Neo-evangelicalism

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The Neo-Evangelical movement was a response among traditionally orthodox Protestants to fundamentalist Christianity's separatism in the 1920s and 1930s. See also the article on Evangelicalism.

Contents

Origins

The word 'evangelical' comes from the Greek word for 'Gospel' or 'good news': ευανγελιον euangelion. The first Reformed and Lutheran churches called themselves Evangelical, and this term continued to be used by many in the Protestant tradition following ecumenical creeds (that is, the Athanasian, Nicene, and Chalcedonian creeds) which emphasized the preaching of the Gospel. The term 'Evangelical' was originally the self-description of both modernist and fundamentalists.

Fundamentalism had arisen in the early 20th century as a response by more traditionally orthodox Protestants to modernists and liberal trends in their churches. These two trends were seen as a threat to faith and society, as accommodations to the Enlightenment and a withdrawal from the principles of the Protestant reformation.

A crisis arose in the conflict between fundamentalists and modernists in many Protestant denominations, particularly in the United States and Canada. In response, some fundamentalists strongly advocated separation from those denominations and institutions in which modernism was dominant. Others, both fundamentalist and the more traditionally orthodox urged strongly against this and called themselves 'neo-evangelicals'.

Neo-evangelical views

Neo-evangelicals held the view that the 'Evangelical' churches had surrendered their heritage as Evangelical by accommodating the views and values of the world that is to modernism and liberalism. However they saw the fundamentalist separation as an over-reaction and their rejection of the Social gospel. They believed that modernists had lost their identity as Evangelicals and Fundamentalists had lost the character of Evangelicalism. They believed that the Gospel needed to be reasserted and restated in a new way, thus the term, 'Neo-' (new or renewed) 'evangelicalism'.

They saw separatist fundamentalism as giving up on the world-changing faith of the previous two centuries, labeling it: defensive, fear-bound, and irrelevant. They sought to engage the modern world in a positive way, not conforming to it, remaining separate from worldliness but not from the world.

They saw themselves as confronting the world and worldly Christians in the world, reaching out to them being articulate and compassionate. In the context of the increasingly bitter Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy this approach was new, and had popular appeal. It drew a vigorous negative reaction from those fundamentalists who advocated separation and believed that their cause was being betrayed from within.

The movement is often referred to as 'Evangelicalism' dropping the prefix. The term, neo-evangelicalism, is still self-descriptive but only when referring to its beginnings in the 1940s and 1950s. It is now used almost exclusively by critics, to distinguish themselves from this movement.

They seek to distinction between the evangelical message, and what some Evangelicals might call 'religion', or 'churchianity'.

Current trends

The recent influence of Religious right Christian groups in the U.S.A. is having an impact on groups identifying as Neo-evangelical and Fundamentalist. There is an appearance that rather than separation, there is an attempt to impose God's dominion on the world. See Christian Reconstructionism, Theonomy and Dominion Theology for a more detailed explanation of this process. It must be noted, however, that this claim is more of an attempt to discredit and villify the so-called "religious right", rather than anything based in reality. Most who actually consider themselves Evangelical have no intent or desire to form a Theocracy.

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Neo-evangelicalism in action

Alternatives to church

Whilst generally Neo evangelical have sought to remain within their denominations, there have been some alternative church-like arrangements set up in some places.

Evangelical house church projects have been established in some neighborhoods, which may even avoid using the word 'church' to describe their meetings. Special meeting places, a professional clergy, even the sacraments might be set aside by an Evangelical church, in some cases: not necessarily on account of convictions that these institutions are wrong, but rather in order to extend outreach beyond traditional bounds.

Parachurch bodies

A feature of this new Evangelicalism is the growth of independent, non-denominational parachurch organizations and movements. These groups minister "alongside" (Grk: para-) the organized church. Through many decentralized organizations, their function is to bridge the gap between the church and culture. This model had been pioneered in the Second Great Awakening of the 19th century, but it was perfected in the second half of the 20th century.

These bodies can be businesses, non-profit corporations, and private associations. They generally operate within the broad movement of Evangelicalsim without sponsorship of any particular church or association of churches, while attempting to avoid encroaching on roles traditionally belonging to churches alone. They offer centralized efficiency of mission and operation to accomplish specialized ministry tasks that independent churches without denominational or associational strength are not able to accomplish on a larger national or international scale.

Examples of Parachurch organizations include:

  • evangelistic crusade associations (patterend after the Billy Graham Association)
  • evangelistic and discipleship ministries (such as The Navigators, Campus Crusade for Christ)
  • music and print publishers, radio and television stations, film studios, online ministries
  • study centers and institutes, grade schools and colleges
  • political and social activist groups
  • self-help groups
  • Bible study groups

Parachurch organizations generally require members or staff to agree to an Evangelical 'Statement of Faith' or creed. These statements are used to define an organization's biblical and doctrinal beliefs, convictions, and mission distinctives. Some statements are deliberately general in nature to allow for maximum outreach to community or culture. Others are more specific and constraining, potentially excluding those who would disagree, but defining the organization by those who agree with its beliefs.

Critical responses

Criticisms of the movement are as diverse as the movement itself. It has certainly explored a wide swathe of the territory opened to it by the rejection of the Fundamentalist principle of separation, and no doubt, it will go farther in the future. In the process, it has provoked the anger and alarm of many. But, without argument, the Neo-evangelical movement has been the most influential development in Protestant Christianity in the second half of the 20th century.

Champions of Neo-orthodoxy

Scholars

Evangelists

Billy Graham, evangelist with his mass-crusades

Publications

Seminaries

Para church Organizations

External links

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