vangelicalism regularly comes under attack from all sides, and let's face it: a lot of the criticism leveled against evangelicals is well deserved. Although I hold firmly to historic evangelical doctrine, I thoroughly despise what the contemporary evangelical movement has become.
That's an important distinction. Evangelical doctrine and the evangelical movement are not the same thing. Nowadays they often look like polar opposites. The movement we usually label "evangelical" abandoned its own doctrinal foundation long ago. The average evangelical today couldn't even tell you what the original doctrinal distinctives of classic evangelicalism were.
In fact, post-modern evangelicals don't really have any clear doctrinal identity. No less than Christianity Today has suggested that diversity is what now defines the movement. That's close, but I'd be inclined to say that the singular characteristic that stands out most among contemporary evangelicals is their distaste for drawing any clear lines between truth and error. They don't like to handle doctrine in a polemical fashion. They especially don't want to be thought "negative" when it comes to declaring their doctrinal convictions. They don't want anyone to think they are "against" what someone else teaches. (What a gauche, fundamentalist attitude that would be!) Almost everything is negotiable within the broad evangelical movement of today.
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones saw this trend coming and warned against it. In 1971, during a visit to Austria, he gave a series of lectures that were compiled and published as a booklet, "What Is an Evangelical?" If you haven't read it, you should. Among other things, he wrote,
One of the first signs that a man is ceasing to be truly evangelical is that he ceases to be concerned about negatives, and keeps saying, We must always be positive. I will give you a striking example of this in a man whose name is familiar to most of you, and some of whose books you have read. This is what he has written recently: 'Whether a person is an evangelical is to be settled by reference to how he stands with respect to six points', which he then enumerates. His definition is by reference only to what a person is for rather than to what he is against. He goes on: 'What a man is, or is not, against may show him to be a muddled or negligent or inconsistent evangelical, but you may not deny his right to call himself an evangelical while he maintains these principles as the basis of his Christian position.'
Now that is the kind of statement which I would strongly contend against. I believe it is quite wrong. The argument which says that you must always be positive, that you must not define the man in terms of what he is against, as well as what he is for, misses the subtlety of the danger.
Lloyd Jones warned that doctrinal indifferentism was beginning to drive the evangelical agenda, and he knew that would spell the ultimate demise of the evangelical movement as a truly evangelical entity.
He was right. In many ways and in several contexts, he predicted with spot-on accuracy what was coming. Check his books Preaching and Preachers or Puritanismor almost anything Lloyd-jones wrote. He warned that neo-evangelical compromise would lead to neo-orthodox doctrines. (That's what the Emerging Church movement signifies, by the waythe triumph of neo-orthodoxy in the evangelical movement.) He predicted the demise of preaching in evangelical circles. He saw forty years ago that doctrinal indifferentism was eating away the foundations of evangelical conviction, and he tried to sound a warning. He was absolutely right.
The evangelical movement that our grandparents and great-grandparents knew is dead. Evangelical principles live on here and there, but the label has been commandeered by people who have no right to it. It has been bartered away by those who promised to be the movement's guardians and mouthpiecesChristianity Today and the National Association of evangelicals being among the chief culprits. But rank-and-file evangelicals are to blame as well, because they were content to abandon their own heritage and run after cheap amusements. The average American today thinks evangelicalism is a political position or a religious ghetto rather than a set of biblical beliefs.
I frankly don't care if neo-evangelicalism dies as a movement. Frankly, I hope it doesthe sooner, the better.
Meanwhile, we need to remember that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation. Public relations, fad-chasing, and the combined clout of a large politically-driven movement add nothing to the saving power of the gospel; rather, they deflect it.
Church history teaches us another important lesson: The gospel has only rarely made great gains on the back of massive, popular movements. It's the quiet, sometimes unrecognized and unsung labors of faithful individuals that often result in the most profound, long-term impact for the kingdom of God.
Furthermore, the truth will eventually defeat every error and outlast every fad. We ought to pursue the truth and distrust the fads, not vice versa.