The Formation Of The New Evangelicalism (Part One): Historical And Theological Antecedents -- By: Rolland D. McCune

Journal: Detroit Baptist Seminary Journal
Volume: DBSJ 03:1 (Fall 1998)
Article: The Formation Of The New Evangelicalism (Part One): Historical And Theological Antecedents
Author: Rolland D. McCune


The Formation Of The New Evangelicalism (Part One):
Historical And Theological Antecedents

Rolland D. McCune*

Rolland D. McCune*

* Dr. McCune is President and Professor of Systematic Theology at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary in Allen Park, MI.

Defining the “new” evangelicalism is part of the greater problem of defining evangelicalism itself. Usually evangelicalism means a Protestant view of the “good news” (from the Greek word euangelion) of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Timothy Weber said, “Defining evangelicalism has become one of the biggest problems in American religious historiography.”1 Mark Noll is undoubtedly correct when he said, “The term ‘evangelical’ is a plastic one.”2 George Marsden sees no fewer than fourteen evangelicalisms in the “variety”!3 For our purposes here the term “new evangelicalism” applies to a strain of conservative, traditional Protestant religious thought that coalesced into a

movement in the mid-twentieth century, purporting to avoid the fundamentalist right and the neo-orthodox/neo-liberal left.4 Although David Wells disclaims that evangelicalism ever was a “movement,”5 it appears difficult to sustain that assertion. In the sense that Joel Carpenter describes fundamentalism as a movement,6 the new evangelicalism can also meaningfully be classified as such.

The term new evangelicalism was coined by Harold John Ockenga in an address at the newly-formed Fuller Theological Seminary in 1947.7 Like all theological groups or movements, the new evangelicalism has a general motif of belief and practice, with varying shades attached corresponding to the backgrounds and beliefs of those involved. This motif expresses itself in many areas. The purpose of this and the article

to follow is to give a general account of the formation of the new evangelical movement in the 1940s and 1950s by noting the historical, philosophical, and theological antecedents that formed modernist theology, describing the fundamentalist-modernist controversy that was the milieu out of which came the new evangelical appearance, and showing the subsequent historical rise of the new evangelical coalition.

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