It is time that the evangelical movement sees itself for what it is: a lion on the loose that no one today seriously fears." So wrote Carl F. H. Henry in the very year Newsweek dubbed "The Year of the Evangelical" (1976). Harold John Ockenga was wont to be more optimistic. But two years later, even he was worried that the New Evangelicalism was fraying around the edges.

"Great visibility is being given today to the word 'evangelical' and to the evangelical movement," Ockenga wrote in a volume to honor Wilbur Smith, another erstwhile optimist. "Hopefully, it will not be vitiated by a division of the movement or by a loss of fidelity to evangelical content and practice." By the end of the 1970s, despite their notable fame and fortune, the New Evangelical leadership had several weighty reasons to fear that their movement had started to slip between their fingers.

Division and Diversity

During the early years of the movement, the New Evangelicals largely succeeded in their efforts to re-engage American culture. By the end of the 1950s, their ministries were thriving. Their numbers were increasing, as was their clout in the realms of politics, education, and the media. During the decade of the '50s, in fact, more Americans joined a church than ever before in history. More than 60 percent of the nation belonged to a church by 1960.

Many now looked to the likes of Billy Graham, Carl Henry, and Harold Ockenga for leadership of global evangelicalism. But as the movement grew it also began to diversify, exceeding the grasp of the New Evangelicals. Graham and company tried their best to keep their growing family together. But despite their recent success in reviving fundamentalism—and American culture at large—some of their ...

Subscriber Access OnlyYou have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Already a CT subscriber? for full digital access.