Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation
Rise of the
the Fundamentalist-Modernist controversy, as we mentioned
in Chapter 6, Fundamentalists began to develop their own
network of independent schools, periodicals, mission boards,
and denominations. But with this independence came a loss
in national status. No longer were Fundamentalists part
of the major denominations that dominated American religious
life. Fundamentalism itself had become a negative
term to most Americans, synonymous with bigotry and ignorance.
A segment within Fundamentalism began to want to reform
the movement and to change its image. Some Fundamentalists
began to use the less controversial label Evangelical.
Joel Carpenter points out how Fundamentalism faced two possible
courses of "reform" in the 1940s. One way was
to "strengthen" Fundamentalism. Leaving the basic
position of Fundamentalism unchanged, this approach would
raise the intellectual level of Fundamentalist apologetics
and theological writings. Also, it would attempt to moderate
the more caustic language that Fundamentalists had used
in the heat of controversy. The other course of reform sought
to "revise" Fundamentalism. This approach sought
to take Fundamentalism in a different direction in scholarship
and especially in regard to the matter of separation.6
This second method became the philosophy of the New Evangelicalism.
The spokesman for the movement was Harold J. Ockenga, sometimes
called the Father of the New Evangelicalism. He was pastor
of the historic Park Street Congregational Church in Boston
and the first president of Fuller Theological Seminary.
Supporting Ockenga in this effort were several other young
Evangelical intellectuals, including Carl Henry, the founding
editor of Christianity Today.7
statements of Ockenga provide a summary of the basic views
of the New Evangelicalism. Ockenga was one of the first
to use the term New Evangelicalism, and he outlined
the movement's basic beliefs in his foreword to Harold
Lindsell's Battle for the Bible.8
Those beliefs, and the Fundamentalist reaction to them,
sparked a major controversy and division within the Fundamentalist
Ockenga spoke of New Evangelicalism's "determination
to engage itself in the theological dialogue of the day"
and the need for "the reengagement in the theological
debate." The New Evangelicals believed that Fundamentalism
was not conducting biblical study at a sufficiently high
level of scholarship. There was a need, they said, for interchange
with liberal scholars. As part of that move, several talented
young Evangelicals began to attend prestigious graduate
schools in America and Europe.
is not opposed to intellectual study, and Christians need
to be aware of all shades of scholarship. The question is
what compromises are made to the Christian faith in order
to achieve this "higher level" of scholarship.
What is being surrendered by Christians in their efforts
at "dialogue" with liberals? At first, New Evangelicals
protested that they simply wanted to compete with liberals
in their own fields of study and to witness to them of Christ.9
Fundamentalists, however, feared that the movement was heading
toward acceptance of liberals as orthodox believers. Bob
Jones Jr. wrote, "In effect, they [the New Evangelical
leaders] said to the enemies of Christian faith, We
will call you "Christian brothers" if you will call
us "doctor," "professor," and "scholar.""10
Sanderson mentions how critics feared that New Evangelicals
would either absorb liberal beliefs or at least accommodate
liberal ideas. He also notes that critics thought that the
New Evangelicalism risked setting a bad precedent that would
cause later generations to accept liberalism.11
The passing of years has revealed the validity of these
fears, as we shall see.
Ockenga wrote of the need for "the reexamination of
theological problems such as the antiquity of man, the universality
of the Flood, God's method of creation, and others."
Almost from the beginning, the New Evangelicals suggested
accommodation toward evolutionary theory. The national embarrassment
of the Scopes "Monkey Trial" was apparently still
with them. Some questioned belief in Creationism, a young
earth, and the Bible's account of Noah and the Flood.
They did so, heedless of the impact of such questions on
the historicity of the Bible and on biblical teachings such
as original sin and Christ's work as the Second Adam
(Rom. 5:12-21; I Cor. 15:21-22, 45).
Ockenga also issued a "summons to social involvement"
and a "new emphasis upon the application of the gospel
to the sociological, political, and economic areas of life."
This belief was not originally a call to the liberal idea
of the social gospel, although Fundamentalists were concerned
when Ockenga said things such as, "There need be no
disagreement between the personal gospel and the social
The social gospel (discussed in Chapter 7) downplayed or
eliminated personal salvation in favor of social reform.
The original New Evangelicals did not favor this kind of
social gospel. They wanted to state what the Bible said
concerning social issues, to denounce sin in any form it
years have seen a shift in social theory among some Evangelicals,
however. Originally, it is clear that men such as Ockenga
and Carl Henry sought a testimony on social issues that
was based on the redemption of the individual through Christ.
Henry, for example, wrote in 1947, "Only an anthropology
and a soteriology that insists upon man's sinful lostness
and the ability of God to restore the responsive sinner
is the adequate key to the door of Fundamentalist world
As the years passed, younger Evangelicals began to stake
out other positions that threatened to redefine the gospel.
After surveying contemporary Christian attitudes toward
social action, Robert Horton concludes that many Evangelicals
view social action as a form of evangelism rather than a
means to evangelism. Others, he points out, make social
reform a part of the gospel itself.14
a position distorts the gospel by adding to it. Fundamentally,
the gospel is the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ
through His atonement. "This is a faithful saying,
and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into
the world to save sinners" (I Tim. 1:15). There is
a social dimension to Christianity (Matt. 5:13-16; Gal.
6:10), but it is a result of the salvation of individuals
through the gospel, not part of the gospel itself. Furthermore,
there is a danger that stress on social action can make
the church a mere tool of conservative or liberal political
and most important, Ockenga proclaimed a "ringing call
for a repudiation of separation" and aimed for "the
recapture of denominational leadership." Rather than
pulling out of compromised associations, the New Evangelicals
wanted to stay in the denominations and even reenter those
that Fundamentalists had left. We have already reviewed
many of the New Evangelical arguments against separation
in Chapters 1-5. From the beginning, Fundamentalists protested
that the New Evangelicalism was leading Christianity toward
too close an identification with the world system. Unquestionably,
the New Evangelicals were taking an attitude that although
false teaching might be wrong, Christians could profitably
work with false teachers themselves. The actions of these
New Evangelical "reformers" led many Fundamentalists
to reluctantly break fellowship with these Christians who
rejected the scriptural teaching concerning separation from
1957 press release Ockenga not only set forth the ideology
of the New Evangelicalism but also listed its main institutions.
These included the National Association of Evangelicals,
Fuller Theological Seminary, Christianity Today magazine,
and the campaigns of Evangelist Billy Graham.15
It was Graham who became the focus of the movement and its
most influential leader.
The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation. By
Mark Sidwell. ©1998. BJU Press. Reproduction prohibited. This work is available
for purchase at the Bob Jones University Campus Store (phone: 1-800-252-1927;
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