the rise of neo-evangelicalism

Continuing my church history notes from 28 years ago…

Two of the prominent men of the neo-evangelical movement were John Carnell and Carl Henry. My notes at this point say “both from fundamental background.”

Henry was the first editor of Christianity Today, and was

at the time trying to make conservative evangelical orthodox Christianity rationally acceptable.

AIn 1947, Henry articulated something I have headed in my notes as the “NEEDS OF CONTEMPORARY EVANGELICALISM”

These needs were:

    1. Awaken the relevance of redemption to the world problem.
    2. Stress great evangelical agreements on a common world front (WCC)
    3. Discard the elements of the message which cut the nerve of world compassion
    4. Restudy eschatological convictions.


As I think about these notes, I have to confess that I may not have stated accurately what I was taught. Please attribute any errors to me!

However, these points are undoubtedly what was giving rise to the neo-evangelical movement. Note the emphasis on compassion, commonality, and reduction of disagreeable doctrine.


The next section of my notes is entitled “CAUSES OF NEO-EVANGELICALSM” [Some of this is surely verbatim, especially point 1]

    1. Satan
    2. Cooling off of Modernist/Fundamentalist controversy
    3. Unwillingness to bear the reproaches of liberalism (and believing the reproaches)
    4. Desire for acceptance (and accompanying dialogue)
    5. Assumption of the existence of a middle ground between truth and error
    6. Acceptance of the philosophy of the inevitability of change


A position of loyalty to truth is hard to perfectly come by, given the depravity of man. But the man who strives for that position finds himself always under pressure to compromise truth. Reproaches will abound. “Don’t be so strict…” “Isn’t that kind of narrow minded…” “You aren’t a bigot, are you?”

These reproaches seem all of one to me with “hath God said?”


Last for today, this section: “Character of Neo-E”

    1. Born of compromise
    2. Careless of doctrine
    3. Accommodative and friendly toward the findings of science
    4. Tendency toward acceptance (at  least toleration) of evolutionary hypothesis
    5. Rapprochement toward apparent repentant liberalism
      • Emulating the liberal language
      • Opposing doctrine of separation


When someone has really repented of something, they will come completely out of it into the light. They will not hide in the shadows saying the right things and encouraging understanding. If anything, they will be overly antagonistic to their former position.

It seems to me one of the mistakes neo-evangelicals made was a too optimistic view of apparently repentant liberalism (as seen in the New Liberals and the Neo-Orthodox positions).

In a like manner, could it be said that today’s conservative evangelicals, to be really repentant of the excesses of neo-evangelicalism, should ‘come out swinging’ at their former errors? Shouldn’t they at least clearly see former compromises as wrong and eschew current/future compromises? Would that be too much to ask?

Perhaps one church discipline guru could take a bolder stand against the errors of a northwest semi(?)-emergent? Perhaps he could retract his endorsement of his networking organization?