American evangelicals are in danger of forfeiting their remarkable opportunity for theological breakthrough bestowed by the collapse of theological liberalism and the disintegration of neo-orthodoxy.

Evangelism remains the mainstay of evangelicalism. That is to the good, since a community that leaves no posterity is destined to extinction. Because of universalism, explicit or implicit, neither liberalism nor neo-orthodoxy stimulated evangelistic concern. The evangelistic crusades of Billy Graham and others provided a transcontinental witness to the ongoing power of the Gospel to transform warped and wanting lives. But American evangelism relied too much on sporadic crusades, failed to register a comprehensive mass-media impact, and ineffectively challenged national conscience and social trends.

Theological renewal, which evangelical administrators and evangelists and even educators have made a subsidiary concern, has stopped short of an influential tide of literature and learning. The shorthand “evangelistic theology” serviceable to cooperative community effort is now separating once again into Reformed, Arminian, charismatic, and other alternatives.

More than many would care to admit, evangelical theological initiative has leaned on the work of C. S. Lewis and more traditional British evangelicals, as well as upon the writings of continental theologians like G. C. Berkouwer and Helmut Thielicke, not to mention modified versions of the work of Karl Barth and Emil Brunner. On the American scene J. Oliver Buswell Jr.’s A Systematic Theology of the Christian Religion (two volumes, 1962, 1963) was the only comprehensive conservative effort to appear in recent decades. Major denominational publishing houses have produced little ...

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