November 22, 2017

Cultural Renewal and the Social Gospel versus Evangelism

New Evangelicalism and New Calvinism: The Same Disaster, part 5

Matt Recker

Part 1 ♦ Part 2 ♦ Part 3 ♦ Part 4 ♦ This is Part 5 Part 6 ♦ Part 7

I realize that many view any form of criticism of other Christians as unkind and that exposing error is culturally unpopular. I do feel a bit like Jude who indicated he would much rather have written on the wonders of salvation, but something more needful pressed him, which was to exhort believers to “earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). I am aware that Fundamentalists have often been accused of shooting from the hip and having “bad manners.” I pray that you can sense from my spirit a heart that loves the Lord and His church, has a passion for the purity of the Gospel, and a compassion for the lost. Nevertheless, I do feel a burden in my spirit to warn of the dangers of the New Calvinism, and to show that it is making the same errors of New Evangelicalism, as described by Francis Schaeffer.

The New Evangelical Disaster in Cultural Renewal

From its inception, a key principle of the New Evangelicalism was to have a “more definite recognition of social responsibility.”[1]. The goal was to infiltrate and re-capture the denominations and rescue liberals from their apostasy. Carl Henry expressed the New Evangelical antipathy for the Fundamentalists of his day:

“Left far behind are fundamentalists of the 1930-50 era whose pessimistic view of history led them to exclude socio-political involvement and cultural engagement in favor of concentrated personal evangelism in expectation of Christ’s imminent return.”[2]

No longer did New Evangelicals want to be preoccupied with the task of defending the historic biblical faith against the attacks of theological liberalism, and reacting against its ‘social gospel.’ John Stott said, “But now we are convinced that God has given us social as well as evangelistic responsibilities in his world.”[3] As the old saying goes, if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!

Using the methodology of infiltration rather than separation, a heavy dose of social programs was the key that the New Evangelicals believed would open the door to work along with liberals and thus influence them to accept more evangelical doctrine. New Evangelicals determined to transform their culture and they were not satisfied to simply evangelize, win souls, baptize them and disciple them.

Dr. Ernest Pickering writes with great insight exposing the New Evangelical paradigm: “The church must arise and seek to influence economic, political, and social areas of society with Christian principles. The mission of the church is expanded to include a responsibility to influence society toward Christian standards.”[4] Their two-fold goal was to effect cultural transformation and to reclaim the mainline denominations from liberal theology.

Initially, the New Evangelicals placed evangelism over social action. Then in 1974, through the influence of John R.W. Stott and the Lausanne World Congress on Evangelism, social activism became an equal partner with evangelistic activity. This was a watershed moment in New Evangelicalism that established evangelism and sociopolitical involvement as equal parts of the church’s responsibility. They even repudiated “as ‘demonic’ the attempt to drive a wedge between evangelism and social action.” Stott eloquently and forcefully presented social action as a partner, a bridge, and one of the principal aims of evangelism[5] In the 1980’s social ministry was advanced and in many circles was elevated over evangelism and it became more and more acceptable to engage in social outreach exclusively. In other words, one could do the good work of developing a literacy program or rescuing children from forced slavery, without giving them the gospel and still believe that the Great Commission was being fulfilled.[6]

Were they successful in this plan to fulfill their goal of re-capturing the denominations as a whole and their leaders from the snares of apostasy? Did they transform our culture back to Christian values? According to Francis Schaeffer their scheme ended in disaster. The New Evangelicals’ accommodation to worldliness and its fall from sound doctrine induced Francis Schaeffer to write The Great Evangelical Disaster. Not only did they not retake the denominations, but the influence of liberal theology infected broad evangelicalism while accommodation with the spirit of worldliness and compromise overtook the churches. And meanwhile our culture is transforming and sliding faster and faster into Gomorrah of old.

Some New Calvinists Reformat New Evangelical Disaster

Where exactly do the New Calvinists stand? Some sound eerily similar to Stott with even greater willingness to infiltrate and cooperate not only liberal denominations, but any secular social program as well.

Tim Keller is the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City and is the co-founder along with D.A. Carson of the The Gospel Coalition. This is a fast growing network of churches and individuals with many well-known New Calvinists. Unquestionably, it is one of the most influential organizations in modern evangelicalism. In 2006 at an “Entrepreneur’s Forum” sponsored by Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Tim Keller said:

Conservative churches say ‘this world is not our home — it’s gonna burn up eventually and what really matters is saving souls… so evangelism and discipleship and saving souls are what is important’. And we try to say that it’s the other way around almost. That the purpose of salvation is to renew creation. That this world is a good in itself… And if you see it that way, then the old paradigm if you’re going to put your money and your time and your effort as a Christian into doing God’s work in the world, you wanna save souls which means the only purpose of your ministry and your effort is to increase the tribe, increase the number of Christians. …

In the past Christians have tended to do things that only Christians would be interested in and only Christians would give to. I mean who else besides a Christian would give money to get something started that’s going to win many, many people to Christ? Just pretty much only Christians.

