Dr. Ockenga’s “re” statement. In my own seminary experience, I was never taught that theology needs to be restated according to need. If we have a theology stated as the Bible states it, is it right to restate it to make it more palatable to a sinful world and an apostate church? New evangelicals have finely tuned the art of restating theology so that it causes no ripple at the National Council of Churches, Union Theological Seminary or a Presidential Prayer Breakfast. I could not state Biblical theology in any of those places and have it warmly received. Billy Graham does it all the time. Think about it.
Dr. Ockenga again suggested “the reengagement in the theological debate.” I assume that he meant the theological debate between modernism and fundamentalism. I would agree with that, if he meant to show the emptiness of apostasy and why men should leave it. New evangelicalism did not interpret it that way. Rather, it chose to return to apostate presbyteries, synods, seminaries and colleges to try to have an influence while dialoguing about the matters discussed there. As Dr. Ockenga said, “The New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration.” …
Dr. Ockenga’s fourth “re” has been the most destructive compromise of all. It is “the reexamination of theological problems such as the antiquity of man, the universality of the Flood, God’s method of creation and others.”….
Stop to think about the three areas Dr. Ockenga has identified. These areas are “theological problems” for one simple reason. The natural man has a problem with God’s sovereignty. The Bible declares that God did these things in a certain way. Man cannot accept that at face value, because he has never seen creation in seven days or a universal flood. To reexamine what God has told us He did is to subject God’s Word to the judgment of science. If a man accepts God’s sovereignty he needs no reexamination. On the other hand, if a man accepts only science he must reexamine, reexamine and reexamine. This reexamination of Biblical truth by worldly scientists has had a deadly effect on the biology departments of Christian colleges. Before new evangelicalism, those departments believed both in creation as taught in Genesis and in a universal flood. Today, in most of those departments, science, rather than the Bible, is normative. Consequently, professors teach some form of evolution and believe in a local flood. I heard Dr. Charles Woodbridge say that a local flood that covered the mountains must have been the first egg-shaped flood on record. The compromises of Dr. Ockenga’s four “re’s” have had a devastating effect on Christianity….
Let me quote again from Dr. Ockenga’s December 8, 1957, news release:
“The New Evangelicalism differs from Fundamentalism in its willingness to handle the social problems which Fundamentalism evaded. … The New Evangelical is willing to face the intellectual problems and meet them in the framework of modern learning. … The evangelical believes that Christianity is intellectually defensible, but the Christian cannot be obscurantist in scientific questions pertaining to the creation, the age of man, the universality of the flood and other moot Biblical questions.”
It seems to me that as Dr. Ockenga paints the portrait of the new evangelical with his right hand, he caricatures the fundamentalist with his left. Do you see the picture? The fundamentalist is unwilling to handle social problems, unable to face intellectual problems, not possessing modern learning and obscurantist in scientific questions. Intellectual pride is peer pressure on a scholarly level, and it doesn’t look any better on scholars than it does on teenagers. Ho, ye new evangelicals, wisdom has arrived and will die with us!
From its inception new evangelicalism has been determined to impress the world with its intellect. It has craved the respect of academia. It has determined to earn plaudits at the fountainheads of secular learning. Why should this be a goal for the Christian? Paul spelled out for the believer the vanity of this world’s wisdom in 1 Cor. 1:20,21: “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of the world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe.”
George Marsden, who wrote the history of Fuller Seminary under the title Reforming Fundamentalism points out on page 24 how Ockenga viewed the ministry of Fuller:
“Now he told the Fullers that what was needed was a true scholarly center to produce serious books that all the world would have to notice…. Ockenga was, in effect, proposing a new Princeton: the new west coast seminary would recapture the glory and academic standing of the old Princeton.”
“New Evangelicalism, beyond any question, is seeking middle ground with respect to the theological controversies…In the realms of things moral and spiritual one must be either right or wrong…the showdown at the close of the age will come in realms of black and white, not in the fog of a confused grey. In the great fight of faith there is no middle ground on which the neutralist can complacently stand for long…There can be no middle ground for Bible believing Christians….These are testing times when the dividing line between truth and error becomes ever more distinct…” William E. Ashbrook stated on page 2 of The New Neutralism,
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