Is evangelical momentum visibly evident today? Some say yes; some say no. Cynics would have us believe that the evangelical movement has reached a permanent plateau, that its promising thrust of a decade ago now hangs limp among other ideologies and philosophies. But CHRISTIANITY TODAY demands new spectacles of evaluation to behold this present period as a strategic time for consolidation and regrouping. Instead of too much evangelical psychoanalysis, let’s take heart and carry forward the work already in process.
Momentum involves far more than motion or activity. Colloquially stated, the word means punch or wallop. To examine evangelical momentum, then, is to investigate its impact on other forces of thought and action.
How indeed shall we gauge the power of evangelical Christianity? Can its dynamic be charged and recharged to some particular standard? Can its vigor be safeguarded and insured against deterioration?
What complicates making an appraisal is that both those who take heart and those who are troubled over the evangelical movement cite similar themes to defend their differing convictions. One prominent topic, for example, is evangelism. Not since the early nineteenth century, we are told, has such concerted campaigning—especially by the Graham crusades—reached so many people in so many places with so much spiritual dynamic. But, counter others, no thoroughgoing national revival, like that in the time of Edwards, or Whiteficld, or Moody, has turned America (nor other countries) upside down for God in our day. While pockets and sectors of communities and religious communions have indeed felt renewal, major cities and vast areas of society remain overwhelmingly pagan and secular. Something seems lacking, therefore, in the momentum of evangelical evangelism.
In education, the Christian day school movement shows continued growth and improved orientation to a Christian perspective in both teaching and learning. An increased number of Bible institutes, soaring enrollments in Christian colleges, together with growing attention to standards of accreditation that seek improvement in all facets of school life, call for enthusiasm. On the other hand, say the wary, are these institutions consciously grappling to define and clearly communicate an integrated Christian philosophy of education that tellingly speaks to our day? Are questions in science, anthropology, sociology, psychology—in fact, in all areas heavily exposed to evolutionary and naturalistic thought, as well as problems in biblical studies—being squarely confronted? Or does such academic concern seem too troublesome? Is it secondary to the observance of prescribed beliefs, practices, and regulations? Are Christian students forced to interract with the secular world of hard thought and hard work with a sense of personal responsibility for glorifying God? Or are they satisfied to strait-jacket the claims of Christ within the isolated and insulated compartments of the private devotional life and of the customary religious organizations and projects of the evangelical community?
Beyond training and education stands the world of creative output. Religious journalism echoes with an explosion—and a booming writers’ market—in all kinds of denominational and nondenominational family-type and Christian education materials. With a nose for sound economics, many secular publishers have now joined the production line with religious books. The audio-visual categories are bulging with religious ventures, too. Does not evangelical participation in these trends supply another evidence of sturdy momentum?
Not necessarily, say the critics. They readily agree that the who-to, when-to, where-to, and how-to materials have their necessary place. But where are the all-encompassing and basic why materials that teach the laity and remind the clergy that being is foundational to doing, that Christian theism must conceive, nurture, and control methodology, if the flood of pragmatic techniques is not to lap erodingly at our Christian enterprises? As to books, Solomon long ago sighed over their abundance. In today’s conflict for cultural meaning and supremacy, where is the evangelical punch and wallop of academically respectable and noteworthy books for the classroom and for research? Is the only alternative to spoon-feeding in our Christian schools—a charge often leveled at evangelicals—an inundation with agnosticism-breeding materials without the stabilizing norm of an adequate Christian apologetic? If the necessary evangelical books are not presently at hand, are students being challenged to train and to mature for meeting this lack? Obviously literary or other intellectual monuments are not created to quickstep tempo, nor in the down-cushioned ease of an extracurricular spirit. Eternity is at stake; the evangelical movement packs a wallop that divides heaven and hell. Where is its flexed iron muscle of scholarship and creativity?
Another measure of vitality is vocational attitude. We hail the growing emphasis that every believer is called to full-time Christian service and that evangelicals must penetrate a multitude of vocations as unto the Lord. Whatever and wherever the vocation, profession, or responsibility, it is to be hallowed as a full-time ministry as God’s entrustment and ordination. No matter how menial or momentous, the daily task bears the dignifying but withal humbling conviction of God’s superintendency.
Has the increased sense of this general kind of God-appointment, however, muffled His call into professional ministries? Why are seminary enrollments dwindling? Why are churches without pastors? Missionary quotas lagging? Are Christians born and bred amid materialistic pressures, less willing to “count the cost” socially and economically as well as spiritually? Has American comfort and ease become the escape hatch from “laying down one’s life” in the arduous journey of self-denying discipleship? Does identifying oneself with our society to live the Christian life somehow muffle the call to transform society by preaching the Christian Gospel?
