The New Face of Evangelicalism?

ABCABC News interviewed some young Christian leaders in a piece about “The New Face of American Evangelicalism.” The video is linked above (HT: Euangelion). The most important feature of the interview is not what was said, but what wasn’t said. When asked about the most important issues facing the church, none of the young Christians mentioned the gospel. All of them fastidiously avoided mention of abortion and gay “marriage.” In short, they argued that the “new face of evangelicalism” is a return to the social gospel.

My only comment about this piece is that the sampling of young “evangelicals” is unhelpfully skewed. These five individuals obviously hail from the left wing of the evangelical spectrum. These five represent not the new generation of evangelicalism, but the liberal wing of that younger generation.


  • Freddy

    No, Paul. He’s pointing out that they gave a slanted view on it by not having a balanced representation of evangelicals. But no, they are not like him.

  • russ

    One must be holding to a profoundly narrow view of the good news as expressed in the scripture to claim that this interview does not address the gospel.

    I will grant that the whole gospel is not presented here. I will even grant that the crux or ‘ground zero’ of the gospel may not be a part of this discussion. But I would argue that the very earthy way the gospel is manifest in this discussion is entirely appropriate to the context of our times and this interview. Will the kingdom impact of this interview be more or less effective for the gospel than the typical mainstream media interview with a John MacArthur, James Dobson or Al Mohler?

    Think about. Seriously.

  • Darby Livingston

    The whole interview was false advertising. It should have been titled, “The New Face of American Liberalism” because there was nothing evangelical about the panel. They might as well have put together a panel of five women and titled the interview “The New face of American Masculinity.”

  • Josh

    Paul – I felt the same way concerning the interview seeing how I am a young evangelical.

    Russ – to remove portion of the gospel that you are allowing is to remove the gospel itself. You may have a weak gospel without the social aspect but you have no gospel at all containing only that. If the piece were to interview Mac, Dobson or Mohler you would not have the new face of evangelicalism. Had they interviewed people like Driscoll, Pratt or Chandler you may have had the gospel and your ‘narrow view’ – the social gospel included.

    Thinking seriously about anything requires at least two perspectives.

  • Brent Hobbs

    To me, it would be like interviewing 5 people who are not environmentalists and calling it “The New Face of Environmentalism.”

    I have serious doubts that those interviewed here would fall under any real definition of the word evangelical. That’s not to say they’re not Christians necessarily. But words have meanings and calling oneself evangelical doesn’t make it so.

  • Scott

    Same tired lines from the “old faces” of evangelicalism. Any sensitivity to social justice puts one “outside” the camp, so to speak. And apparently it’s crucial not only to mention the gospel, but to simultaneously express concerns about gay marriage. I didn’t realize they went together for one to be “evangelical.”

  • paul

    Brent – what is an evangelical Christian at its core? Someone who spreads the good news, you know, like Jesus tells us to do. Until you’re at their services, or out there on the mission fields with ’em, you have no ground to stand on, except that they’re not like you.

    Don’t be that guy.

    Freddy – slanted? