W.B. Riley And The Developing New Evangelicalism -- By: Dell G. Johnson

Journal: Central Bible Quarterly
Volume: CENQ 021:3 (Fall 1978)
Article: W.B. Riley And The Developing New Evangelicalism
Author: Dell G. Johnson

W.B. Riley And The Developing New Evangelicalism

Dell G. Johnson

Pillsbury Baptist Bible College

Owatonna, Minnesota

[Part one of a two part series.]


The decade of the 1940’s spawned what has come to be known as New Evangelicalism.1 Though commonly confused with Fundamentalism, the new movement from the onset was different both in nature and in practice, thus giving rise to a basic disagreement between the two. Fundamentalism, firmly rooted in a strong Bibliology, was leary of the unreflecting reactionary proposals of the “New” Evangelicals. This study will attempt to document some of the initial controversies that were involved in the ministry of W.B. Riley of Minneapolis, Minnesota.

A working definition of New Evangelicalism will be an official statement published by Harold Ockenga in December of 1957. In this press release Ockenga, who is credited with first coining the term in 1947, identifies the New Evangelicals as those associated with the National Association of Evangelicals, Billy Graham, Fuller Seminary, and the periodical Christianity Today.2

I. The National Association Of Evangelicals

The fundamentalist credentials of W.B. Riley, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Minneapolis from 1897–1943, have been

documented by both friend and foe. Variously described as an “able debater,” “ardent, knowledgeable fundamentalist,”3 and ignorant, anti-intellectual egotist,4 Riely’s leadership among Fundamentalists for half a century is nevertheless undebatable. In 1941, Riley was eighty years old celebrating his forty-fourth anniversary as pastor of First Baptist and acknowledging the publication of sixty-five volumes.5 Thus, when the National Association of Evangelicals was beginning in October 27-28, 1941,6 Riley was ready with a mature opinion on the subject. One might expect Riley to have had a negative view toward a new organization since he had long headed up and promoted the World’s Christian Fundamentals Association (henceforth W.C.F.A.). In March, 1940, The Pilot, Riley’s magazine, carried an article stating the intention of the W.C.F.A. of “conducting a national crusade” during the year.7 The plan was to hold conferences in “all the strat...

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