The Unintended Consequences of Evangelical Cooperation

The Unintended Consequences of Evangelical Cooperation January 14, 2015

Wells - God in the WhirlwindLast year, Crossway announced the publication of David Wells’ God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World, promoting this new book as “a remedy for evangelicalism’s superficial theology.”  Merits of the book aside–and I am sure there are many–claiming a remedy for evangelicalism’s superficial theology demonstrates both unflagging optimism, and, more importantly, a misunderstanding of the nature of contemporary evangelicalism.  In reality, a superficial theology is endemic to evangelicalism.

fall-2014-ctr-cover-page-e1420488785306So I argue in my article, “Evangelicalism as Trojan Horse: The Failure of Neo-evangelical Social Theology and the Decline of Denominationalism,” which appears in the most recent edition of Criswell Theological Review.  Further, I contend that while the cooperative, culturally-engaged, and evangelistic movement known as “the new evangelicalism” successfully expanded evangelical presence,visibility, and influence by building an evangelical coalition upon some core commitments, those efforts came with a cost.  In the end, the unintended consequence of that expansion were the decline of denominational loyalty, vigor, and theological reflection about matters related to public life and the common good.  Thus, while post-war evangelicals succeeded in “uniting for action,” they only did so by intuitively and intentionally downplaying their denominational theologies, traditions, and distinctions.

Ironically then, the “grand vision”–as my friend Owen Strachan is wont to call it–of neo-evangelical leaders towards a unified, theologically-grounded evangelical social vision and mission undermined the ability for participant denominations to do the same.

From the conclusion:

In the end, the “new evangelical” efforts towards social engagement accomplished much.  At the same time, they contributed to the demise of denominational commitment and rigorous tradition-specific theological engagement with social issues by encouraging social efforts borne out of the minimalist theology which held the movement together.  Throughout its early years, the National Association of Evangelicals rallied denominations around its motto “Cooperation without Compromise.”  In practice, the neo-evangelical venture effectively undermined that sentiment, making continuing cooperation contingent on compromise.  As political power increased for NAE-type evangelicals in the 1970s and beyond, a return to denominational rigor would have meant the fragmentation of the movement and a loss of cultural and political influence.  In this way, cooperative evangelical efforts towards unified social action became a Trojan horse.  The cooperation that looked like a gift to conversion-oriented denominations at mid-century undermined the theological rigor of those same denominations, replacing it with a blasé evangelicalism-of-the-public-square possessed of little depth.

You can read the rest of the article, as well as fine articles from Nathan Finn, A. Boyd Luter, Tyler Taber, Paul C. Maxwell, and Paul Winstead either in Criswell Theological Review 12/1 (Fall 2014) or on ATLA.  I hope  you will.

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  • Phil Alanian

    I completely agree with your statement Miles, “Thus, while post-war evangelicals succeeded in “uniting for action,” they only did so by intuitively and intentionally downplaying their denominational theologies, traditions, and distinctions.”

    What is missing from this picture is the potent forces that led ‘the sheep’ and moreover ‘the pastors’ among the various denominational ‘Evangelical’ churches, whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, or Non-Denominational) to move in the direction of ‘uniting for action’ and in a real sense being joined to fellowship with this world in these affairs. I outline these forces in my book, “The 1960s Social Movements: Pathways to the Final Apostasy.” I contend that foremost: the civil rights movement, hippy movement, and the feminist movement had, and still has the greatest impact on the neo Evangelical church of today. And it was the leadership of Charles H. Ockenga, and Billy Graham which took the goat by the horns prior to and during this period in establishing seminaries like the new Fuller and Gordon Conwell varieties, which led to the creation of compromising megachurches, which would easily link themselves with the socially oriented Charismatic movement from which emerged the Calvary churches, the Vineyard churches, and nowadays, the emergent church. And so the apostasy moves on under the guise of social action which is, in effect, joining arms with the world to the point where all agree “Je Suis un Charlie!” i.e., Jesus is a Charlie .. (as is now Mohammad, or so they say) which is the completion of the attempt to join Christ our LORD and Savior with the satirical, rebellious mocking voices of our day, but God is not mocked, ‘au contraire!’, as Psalm 2 boldly proclaims.

  • J. Inglis

    The apostasy? A bit overwrought. Every denomination and movement seems to take a dim view of those that come after, and ignore the negative views from preceding generations about their own innovations. Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose.

  • Phil Alanian

    The apostasy is still not yet, but is well on its way, and for reasons alluded to by Miles in his article. Namely, the demise of denominationalism and with it the loss of theological judgment which have been sacrificed for political gain through compromising on scriptural interpretation for results in the public square. The coming apostasy is not simply being manifest outwardly in how the church behaves in the world politically, but also by how the church behaves inwardly within itself, in terms of the attitudes toward the LORD God, the Holy and Sovereign Judge of the World and the Sole Savior of Men who will not share His Glory with another, and yet the church is all too ready to diminish His Glory through “i-Worship” in all its various forms within the church, such as the raucous atmosphere of drums and sensuous voices beating out a pseudo rhythm of holiness by the “praise” team and women elders, teachers, leaders and pastors, the promotion of celebrity Christian idols/teachers/musicians, pop psychology in the pulpit, and a refusal to invoke church discipline for sin, etc. It won’t be too much longer before the declining Evangelical churches overshadows the Roman Harlot- and this is a cause for sorrow and shame.

  • Preston Garrison

    How satisfying it must be to be the prophet of doom, especially when no one is going to believe you, so like Cassandra you can remain the only one who understands.