By Richard C. Weeks
(Paper read Wednesday evening, May 22, 1963, in Atlantic City, New Jersey, at the “pre-session” meeting of the World Conservative Baptist Mission.)
There never would have been–it seems safe to say–the coming into existence of the World Conservative Baptist Mission had it not been for the emergence of the New Evangelical movement.
Let us turn the clock back a good number of decades as we seek to establish this thesis.
The full-flower development of Modernism by the second decade of the 20th century, which cut across denominational lines, and which was slightly more retarded in the Northern Baptist Convention than in some other prominent denominations, was not an overnight affair. It was preceded by a gradual shift from Orthodoxy to Liberalism in which almost one generation of theological scholars, who dominated the American religious scene, first became “NEO” ORTHODOX. That is–to make plain and not confuse terms–they were not of the modern Barthian Neo-Orthodoxy, but were in a progressive stream of theological flux which brought into existence a new “orthodox” biblical view. This position was almost exactly parallel to the New Evangelicalism of today.
However that “NEO” Orthodox or new orthodox biblical view was very careful to affirm some type of belief in inspiration of the Scriptures. They made bold to affirm that, while they were espousing a considerably milder view of the German radical and critical Liberalism, they wanted it thoroughly understood that they considered themselves biblically-oriented in position. While they might deny plenary verbal inspiration and accept some of the Wellhausen hypothesis and conclusions of the Higher Critical view of the Bible, they still considered themselves orthodox and evangelical. Some famous names in this category were: S.R. Driver, M.R. Vincent, F.W. Farrah, A.B. Davidson and James Hastings. The difference between the German Rationalists and these men was that the former represented the Bible as error and romance mingled with truth, while they viewed it as truth mingled with romance and error.
There was not strict uniformity in that fraternity, especially as the years progressed and the thinking of some became more liberal. One other, Charles Briggs, became extreme enough to be defrocked by the Presbyterians; dismissed as a Princeton professor; go to Union Theological Seminary to teach; and become re-ordained by the Episcopalians. On the right of the scale–which had many variations–but still not without influence by the German Rationalism and Darwinian combine was James Orr who became a theistic evolutionist and also shifted to a belief in a final restorationism of all mankind. (See his book God’s Image in Man.) Even less tainted but not untouched was Augustus Hopkins Strong, the most prominent Baptist theologian of the time, with his combination of ethical monism and consent to theistic evolution. A.H. Strong was a comparatively young but exceptionally brilliant man when he took over the chair of theology at Rochester Theological Seminary from his predecessor, Ezekiel G. Robinson. Robinson had prided himself in this theological non-conformity which finally resulted in pressure for him to resign. Strong, who had been his pupil, then succeeded him. We are all quite well aware of what happened at Rochester when A. H. Strong was gone. John Clark, a South Dakota Baptist pastor now deceased, told me in 1946 that he took his B.D. training at Rochester about 1912 when A.H. Strong was in his prime. He stated that he came out of the school not having the slightest idea how to do personal work in leading a soul to Christ.
But Strong was most certainly not a Liberal nor was he “greatly advanced” as a neo-evangelical of his day though others associated in the seminary with him were not only in such a category, but were even outright Modernists as Walter Rauschenbusch, for example.
Now let us skip past the Fundamentalist-Modernist struggle that developed within the Northern Baptist Convention. Through more astute political maneuvering on the part of the Modernists combined with a hesitancy on the part of some of the Fundamentalists to clean house on unbelief within the Northern Baptist Convention, the Fundamentalist majority irretrievably lost the Convention in the decisive action at Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1946. With the formation of the CBA of A, in 1947 the split was made final.
