Future Directions For American Evangelicals -- By: John Jefferson Davis

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 29:4 (Dec 1986)
Article: Future Directions For American Evangelicals
Author: John Jefferson Davis


Future Directions For American Evangelicals

John Jefferson Davis*

American evangelicalism is in a state of transition. We are now witnessing, as it were, a changing of the guard in the leadership of the evangelical movement. The founding fathers of modern American evangelicalism—Harold John Ockenga, Edward John Carnell, Wilbur M. Smith, Carl F. H. Henry, Billy Graham, Harold Lindsell—have either gone home to be with Christ or are now in the closing years of their earthly ministries. The torch of leadership will be passed to a new generation.

It was only a generation ago, in 1947, that Ockenga coined the phrase “the new evangelicalism.” The new evangelicalism differed from liberalism in its adherence to the historic doctrines of the Christian faith, from neo-orthodoxy in its conviction of the objective inspiration of the Scriptures, and from fundamentalism in its inclusive ecclesiology and commitment to comprehensive social concern.1 This new reforming movement within American Protestantism, unlike some expressions of the older fundamentalism, was to be characterized by intellectual openness: “The theologian could not be obscurantic in treating such matters as the time of the Creation, the age of man, and the universality of the Flood; Christian theology was declared to be relevant to every phase of life.”2

Ockenga had been instrumental in the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942, conceived of as an alternative to the more theologically liberal National Council of Churches. The NAE later spawned the National Religious Broadcasters Association, the Evangelical Foreign Missions Association, the World Evangelical Fellowship, the National Sunday School Association, and later Christianity Today and the work of Billy Graham.

By 1976 a self-styled evangelical had been elected president, and Time magazine announced that this was the “Year of the Evangelical.” And yet Newsweek also astutely observed: “1976 may yet turn out to be the year that the evangelicals won the White House but lost cohesiveness as a distinct force in American religion and culture.”3

In 1978 Ockenga said, “Great visibility is being given today to the word ‘evangelical’ and to the evangelical movement. Hopefully, it will not be vitiated

*John Davis is professor of systematic theology and Christian ethics at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.

by a division of the movement or by loss of fideli...

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