In the 1950s the evangelical movement registered gains that reached around the world. Fuller Seminary, a bold experiment in interdenominational ecumenism (more than 30 denominations were represented in its student body) graduated classes with a striking interest in foreign missions and graduate study. Billy Graham’s crusades, moving from America to England and Europe, began a circuit that girdled the globe. Bob Pierce’s interest in the Asian orphans and in evangelism along the Communist frontier led to large pastors’ conferences on the other side of the world. The missionary program of individual churches like Park Street, Boston, and People’s Church, Toronto, grew as large as that of some entire denominations. CHRISTIANITY TODAY raised up a fortnightly voice for conservative theology and demonstrated the existence of an international, interdenominational scholarship dedicated to evangelical perspectives. The surge of evangelical literature improved in quality; some conservative theological works attained a gratifying readership; and New York publishing houses began their bid for the Grand Rapids religious market. National Association of Evangelicals reached its peak, sparking a revival of the Sunday school movement as one of its major achievements. The spirit of evangelical missions hushed the world in the face of the Auca martyrdoms, and the seeming tragedy was redressed when the missionary widows related the conversion of the savage killers. Wycliffe translators shared the frontier spirit; with big nations like China behind the Communist curtain, new emphasis fell on the task of reaching the world’s neglected tribes.
As the evangelical movement entered the new decade of the ’60s it showed signs of waning momentum. The surging advances of the ’50s were simply being duplicated and repeated rather than extended; in some respects momentum was actually lost and dynamic dissipated. Abundant “sound and fury” continued about the need for world evangelism as the Church’s supreme task, about the need for Protestant orthodoxy to penetrate dynamically all the areas of life, about the need for bringing all realms of learning and culture captive to Christ. But a “breakthrough” commensurate with these expressed hopes is neither evident nor assured. Token gains there have been already, and for these we thank God. In Manchester Graham’s meetings had a larger hearing from the working class. World Vision reached for the heart of Japan with the Tokyo crusade. In the Philippines—with the special significance that the Filipinos are bi-lingual Asians welcome in the Orient—comes the hint of a possible spiritual harvest in this decade similar to that in Formosa in the past. Gospel broadcasts have extended their penetration of lands barricaded by the Soviets. In some denominations, like the Southern Presbyterian, a stalwart company of middle-aged ministers are preaching the Gospel with new power. These impacts for God are indeed encouraging.
But on the world scene almost every human sign points to narrowing frontiers for the Gospel witness and speaks of evangelical containment. Against the giant pseudo-Christs of the day—scientism, communism, and even political democracy in its secular expressions—evangelicals as yet register little direct influence. While the Hebrew University in Jerusalem plans to double its 5,000 enrollment in the next five tears, evangelicals spend their time debating the propriety of some fundamentalist campus code of negations instead of plotting the philosophy and academic spirit of a needed Christian University. Will the Christian University proposal die in the ’60s—the last decade in which free enterprise may have the necessary resources therefor? In the area of social action there has been growing indignation against secularism as such and against ecclesiastical programming which all too often passes for Christian social ethics. Here and there evangelicals show temper and determination; they raise their voices, marshall their forces, even elect some dedicated and worthy public servant to high office. There have even been conferences on the matter of corporately expressing social convictions and on aggressively articulating evangelical perspectives in the social conflict. Will this thrust strengthen in the ’60s or fall by the wayside? In the realm of ecumenism many evangelicals sense that world conditions demand a new attitude toward unified witness and effort. Because existing ecumenical movements are reactionary adjustments of denominational or interdenominational groups having political as well as spiritual complexes, they have not been able truly to unite evangelicals. Evangelical leaders increasingly sense that while evangelicals are bound together by certain associations, these very identifications (whether in the American Council of Churches, National Association of Evangelicals, or National Council of Churches) actually erect massive barriers between brethren. Will a new evangelical unity emerge in the 1960s that links more and more regenerate believers? Or will the dream of evangelical unity disappear under still further fragmentation of the evangelical witness?
I Believe …
Its decline in the modern world is a sure sign that hope has lost its Christian identification.
World leaders sense the impermanence of scientific and educational achievement. The feverish, seemingly fruitless pursuit of peace and justice strikes fear in the hearts of people everywhere. Pessimism is once again at large.
The present mood is not unlike that of pagan antiquity. At such a time Christianity burst on a despondent, hopeless world with a jubilant message of Christ’s redemptive love and his victory over death. What distinguished the Christian then, no less than today, is confidence. For him the worst that can happen—the judgment of his sins—is already past. To appropriate Calvary means personal assurance of the triumph of righteousness and final doom of the wicked.
Passing centuries with their many Pilates and Herods have already corroborated God’s purpose in the Cross and Resurrection. No less must the Hitlers and Khrushchevs of today and tomorrow, and in fact every man, finally come to terms with the abiding, inevitable reality of the Christian hope.
It is well to remember that the regenerate Church is a lively body whose several members are fitly joined together under the headship of Christ, the risen Lord. If we can grasp the reality of this fact with new insight and devotion, the somber shadows of the present decade will prove the bleak backdrop for a dynamic display of Christian love and power. When Khrushchev sings his daily paeon about the inevitable triumph of communism, let us recall Tennyson’s reminder that “our passing systems have their day.” And let us rejoice that Christ is risen, confident that some day he will pick up the broken pieces of the Marxist kingdom in judgment. But let us not stop there. Our mission is constructive and creative; it holds promise of a new heaven and a new earth. Let us thank God for the loaves and fishes, and for the multitude Christ feeds with them, and let us match our hungry and thirsty world with bread and wine for its weary spirit.
