Trying to determine when modern evangelicalism began is like dating an ancient artifact: You know what time period it came from, but it’s hard to know what date to celebrate the anniversary. We picked the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals in 1942 as our excuse for looking at 50 years of a wonderful work of God. To accomplish this, we asked Nathan O. Hatch, a leading evangelical historian, to reflect on the changes in evangelical identity over the last five decades. Beginning with his own experiences of growing up as a conservative Christian in South Carolina, he documents and analyzes the vast changes in evangelicals’ expectations, organization, and prospects. In the following article, Kenneth S. Kantzer, former editor of CHRISTIANITY TODAY, describes the theological debates and controversies that have shaped the evangelical movement in the past and the theological issues that await it in the future. Sprinkled throughout are short reflections by several leaders on what they see on the horizon for the church. Our goal is to do more than celebrate the past. We also look soberly at the present in the hopes of preserving for the future what is at the heart of our heritage: a radical commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
While visiting my parents in Columbia, South Carolina, recently, I started to reflect on what had changed since the early 1950s when I was growing up there. Like much of America back then and unlike now, Columbia had had no fast-food restaurant or suburban shopping mall. But it also lacked something that we now take for granted: that medley of religious influences we associate with modern evangelicalism.
Columbia was a religious place, to be sure, with Baptist, Methodist, and ...1
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