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July 1, 2020 12:01 am
In the twentieth century, evangelicalism grew in popularity. At the same time, however, subtle errors began to creep into the church. Today, W. Robert Godfrey evaluates some of the challenges facing conservative Christians in the 1900s.
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There were significant growth in evangelicalism during the 20th century, but under the surface.
Trouble was brewing in the 1970s a number of key evangelical leaders including RC Sproul and James Montgomery Boreas and JI Packer looked around and said in our own evangelical movement. We are beginning to see slippage on the doctrine of Scripture.
No one comes right out and says they want to see errors creep into the church is probably not the goal of any church leader but when our focus is on success and growth. We tend to take our eye off the main thing the fundamental doctrines of the faith. The 20th century is full of disappointing examples of this. But that thankfully we see inspiring examples of people who stood for biblical truth including our founder Dr. RC Sproul as leader. Teaching fellow Dr. Monica we want to return now to the subject of evangelicalism. When we began early on talking about tensions within American Protestantism in the early 20th century. I argued that increasingly the word evangelical fell into disuse because everybody claimed to be an evangelical and so the word didn't really have much meaning anymore, and as a result, people got labeled much more frequently modernists or fundamentalists and that was even more powerfully true in the 1920s and in the 1930s, but after the second world war.
Very often, after a war, there is a whole new period of of peaceable notice of desire for unity of reevaluation of relationships in the late 1940s, a prominent Protestant leader began to argue that we really ought to revive the word evangelical and that leader was Carl Henry, a man who would have the very profound impact on American Protestantism conservative American Protestantism for a number of decades, he wrote in 1947 a book called the uneasy conscience of modern fundamentalism. Notice he still is using the phrase fundamentalist to describe himself. He's not embarrassed, but he says in this book, I recognize now that the word fundamentalist has taken on some negative connotations and and maybe some of that negativity is dessert and he said it seems to me that we as fundamentalists have become true withdrawn from the nation from the general cultural development of the period in which we live.
We need to be more engaged and secondly he said I think we become too individualistic in our approach to Christianity. We have so stressed the importance of individual conversion that we haven't really thought enough about the church and about the community of Christians. And thirdly, he said, we have almost entirely backed away from concern about social issues and just talked about private morality. We talked in the previous series about how many social issues were addressed in rather progressive waves by conservative Protestants in the 19th century and as we come into the 20th century, there continued to be social concern early in the century, the last great battle was for prohibition. That was the, the great conservative Protestant because we can only get rid of demon rum will remake the country. It didn't work out so well as it turned out, but that was a great moral crusade and it was a moral crusade, not just in the name of individual piety, but it was a crusade in the name of social improvement for the poor who were spending too much on alcohol and and so forth. And Henry is saying we need to recapture some of that social vision as well as a church vision and engage with the world around us. In 1948. The very next year he began a series of articles in a Christian magazine that had the title, the figure of the new evangelicalism and it's at that point that Henry begins to suggest that evangelical maybe will be a more positive word, a more forward-looking word it. It's an old word. It's a venerable word and maybe we need to revive it in light of the negative connotations of the word fundamentalist and through the work of Henry and others who begin to associate themselves with him there emerged a whole series of new leaders and new institutions and new avenues for advancing the cause of the new evangelicalism and one of the early and very important figures in that development was Billy Graham. It was Billy Graham that first came to fame during his Los Angeles crusade in 1949 and of the famous story is that on a slow news day. William Randolph Hearst sent his reporters to the Billy Graham Crusade with the instructions puff Graham given publicity and so Billy Graham began to be covered began to be more influential and we can to be the sort of model of what the new evangelicalism was all about passionate commitment, vigorous and committed to involving the conservative Protestant because in the world.
Somebody wants asked a scholar. Can you give me a brief definition of evangelical, and he thought a minute and said someone who likes Billy Graham that or, alternatively, someone who thinks that the apostle Paul was Billy Graham with the Greek accent that that's the, the sort of notion that Billy Graham became such a leader in a corset.
Billy Graham as he emerged then seem to be part of that apostolic succession that I talked about of evangelists George Whitfield Charles Grandison Finney, Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday. Maybe Amy Silva McPherson and then Billy Graham so he emerges as a very prominent voice on the scene at that just about the same time. In 1947, Fuller theological seminary held its first classes and it too was dedicated to being a voice of this new evangelical movement. The founders of Fuller seminary that included Carl Henry and and Dr. often get a long pastor of Park St., Church in Boston, and others. They said we want a really first-rate academic seminary like Westminster seminary, but not so narrowly reformed want to be broadly reform that was part of the new evangelicalism and Fuller seminary came to represent that and to be one of its key institutions for a while.
Then Carl Henry said we really need a magazine. Henry's background was in journalism and he said we need a magazine to carry this forward, and he founded Christianity today in the 1955 and if you go back and look at the old Christianity today.
It wasn't a newsmagazine. It was a fairly serious theological Journal and the very prominent theological leaders of the Protestant world. The conservative Protestant world wrote in that journal now was not a scholarly journal for scholars but was bringing first-rate scholars to try to write about key issues that would speak to ministers and to laypeople so it was really pretty Tony it was. Was pretty high level as a theological accomplishment and then other institutions began to be formed. The national Association of Evangelicals was formed to try to bring a variety of emerging denominations, educational institutions, a variety of different things together to have a kind of united voice.
