Or, more fundamentalist?
That may sound like a silly question. Surely the opposite — evangelicals becoming more liberal — is actually what’s happening. Look at Rob Bell! Isn’t he symptomatic of what’s going on in our midst?
No, I’m not convinced. Bell is an anomaly — a fringe figure, with an enthusiastic fan base but still on the fringe. Who, then, truly represents far greater swaths of the evangelical landscape? Names like Al Mohler and John Piper, bloggers like Justin Taylor and Tim Challies, conferences like Desiring God and Ligonier, ministries like Sovereign Grace and Crossway Publishers, and parachurch organizations like The Gospel Coalition, The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, and the CBMW. Despite this variety of networks and leaders, there is remarkable cohesion and a monolithic vision. This is where seminarians are being fed, and truly there is a lot of good (spiritual) meat to be found. I even attended last year’s Desiring God conference and largely praised it. At RTS, these ministries are where the students find sustenance, and I’m sure the same can be said for non-Reformed seminaries: TEDS, Southwestern, Gordon-Conwell are full of energetic young men with their ESV Study Bibles, a string of Crossway books on the shelf, and John Piper sermons on their laptop. Once again, there are far worse trends that could beset evangelicalism, so my criticism has to be tempered. In fact, I would say this is a mostly positive trend, as I’ve touched upon before.
Yet, I cannot help but compare this group of leaders and networks to the great leaders and networks of the past, when evangelicalism was forged anew through the likes of J. I. Packer, John Stott, Billy Graham, Harold John Ockenga, Christianity Today, and so on. Plus, I’m thinking of the influential Reformed scholars of this time, such as Meredith Kline and Roger Nicole. How would these men fair today? Not too well I’m afraid.
- Most of them accommodated evolutionary science, to some degree or another.
- Most of them were inclusivists. This includes, most famously, Billy Graham.
- Many of them supported women’s ordination. This includes Roger Nicole at RTS and, with some qualifications, J. I. Packer and John Stott.
I could list more examples, but these are particularly volatile issues among The Gospel Coalition crowd. The Gospel is at stake; the authority of the Bible is at stake — yet, if this is so, how did evangelicalism of yesterday not think so? The answer is, briefly, that the evangelicalism of Graham and Stott grasped the essentials of our faith better. Among our new crop of leaders, this has been lost.