August 16, 2017

What Do We Mean by “The Evangelical Disaster”?

John Vaughn

The audacity of this title begs for an explanation. An Evangelical is simply one who believes and preaches the gospel according to the New Testament. The Evangelical Disaster is, therefore, a tragic development within Evangelicalism that has brought ruin to its noble undertaking of “proclaiming the good news” to lost mankind. The need for this issue of FrontLine [Jan/Feb 2005] grows out of the repetition of the ignored history of “Neo-Evangelicalism.”

In 1976 Dr. Harold Lindsell, then editor of Christianity Today, made the irrefutable argument that a rejection of the inerrancy of Scripture would lead to eventual departure from the fundamentals of the faith. The argument was backed up with significant evidence in The Battle for the Bible. Dr. Harold John Ockenga, who had coined the phrase “neo-evangelical” in an address in Pasadena in 1948, in his foreword, praised this timely articulation of the watershed issue of Evangelical doctrine: the inerrancy of Scripture.

Well-known gospel preachers— including Drs. Carl F. H. Henry, Edward Carnell, and Gleason Archer—had supported the viewpoint defined by Ockenga in 1948, that “while reaffirming the theological view of fundamentalism … repudiated its ecclesiology and social theory. This ringing call for a repudiation of separatism and the summons to social involvement received a hearty response from many evangelicals.”[1] A new alliance, seeking to avoid the fragmentation of separation, was born.

Ockenga recounted how he and Lindsell, at the request of Dr. Charles E. Fuller, founded Fuller Theological Seminary on a creedal position “which unqualifiedly stated ‘biblical inerrancy.’”[2] Dr. George Marsden documented the founding and (perhaps unwittingly) the disastrous results at Fuller in his 1987 book Reforming Fundamentalism. Ockenga came to the task at Fuller with separatist credentials. In response to entrenched Modernism, he had been one of the students who left Princeton with Dr. J. Gresham Machen to found Westminster Seminary in 1929. Failing to see the irony of his situation, Ockenga, pastor of the Park Street Church in 1947, was influenced to lead a separatist movement—again, from Princeton—to found Fuller, on a platform repudiating separatism!

The Neo-Evangelical repudiation of separation has proved to be its undoing. Like a compassionate physician who founds a school of medicine but repudiates all use of disinfectant or antibiotics because of their side effects, Neo-Evangelicalism rejected the one thing that could have kept it healthy. Opportunistic infections of unbelief have been impossible to root out. Lindsell wrote in 1976 to stem the tide that brought the flotsam of arrogance in like a flood and carried inerrancy out to sea. His entire fifth chapter recorded the erosion of the fundamentals within the Southern Baptist Convention. At that time, a new generation of Evangelicals was embracing the name “Neo-Evangelical” without its convictions. Now, yet another generation has emerged that “[reaffirms] the theological view of fundamentalism … [while repudiating] its … social theory.”

The current president of Fuller spoke recently at “An Evening of Friendship” in Salt Lake City. With Evangelicals and Mormons assembled to “dialogue,” Richard J. Mouw said, “We evangelicals have often seriously misrepresented the beliefs and practices of the Mormon community. … We have sinned against you.” [See item from the FrontLine Newsworthy department appended to the end of this article.] This is the kind of rhetoric that has caused so many, including former President Jimmy Carter, to treat the Mormon organization as just another Christian denomination instead of what it is—a cult. On what basis do you separate the fundamentals of the faith from the corruption of Joseph Smith’s delusions when you are on record as unwilling ever to separate?

The Evangelical Disaster was unavoidable from the moment Ockenga articulated its disobedience in 1948. The fact of inerrancy is rooted in the character of God Himself. His inerrant Word is the expression of His ultimate authority. In a tragic failure of lucidity, the Neo-Evangelicals took up the mantle of the Bible’s inerrancy in defiance of its authority. To “repudiate separatism” was to deny that the Scriptures demand against it. There can be no honest argument against the Biblical commands to separate from worldliness (1 John 2:15–17), from false teachers (Gal. 1:8, 9; 2 John 9–11), and from blatantly disobedient brethren (2 Thess. 3:6, 14, 15; Titus 3:9–11).

The “social theory” of Fundamentalism is that God must be obeyed. The social theory of Neo-Evangelicalism has contributed to the disastrous state of affairs we see because it was, from its inception, a refusal to obey the Bible it claimed to defend. The train wreck was inevitable: outspoken Evangelicals can’t tell the difference between another Evangelical and a person who needs to be evangelized! Further, some Fundamentalists no longer desire to distinguish themselves from Neo- Evangelicals.

The September assembly of the newly formed International Baptist Network is one example. It included the Bible Baptist Fellowship, the Southwide Baptist Fellowship, and the World Baptist Fellowship. The celebration was joined by representatives of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their attempt to rally around the Great Commission is commendable. But to do so while setting aside the unpleasantness of separation is to ignore the lesson of the Evangelical Disaster. Fundamental Baptists should know better than to board the back end of a train that is wrecking on the other end.


John Vaughn is the President of the Fundamental Baptist Fellowship International.

(Originally published in FrontLine • January / February 2005. Click here to subscribe to the magazine.)


Evangelicals and Mormons Together?

On Sunday evening, November 14, 2004, noted evangelicals attended “An Evening of Friendship” with the Mormon elders at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In his opening remarks, Richard J. Mouw, President and Professor of Christian Philosophy at Fuller Theological Seminary, made several statements that unveiled his true purpose. When confronted with these damaging statements, Professor Mouw posted a clarification of his comments at http://www.standingtogether.org/Responses_mouw.doc [no longer available]. Here is an excerpt from his original remarks:

But in recent times things have begun to change. Evangelicals and Mormons have worked together on important matters of public morality. Here in Utah, the Standing Together ministry has been willing to take some considerable risks in countering the more aggressive and disruptive evangelical attacks against the LDS church. And Pastor Greg Johnson’s well-attended dialogues with Professor Bob Millet have done much to model a new spirit of frank but friendly exchange about important faith topics. And now this evening we are experiencing the gracious hospitality of the LDS leadership, who have welcomed us all into this meeting place, which has played—and continues to play—such an important role in the life of the Mormon community…

One would wonder whether Professor Mouw has ever given serious consideration to 2 Corinthians 6:14–18. (http://www.standingtogether.org/participatingchurches.doc [no longer available])

  1. Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1976), p. 14. []
  2. Ibid., p. 14. []


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