Thursday, September 26, 2013

The stated aims of the original New Evangelicalism

[A]s outlined in Ockenga,

  1. Evangelicals want to see a revival of Christianity in the midst of a secular world which, because of its loss of contact with God, is facing imminent destruction.
  2. Evangelicals want to win a new respectability for orthodoxy in academic circles. This requires the production of dedicated scholars who will be prepared to defend the faith on the intellectual’s own ground.
  3. Evangelicals want to recapture denominational leadership from within the larger denominations rather than completely abandon these denominations to the forces of contemporary liberalism
  4. Finally, evangelicals want to make Christianity the mainspring in societal reforms that it once was and that it ought to be.

— Ronald H. Nash, The New Evangelicalism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1963), 177

The New Evangelicalism began with lofty aims and a sincere desire to promote the Christian faith. Sadly, history has given us the disastrous record of the New Evangelicalism, a movement which spiraled out of the control of its original founders. In his book, Ronald Nash put forward the agenda of the New Evangelicalism with its lofty goals. Yet as we examine these goals, we see that they are all flawed from the start, and thus the seed of the failure of the New Evangelicalism was present from the very beginning.

Goal number 1 is laudable, and certainly all of us should desire to see Christ's name lifted up and the Christian faith esteemed in the world, with many turning to Christ for salvation. The problem with the New Evangelicalism is how it goes about trying to achieve its goal. Can a movement convert a world? Perhaps, but certainly not the Christian faith. The Christian faith works through the means ordained by God, through the Church. Without a biblical doctrine of the Church, how can the goal be attained? How can Christianity be revived when the leaders do not have a proper doctrine of the Church in the first place?

The second goal is really sad, only because it is not possible. It is possible to be scholarly, and Christian theologians should be scholarly. But being scholarly does not necessarily mean that orthodoxy would be "respected" by unbelieving scholars, since the ground of rejection of the Bible's teaching is not intellectual but spiritual. As 1 Cor. 1:18 states, the wisdom of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. It matter not how scholarly one is. The unbelieving Academy will not accept the teachings of Scripture no matter how scholarly it is presented. Now certainly Christians theologians ought to be scholarly, but to think that just being scholarly will get one respected in the Academy is a fool's dream. Nash's further proposal to do that "on the intellectual's own ground" is astonishing. What if their ground is one of unbelief? Should we be asked to adopt materialism before we can even began the conversation? What if the "intellectual's own ground" is that "there is no God"?

The third goal is to recapture denominational leadership from the larger denominations. This betrays a naive view of reform as well as a forgetfulness about the recent past. What do people like Nash think happened in the PCUSA that led to the defrocking of J. Gresham Machen? If the liberals stand their ground (which they do) and block all reform actions, should the New Evangelicals wait (forever) for the dream that the Liberals would perhaps one day hand them the denominational leadership?

Lastly, the fourth goal showed the New Evangelical nostalgia for the Old Evangelical social activism, an activism that however has no basis in Scripture.

The New Evangelicals have good motives. However, good motives are never enough. As it has often been said, "the road to hell is paved with good intentions." By not following the biblical manner for reform and revival, the New Evangelicalism was doomed from the start, although outwards success was phenomenal for a time.

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