In 1947 at the birth of the Conservative Baptist Fellowship’s second of four children, the CBA of A, it was already apparent that some amazing things were continuing to transpire in the CB movement. (And please remember that there was a CB movement on a doctrinal and separationist basis 23 years before a foreign missionary was sent out.) Already in 1947 the unbelievable had happened. The three leading Fundamentalist leaders, Pierce, Stiansen, and Bradbury, who were directly responsible for the final impetus that resulted in the CBF calling for the organization of the CBFMS, had deserted the hearty but infant society. WHY? My own analysis is that they had compromised so long within the Convention that just a whif of the free independent air fanned by the rejection of the CBFMS from the Convention acceptability and the threat of an even stronger breeze in the form of a new CBA church alignment caused their weathered denominational lungs such a spasm that they jumped back from the threshold in fright and slammed the door of New Testament ecclesiastical independence tightly shut. At the same time they hollered through the Convention window with reproach at those who had gone through the door which they had so measurably helped open in order for others to pass.
Their action could not but have a pronounced effect on some of the many who had courage to pass through the door shortly after to form the CBA of A. The security the Northern Baptist Convention offered made rationalizing one’s separatist views considerably easier. Thus it was not surprising to see a somewhat steady stream of men filter back from the CB movement to the Convention. This also meant that separation became a very touchy issue because some felt that others were not progressing fast enough or, more seriously, did not intend to take their churches into the CB movement without either reservation or without continuing an indefinite relationship to the NBC. There were some men and churches who seemed, not without reason, to be most certainly opportunists. They wanted a good part of their missionary support to be with the ever-gaining CBFMS but gave evidence they were not willing to consider the painful break with the Northern Baptist Convention inclusiveness.
Yet as irksome and difficult as those early problems of separation continued to be, I believe they would have been solved by the Portland Manifesto of 1954, which was adopted unanimously by all four cooperating CB boards and by the CBA of A constituency, except for one ugly theological development that rose up not merely to put fuel on the fire but to burn like a fire-bomb. This was the open emergence of the New Evangelicalism of our day; a very kindred repetition slightly over a generation after the previous new orthodoxy had developed at the end of the 19th century and which had gone on to spawn a full-fledged modernism. A generation of brilliant young theologians were rising up from Fundamentalist ranks who had not “known Joseph” nor been through the previous struggle.
There were both similarities and differences between the late 19th century development and this mid 20th century development though the similarities predominated. The fetus of the New Evangelicalism was taking form, as best as I can evaluate, at about 1945. Some of those mainly responsible were Wheaton College graduates, relatively young, scholarly, and prolifically expressive with the pen. While they were not solely responsible, they were the most powerful and effective element.
These younger scholars such as Harold Ockenga, Carl Henry, and Edward Carnell were for the most part uncontaminated at first by any direct espousals of Liberalism, and only Carnell of the three today has openly identified himself with some Liberal biblical positions especially in the realm of inspiration.
In 1947 Carl Henry authored the book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, which octogenarian and great Fundamentalist Baptist warrior Dr. William B. Riley in effect called a stab in the back of Fundamentalism by one who had not gone through the battle and who was completely erroneous in ascribing most all good societal action to the Modernists. In this very same year, Dr. Henry and Dr. Ockenga convinced Dr. Charles Fuller to use the huge legacy of his father in the development of a new seminary under their direction to be known as Fuller Theological Seminary. The new school was to be intellectually orientated and accredited by the American Association of Theological Seminaries as such schools as Dallas Theological Seminary and Northern and Eastern Baptist seminaries had not been up to that time. Several years later Dr. Carnell joined with them on the faculty and in 1954 was inaugurated president of the school, as the youngest seminary president in the country.
It was about 1951 that the sensationally rising young evangelist Billy Graham was taken under the wing of Drs. Ockenga, Henry and Graham’s father-in-law, Dr. Nelson Bell, a famous returned missionary-theologian-doctor. This was to prove disastrous as far as complete separation from any cooperation with religious Modernism. While ecumenical evangelism is only one facet of the new evangelicalism, this became a terrific issue because Billy Graham’s radio and television ministries and his city-wide campaigns reach across the country into local Fundamental church memberships.
While Billy Graham has never to this day–as far as we know–explicitly admitted his change in methodology, it is absolutely clear to anyone who correlated the facts that he did definitely make a switch between 1959 and his first fame-catapulting campaign in Los Angeles and in 1952 when his team made open invitations and even sometimes demands that Modernist church councils must cooperate if he came to a city for a campaign.