They also founded the Evangelical theological Society, which was to be a meeting place for evangelical scholars from colleges and universities, and seminaries from all over the world. In a lot of ways we can say the foundations of the campus crusade by Bill Bright were were a similar manifestation of something of this new spirit of wanting to communicate unity, love and respectability.
Those were some of the key concerns of the new evangelicalism they didn't want to abandon the faith.
But they wanted a kind of new engagement. One of the really controversial moments of that new engagement was the decision of Billy Graham in 1956 to begin to cooperate with liberal ministers.
This this was a very controversial move on his part. At that time. You know how Billy Graham when he moved into a city he would get as many ministers as he could to cooperate in supporting the crusade.
Those ministers would often appear on the platform with them sitting behind him as if to demonstrate their support of the crusade, and then the crusade would gather the names of all the people who came forward at a meeting and any of them who identified a church affiliation. The crusade would write to that church and say so-and-so from your church and forward. You should follow-up and the crusade would urge those people to go back to their churches well until 1956. Billy Graham only cooperated with conservative Protestant ministers and conservative Protestant churches and only sent people to those conservative Protestant church 1956 he changed his strategy and began to cooperate with modernist ministers as well as conservative ministers. Well, the old fundamentalist support. The strict fundamental support exploded about and Billy Graham was subjected to all kinds of criticism, but as it turns out, the critics found themselves to be a smaller part of the new evangelicalism than they had expected.
And while not everyone was happy about it. Many sort of understood Billy Graham's theory that this would increase his influence now. I've always been tempted to write a book at exit RC Sproul Hill write this book as he actually writes books, I found the right title VII outlines of books we need a book called the myth of influence because through the whole history of the church. It's fascinating how many things have been done that were bad in the names of being more influential, or is in fact almost always in history of the church, the people of actually been influential didn't set out to be influential but set out to be faithful anyway. I don't get off on that.
There's a book from one of your direct there's no doubt that Billy Graham got many more people cooperating with him than it would have had otherwise.
It vastly contributed to his respectability.
It would have been relatively easy to say well you know Billy Graham is a Southerner not too well-educated, just another Lowe's knucklehead fundamental, but his his cooperative spirit led to much better press coverage for Bill Graham and did in some ways increase his influence. The 1960s.
Of course in America were turbulent. They were a period in which some of the evangelicals were uncertain as to how to relate to broader cultural movements.
Certainly it was a critical period in the history of the black churches as movements were being undertaken to claim civil rights extend voting rights allow Blacks to take a much more protected legal place in in American society and there is no doubt that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. regularly advanced his cause in the name of Christianity and whatever we may think about Dr. King's personal theology. I think in looking back, we have to say it's an amazing thing that that movement remained a nonviolent movement and it remained a nonviolent movement because Dr. King over and over again said that's the Christian thing to do and do.
We ought to recognize that as a remarkable achievement in the history of our nation.
Interestingly enough, as we come out of the turbulent 60s suddenly America discovers the evangelicals are great church historian Martin Marty of the University of Chicago in 1976 discovered the evangelicals. I don't know where we'd all been but suddenly we had come out into the light and made it on the cover of Time magazine and whether you like it or not, Jimmy Carter helped with that because of his for a rather straightforward commitments of faith and then as we move on into the 80s with Ronald Reagan and some of the light.
He shined on the Evangelical movement. Suddenly evangelicalism had accomplished what he had so long hope to accomplish from the days of Henry. It'd become noticed.
It'd become respectable. It'd become somewhat influential suddenly in national elections. People were telling about the evangelical vote. We long heard about Catholic vote in the black voting and different voting blocs suddenly evangelicals were being counted as one of those voting blocks and so in some ways it seemed that evangelicals were doing so well, they might need to go back to their old post-millennial eschatology that never happened.
Actually. And yet, at the very time that these successes were taking place. There were internal tensions manifesting themselves theologically in the movement and are one of the interesting points at which that manifested itself was in the 1970s a number of key evangelical leaders including RC Sproul and James Montgomery Boyson JI Packer looked around and said in our own evangelical movement.
We are beginning to see slippage on the doctrine of Scripture. Despite our experience early in the century. Now again, this problem of the authority of Scripture's coming up in those leaders gathered in Chicago to adopt a statement of faith and to organize something called the International Council on biblical inerrancy.
They said we need to recommit ourselves to the inerrancy of Scripture, and to use that word to insist on the complete reliability and infallibility of Scripture. Now there were people you see who were saying what I believe the infallibility of Scripture. I believe the trustworthiness of Scripture. I believe authority in Scripture.
It's just that I think there are some errors in and the leaders of the evangelical movements had done this really won't do. This is a slippery slope. We in this path before. Let's not go there again. I actually attended those meetings in Chicago guy was in third grade, maybe not. I attended those meetings in Chicago and I can vividly remember JI Packer giving an address in which he said inerrancy as a word must be for us the shibboleth of our time.