Surely the Gospel has lost none of its dynamic. The multiplying effects of evangelical upsurge in the ’50s may yet yield spectacular manifestations of spiritual dedication and power in the ’60s. If God’s Spirit has not yet written off this decade as an era of “dust and ashes” who are we to quit the fight?
The U.N. Falters In Debate While Dagger Diplomacy Widens
The United Nations now stands in the shadows of doom. Its frequent inability to act with decision and dispatch during 16 years of tense world crisis has weakened it, and Dag Hammarskjöld’s death threatens to plunge it into a forum of debate more than an instrument of justice.
Hammarskjöld’s untimely death called attention to the Assembly’s plight: a divided body lacking a single animating spirit of good will. The reason is obvious. From the outset the U.N. built on compromise, its membership including powers not devoted to its principles. Thus a precedent was provided for universal (geographical) rather than ideological participation. Inclusion of Soviet Russia was the fatal mistake which threatens now to compound itself by carrying Red China also into membership.
Surrender of the last vestiges of a principled membership would mark the U.N. not as the world’s best hope for peace (as some of its early enthusiasts thought), but as another sure candidate for extinction. President Kennedy’s forceful address pleading for unitary leadership was a powerful rebuke to all who would “entrench the cold war in the headquarters of peace.” Its weakness was a blind trust in the U.N. as the great reservoir of human hope: “The problem is not the death of one man—the problem is the life of (the U.N.).… Were we to let it die … we would condemn the future. For in the development of this organization lies the only true alternative to war.” In this sentiment Mr. Kennedy is about as wrong as it is possible to be.
To contain Soviet aggression the United States has put its trust internationally in the U.N., and regionally in treaties such as SEATO, NATO, and RIO. Russia vetoed Free World policies in the U.N. until satellites and neutrals were ready to implement her program. With the U.S. and Russia now struggling over a qualified successor to Hammarskjöld, the U.N. can hardly resolve the tensions between these major powers. In the Far East, Russia has penetrated SEATO lines in Laos. In Europe, Russia is dislodging East Germany from the West under the very eyes of NATO. In Latin America, the Communist beachhead in Cuba thrives inside the RIO perimeter.
How long can discerning diplomacy put its faith in dialogue with desperadoes who plunge a dagger whenever serviceable? Some U.S. diplomats apparently retain grandiose faith in the power of words and dollars. Even this “word war” must often gratify the Communists. For instead of exhibiting moral conviction and spiritual truth as the West’s great armor, it largely moves within the context of economic benefits. We are in danger therefore of dying in our own materialistic sins even before the disease of communism smites us.
Foreign policy too often is one thing in principle, another in practice. The lack of will in handling the problem of East Germany, heartland of the Protestant Reformation, makes this clear. In practice if not in theory the West seems increasingly disposed to acquiesce in the Oder-Neisse line as Germany’s eastern border and to acknowledge the Communist regime in East Germany. A permanently divided Germany was already implicit in Western Europe’s reliance on the Common Market as a buffer against Soviet aggression. Neither Britain nor France would delight in a Common Market dominated by a unified Germany.
When momentary political expedience shapes and reshapes foreign policy in reaction to Communist aggression, and this is dignified as real-politics, and when long-range principles become more a matter of precept than of practice, the inevitable vacillation in foreign affairs will gratify those who seek the decline of the republic, and it will disappoint and discourage allies.
The responsibility devolving on Christian citizens is great. Any fresh spirit to invigorate the American outlook must rise from leaders both convinced that the ultimate dimension is spiritual and moral, and ready to translate this conviction into political as well as personal affairs. Only a victory for spiritual truth and for social righteousness can register a blow to the rampant relativism in political affairs today. If the economic determinists are not to control the hinge of history in our time, the movement of human events must swing on spiritual and moral supports.
Proposes To Observe Sunday On A ‘Round-The-Week’ Basis
In a letter to the New York Herald Tribune, a Monterey, California, reader proposes the abolition of Sunday as the generally accepted rest-stop in the work week. He suggests parceling out the usual Sunday preoccupations over the other six days. Thereby commerce will flow more smoothly, fewer lives will be lost on frenetic week-ends, and recreational facilities will be in continuous use because “days off” will be staggered. Religion, he says, will not be eliminated, but rather strengthened “by removing the convention of Sunday church attendance and making worship a conscious act.… The flow of religion would not be interrupted by our archaic division of the week into spiritual and secular. It would be Sunday, for some, every day.”
No one wants to interrupt the “flow of religion’ (whatever that means). And surely spiritual and secular should not be divorced. But the California scribe overlooked a few details. The ministry might, of course, survive the busy week that would accompany Sunday every day; with a sixth of the people free each day even his “Monday off” would become Monday on. But, more important, the keeping of the Lord’s Day rests not on a mere human convention but on a divine command. Some devout people still feel that God knows his business better than the human planners do. The revision of the calendar may speed the flow of commerce, and it might well loose a flood of religion of the kind from which Christianity will need to offer rescue.
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