Another area where the New Evangelicalism was to cause great concern was in the pronouncements of some of the New Evangelicals that the whole subject of inspiration must be re-examined, implying that the traditional Fundamentalist views hammered out over the centuries by church fathers, Reformation leaders, and Fundamentalist scholars of the Warfield, Robert Dick Wilson, Machen era were not the answer. In a short time it became apparent that the traditional literal view of the Genesis Creation account was under attack by these New Evangelicals, and some were soon to say that not only was man’s body evolved, but as Wheaton Science Symposium speaker of February 17, 1961, Dr. Walter Hearn, is on record as saying, most likely God also created the soul by an evolutionary process.
We do not have the time nor find it the purpose in this paper to describe the other facets of the New Evangelicalism. While Amillennialism is not at all a necessary cause of the New Evangelicalism, it was evident that the scholarly emphasis so prominent in this movement seemed to pull Fundamentalists to a place not only favorable to Amillennialism but also to cause many definitely to turn from a premillennial dispensational interpretation of the Scripture to an “Amil” position.
A final factor was seen as decisive by many men in our CB movement. They observed a growing connectionalism among certain prominent CB elements. This trend was undeniable. Consequently the fear came strongly and with reason that the New Evangelicalism stood to gain a foothold in our movement because these prominent and predominating factions would not even acknowledge its existence let alone take a forthright stand against it. In addition there was the continued favorable attitude on the part of high CB denominational officials to the opening of our movement and agencies to Amillennialists, and the growing evidence of a connectionalism reverting towards a conventionism of a type similar to that out of which we came. These stark realities with their certain and dangerous trends combined to bring about in the minds of many consecrated soul-winning pastors in our movement the need for the new mission agency.
However, to get back to the thesis of this paper, let us note that the last two mentioned items in themselves would probably not have been the causality of the new mission agency. If the predominating individuals and secretariat of the two existing missionary agencies, CBFMS and CBHMS, had taken a strong stand against the New Evangelicalism, I am convinced that the other problems would have been progressively solved. But in even the tacit approval or attempted ignoring of the New Evangelism there is contained potential theological dynamite. Without a united front on this issue, many CBs fearing for the future and remembering a previous historical progression that eventually brought in Modernism, were determined that it was necessary even at great personal sacrifice to forge a new mission that would not only take a strong stand in this area of theological belief, but would also provide a medium through which Conservative Baptist Missionary volunteers schooled in similar ideologically-orientated institutions could serve in mission fields at home and abroad.
We do not propose in this paper to go into details of the actual events connected with organizing the new mission agency. Suffice to say it had been spoken of many times some years before it came into existence, but seemingly and sadly, individuals in high authority took those sentiments as only pressuring utterances.
The September 12, 1961, meeting at Wheaton calling for a surveying of issues has grossly been misrepresented across the country in CB circles. In the first place this was called way too late and only then on the urging of CB of A men who finally got across to others that there were definite and serious plans to consider the formation of a new mission agency. While the September 12 meeting was amiable enough, it was not only too late but it was also apparent that certain leaders of the other mission agencies were not at all in the frame of mind to give the slightest thought that their own actions were responsible for the state of affairs and lack of confidence, nor were they willing to subject themselves to any critical analysis where partial fault might be honestly registered against them.
However, we hold no animosities. Why can it not be understood that God can still use, if necessary, even the wrath of man to praise Him and to work out His will.
We are confident that God has been silently but surely and powerfully working in all of this. We believe that God will use the services of consecrated missionaries in all of the CB mission agencies. We wish them all well. But above all we wish to thank God for the courage and vision which He has given a group of dedicated CB leaders to form, against great odds, a mission agency expressive of an ideology that is an application of Baptist biblical doctrine, which we confidently believe best able to stand the external assaults that are going to be leveled against God’s people in ever-increasing proportions as we near the end of a Satanic-dominated age. Glory be toGod on High and to His Son immutable, eternal, Lord and King forever and ever.