Hope you will know the book of Judges well enough to know that when Israel was battling the Ephraimites the way they spotted those sneaky Ephraimites was that the Ephraimites couldn't say shibboleth they could only say simple if and so they were revealed for who they were and I think Packer was making a very good point.
Sometimes you need a word of the Council of Nicaea. They needed the word Homo sapiens of the same substance to clarify the relationship of the eternal son to the eternal father and I think these of fathers in the faith were absolutely right that we needed this word inerrancy. If you have trouble with the word inerrancy. Maybe we need to take a second look at you made. The trouble is not with the word but with you and this movement was not just to create a statement in an organization, but out of that came many volumes of scholarly work defending that inerrancy is what the Bible teaches about itself that inerrancy is what the church has always believed about the Bible, not just the Protestant church but the Roman church and the ancient. In the medieval. The Eastern Orthodox Church and and it was a huge scholarly as well as popular accomplishment that really stabilized the movement for a time and it was a very impressive achievement and yet today we find exactly the same problems arising again. It was very interesting to be at the Ligon international conference this year.
Some of you may have been there and here a serial Butterfield talk about her experience of the change of her life from being a university professor of of English, a secularist and a lesbian to becoming a Christian married woman with children she is. She's a lovely person, a kind person.
She is not confrontational and mean-spirited in any way and should put talking about going to many different places to speak and should one of the troubling things has been to go to Christian colleges, Christian college and have a relatively conservative reputation and find visceral opposition to her being there and to her bearing testimony just to her own experience. She's not out there sort of claiming anything other than wanting to tell the story what Christ did for her. And yet the opposition in the sometimes faculties and in student bodies in Christian institutions suggest that the evangelical because it is in some danger today. I don't think it's too much to say that here the beginning of the 21st century were in almost an identical position as to where evangelicalism was at the end of the 19th century. Namely, we have a label but it's a label covering very broadly different theological convictions and what I is a historian and somewhat alarmed about is that it doesn't seem to be that were heading towards any explosion of the kind we saw in the 1920s, and I worry that instead of an explosion. We may be facing an evangelical evaporation who is going to stand up and say they really care about this situation who's going to defend the historic Protestant conservative view is evangelicalism enough that may resonate in your mind with a book title that was written by Thomas Howard some years ago now entitled evangelical is not enough. Now Thomas Howard was a son of a very prominent American evangelical family. His brother David Howard served as president of the world Evangelical Fellowship conservative worldwide evangelical organization. His sister was famous as Elizabeth Elliott, whose husband was martyred as a missionary in Peru and Thomas Howard was a professor of English at Gordon College, conservative Protestant, college, and he wrote this book evangelical is not enough to say that I don't find evangelicalism satisfying.
It's not enough. It's fine as far as ago is not that I really don't believe most of things evangelicals believe, but it's not enough. And Thomas Howard became a Roman Catholic. I don't think we can all say that there's been a flood out of evangelical circles in the Roman Catholicism, but there has been unknown prominent movement that may be we should pause and reflect. Francis Schaeffer son Frankie Schaefer became Eastern Orthodox. Some leaders of campus Crusade became Eastern Orthodox John Richard Neuhaus of Missouri Synod Lutheran pastor became Roman Catholic, we have to ask ourselves what what what is sort of going on here. Why this dissatisfaction for him to do that in another lecture. We need to to begin to reflect what's going on with evangelicalism. What's the character of evangelicalism. Is there some structural deficiency in evangelical that has left it being somewhat unstable at the end of the 19th century, now finding it somewhat unstable again at the end of the 20th century. That's Dr. Robert Guthrie with a lesson from his sweeping church history series your listing to Renewing Your Mind on this Wednesday.
Thank you for joining us I'm Lee Webb. Unfortunately, today many are unfamiliar with church history, and because of that were missing the threat of God's faithfulness over the centuries.
Let me encourage you to request part six of Dr. Godfrey series. It covers the entire 20th century and 12 messages. The decisions made 100 years ago truly affect our lives today, so we'd like to send you the two DVD set, simply contact us today and request it with your donation of any amount you can call us at 800-435-4343 port. You can go online to Renewing Your Mind.work, but we've witnessed faithful leaders in the church.
We've also seen unfortunately how biblical illiteracy and a loose grip on theology have combined to weaken the church studying church history helps us understand how we got here, and more importantly how we can correct our course again. Contact us today with your gift of any amount and we will send you Dr. Godfrey's 12 messages on the most recent chapter of church history. The 20th century our web address is Renewing Your Mind.org and her phone number 800-435-4343 Dr. Godfrey along with her other leg and or teaching fellows are also featured regularly on ref that that's our 24 hour Internet radio station, you can listen for free at any time when you go to riff that.FM on your computer or when you download the free ref net app will tomorrow. Dr. Godfrey will address this question, what is required for different denominations to have unity evangelicals recognize that there is a kind of minimalism to what their core values. Evangelicals often want to ask what are the minimal number of essential that we have to believe to be faithful Protestant Christians and yet not reject other Protestant questions. We hope you'll join us Thursday for Renewing Your Mind