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The Dividing Line: Understanding and Applying Biblical Separation

Chapter 9
The New Evangelicalism

Billy Graham and the New Evangelicalism

Understanding Billy Graham’s contribution is essential to understanding the widespread impact of the New Evangelicalism. Many non-Fundamentalist Evangelicals do not fit the pattern found in the list of characteristics from Ockenga’s writings. Some are Creationists who have little interest in interaction with liberal scholars and are suspicious of the involvement of the church in politics. In other words, on some points they, too, question the New Evangelicalism. This is why the label "New Evangelical" does not always fit. But these Evangelicals still are not considered Fundamentalists because of their acceptance of the methods and ministry of Billy Graham.16

Born in 1918, Graham was converted as a teenager and attended Bob Jones College, Florida Bible Institute, and Wheaton College. After graduating from Wheaton and following a brief period in the pastorate, he went into evangelism. Working as a staff evangelist for Youth for Christ after World War II, Graham began to build a reputation as a Fundamentalist preacher. In 1949 he held an evangelistic crusade in Los Angeles that had such remarkable effect that it made the newspapers and national magazines such as Time. He followed it up with notable campaigns first in Boston, then in other large cities across the country, and finally London in 1954. Conservative Christians rallied to Graham. It appeared to many that he might be leading the national, even worldwide, revival that many had been praying for.

Graham, however, became convinced that the New Evangelical approach being suggested by Ockenga would provide wider opportunities for proclaiming the gospel. He lent warm support in 1956 to the founding of Christianity Today as a voice for the New Evangelicalism. He agreed in 1958 to join the board of Fuller Theological Seminary, the leading educational institution of the New Evangelicalism. But the real turning point came with his New York campaign in 1957. Declaring that he would "go anywhere, sponsored by anybody, to preach the Gospel of Christ, if there are no strings attached to my message," Graham opened his campaign to liberals. He invited liberal ministers to participate, and he sent converts from his crusade into liberal churches.

Graham’s support gave the New Evangelicalism a greater impact than it ever could have had through the more purely intellectual pursuits of Ockenga, Henry, and others. American Christians cherished evangelism and revival. They were far more willing to follow a renowned and successful evangelist than an assembly of seminary professors. It is probably no exaggeration to say that the New Evangelicalism never would have had the impact that it did without the influence of Billy Graham. Quite rightly Ockenga said that Graham "on the mass level is the spokesman of the convictions and ideals of the New Evangelicalism."17

The activities of Graham brought Evangelicals into cooperation with liberals but split conservative Christianity. We have already discussed in Chapter 6 how separatist Fundamentalists refused to go along with the new movement. They had protested the ideas of the New Evangelical intellectuals. But the actions of Graham sparked a final split.

Basically, Fundamentalists said efforts such as the Graham crusades treated liberals as Christian brethren. Interestingly, Millard Erickson, a defender of the New Evangelicalism, well sums up the Fundamentalist position. He says that Fundamentalists argue "that Graham, by cooperating with liberal churches and ministers, and having even such men as Norman Vincent Peale sit on the platform with him, is tacitly approving of the liberalism which they represent. He is failing to distinguish, for the public, the spiritual value of nurture in a conservative church from that of a liberal church. He is sending converts back into liberal churches, where their spiritual zeal will be confused and they will be given stones instead of bread."18

Erickson and others, such as Robert O. Ferm,19 defend Graham. Erickson asks whether Fundamentalists do not think that liberals need to hear the gospel too? And will not converts sent back into liberal churches "become leavening influences" in those churches?20 Fundamentalists reply that they are delighted to see liberals confronted with the gospel but that presenting them as sponsors of an evangelistic campaign is not witnessing to liberals; it is instead persuading believers that false teachers are true brethren. Likewise sending converts back into false churches is not creating a leavening influence; it is like sending sheep into a wolfpack and asking them to try to reform the pack by their example.

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; web address:

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