But, when you have something that’s going to improve the schools in a particular city for everybody; when you have a venture that’s going to reweave creation physically — that’s going to deal with health problems that’s going to deal with poverty. When Christians do that — out of their theology — they do that effectively because they’re dealing with the common good… you’re going to find that all kinds of non-Christians are not only going to invest in that and want to partner with you in that but a lot of them are also going to be attracted to the gospel because of that. …[7]

Let me make just a few comments on Mr. Keller’s statement. First, he clearly repeats the philosophy and error of the New Evangelicals of old as he embraces a definite recognition of social responsibility. Second, Keller distances himself from the perceived negativism of dispensational theology in a way very similar to Carl Henry in the quote above. Third, he drips with a derisive attitude toward churches that make evangelism and discipleship their priority, ridiculing and perhaps even judging those who evangelize as being motivated of wanting to increase their own personal tribes. Fourth, he believes that by renewing creation or culture, souls will be saved. He encourages Christians on theological grounds, to fund groups with purely social purposes, like improving schools, improving health or dealing with poverty. That is the social gospel of old; it is dangerous and unbiblical. Fifth, according to Keller, investing in the world’s agenda will help the world to love us and will attract them to the Gospel. The world will even give into our coffers if we engage in social programs they are interested in. Friends, this is the great evangelical disaster repeated; this is the social gospel reformatted. Ironically, it is the “tribe” of New Calvinists that increases through such compromise!

Social Action Must Never Dethrone the Great Commission

What is the Christian response to social action? We must not waver or be intimidated. Simply put, Jesus did not come to renew society but regenerate sinners by the power of His death, burial, and resurrection. While Rome ruled the world with an iron fist, Jesus instead rebuked storms and religious leaders, trained his apostles, and steadfastly set His face toward Jerusalem to fulfill what was written for Him. And Paul did not write letters and start churches to undo Roman injustice or even slavery.[8] The Great Commission says nothing directly of social involvement, but that we are to make disciples by the preaching of the Gospel to every creature and the teaching of all things Jesus has commanded us Matthew 28:19,20; Mark 16:15. Throughout the Book of Acts, the proclamation of the Gospel was the key to fulfilling the Great Commission and establishing churches. Nowhere did the Apostles attempt cultural renewal or transformation! An example of Peter’s preaching clearly illustrates how continuously he preached Christ:

“God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled. Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” (Acts 3:18,19)

An example of Paul’s ministry is recounted in his ministry in Thessalonica:

“And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures, opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead: and that this Jesus, who I preach unto you, is Christ.” (Acts 17:2,3)

Finally, as Christians we are called to do good to all people, especially those of the household of faith. Yes, Jesus did meet the needs of the whole man, and so will we as we make preaching the Gospel our primary task. We are to have compassion and show practical benevolence first toward fellow Christians who have need, and we should open up our heart to meet the needs of those we see who are destitute (Acts 11:28-30; James 2:15-17; 1 John 3:17, Romans 12:9-21). As a believer we can participate in the meeting of society’s needs “to whatever extent our resources, prudence, and the will of God indicate.”[9] But McCune says it best when he concludes that “the thought of redeeming American society or culture is, in the Bible and theology, virtual nonsense” and we must never dethrone evangelism, discipleship and the planting of churches as the real historical aim of mission.[10]


Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

  1. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. This is point 6 of the principles of New Evangelicalism enumerated in that article, see previous posts for a full list. []
  2. Henry, quoted by Ernest Pickering in The Tragedy of Compromise, p.18 []
  3. John Stott, Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today, 2nd Edition, p. xi. []
  4. Ernest Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise, p. 24. []
  5. David Doran, For the Sake His Name, pp. 94-109. []
  6. Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, p. 256-257. []
  7. http://gospelmasquerade.com/tim-kellers-social-justice/ [accessed 2014.8.9] []
  8. Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, Chapter 19 deals with this, entitled, “The Biblical Idea of Social Action, p. 259-274. []
  9. Rolland McCune, Promise Unfulfilled, p. 260. []
  10. Ibid, p. 269. []


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