07 February 2017

Inbox: Neo-Evangelicalism within the Framework of Evangelical Development

What's the difference between Neo-Evangelicalism and regular Evangelicalism and when did it arise?
It's not an easy question because no one can agree on what these terms mean. That said, though it's hard to be precise many seem to know almost intuitively what is meant.
If I were to provide a generalised narrative that is so broad as to be inaccurate and easily criticised, but still provides a starting point...
I propose three phases:
There won't be another phase.

I would posit that Evangelicalism rose out of Fundamentalism in the late 1940s and 1950s. Billy Graham and others were profoundly disturbed by the denominational divisions and schisms that had developed as a result of the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy. Right or wrong, The Scopes Trial made Fundamentalists look foolish.
And the world had profoundly changed with World War II. The rise of world communism, the Cold War and the nature of the modern technological society that was rapidly developing meant that Christians had to act. Basically I would argue that what they really believed was... the Gospel was not enough.
The Church had to be made relevant to the culture, it needed to have a more powerful and influential voice. Evangelicalism joined forces with business and politics and began to build alliances that would bring Evangelicals and the broader Church together to reach the culture.
For the first twenty years (roughly 1950s-1970s) this movement still sounded pretty Fundamentalist. Graham's sermons were still fairly Biblical in orientation. But at the same time the groundwork was being laid for the modern Evangelical-Ecumenical movement. The Church was stirred by Supreme Court rulings, the youth culture of the 1960s, Vietnam and what seemed to be American decline.
The focus became increasingly oriented toward the culture and in order to build numbers and garner funds the net was spread very wide. Graham was happy to work with Catholics even if this alienated some Fundamentalists and even other Evangelicals.
This period, which in some ways extended into the 1980s, was marked by ambivalence. Many Evangelicals were good patriotic Americans and yet still had some sense of antithesis and Biblical separatism. And yet the quest for respectability and a place at the table proved a mighty temptation. To put it another way, they were seduced by power and it came in earnest by the late 1970s.
By then Civil Rights and Nixon had shattered the party divide that was keeping Evangelicals apart. The shift of the population to the West also afforded a breaking with old traditional party alignments. Southern Conservatives left the Democratic Party and the Moral Majority helped to channel their energies into the Republican Party and the election of Ronald Reagan.
And yet with this came a broadening in terms of theology, a desire to find even more of a place and presence in academia, political think-tanks and machines and certainly the business world. Francis Schaeffer taught a form of Western Triumphalism, Transformationalism and Dominionism and this theology along with the ethos of the Capitalist 1980s also began to really change Evangelicalism.
The tide had turned.
The Fundamentalist flavoured Evangelicalism of the 1950s had morphed into the Über-Political/Patriotic Evangelicalism of the 1970s.
By the 1990s Evangelicalism was undergoing another transformation. The prosperity values of the 1980s had been theologised and now the advent of a Baby Boomer seemingly liberal president (with a feminist wife) allowed figures like Charles Colson to sound the alarm and spread an even wider net, formalising the relationships between Evangelicals and Catholics. The Culture War transcended all doctrinal differences.
The decadent culture of Triumphalist America in the 1990s infected the Church. Its leaders had taught people their jobs were holy, making money was godly and the enemies of the Church were not wolves among the sheep bringing in false doctrine. No, the enemy was Secular Humanism and so opposing Liberalism in all its forms and manifestations became a moral virtue. Capitalism and wealth were godly. A high standard of living was taking Dominion.
This was an era of tremendous amounts of money flowing into Church ministries and massive projects were undertaken to re-write history and build ministries focused on celebrity and numbers.
The Billy Graham style of Evangelism no longer excited and seemed fuddy-duddy and so now a new generation of entertainment and therapy-oriented Culture Warriors took over. Purpose Driven and Seeker-style Mega-Churches came to dominate the land.
The net was spread so wide that Charismatics, cultists and basically anyone who would wage Culture War in the name of Jesus was allowed within the Evangelical camp.
Evangelical was getting harder to define because increasingly its numbers and leaders had very little to do with what the term originally meant.
As another twenty year epoch passed and we entered our present decade of the 2010s, the term has now come to the point of embracing people who question the authority and veracity of Scripture. Cultural and scholarly relevance have led Evangelicals to deny portions of Scripture, explain it away, and increasingly ethics and values actually quite hostile to the New Testament are re-packaged, embraced and marketed as Evangelical.
Today these Neo-Evangelicals, born of the 1990s epoch but coming fully into their own today have led us to the point that women pastors are praying (without controversy) at the inauguration, homosexuality is largely accepted if not sometimes embraced, the decadent and anti-Christian values of Dave Ramsey define the Christian attitude toward money, the buffoonish Duck Dynasty crew are writing devotionals and Donald Trump is the Christian candidate.
There won't be another generation of Evangelicals, at least as it has now been used over the past 40 years in the American context. The term used to be connected to historic Protestant Christianity. The groundwork for change in the 1950s meant by the 1980s this reality was coming to an end. By the 1990s the term was all but dead.
Today in 2017, the term can be declared so nebulous as to no longer have any meaning. The net has been cast so wide now even political conservatives in the Bible-denying Mainline Churches are finding common cause and language with Evangelicals.
Evangelicalism is now entertainment, therapy, indulgent gluttonous living, politics and the glorification of nationalism and war.
It is apostate.
The greatest irony is that Billy Graham having lived so long has quite literally lived to see the suicide of the movement he helped to create. When he dies he will be lauded as the greatest Christian of modern times.

The state of the Church today is in large part the fruit and harvest of his work. He is the great False Prophet of Evangelicalism. He is the pre-eminent Wolf in Sheep's Clothing of the 20th century. He is unrepentant, blind and in for a shock when he is brought face to face with the absolute spiritual holocaust he has unleashed. The house Graham built was a pseudo-temple built on hay and stubble and its already burning. Will anything be left?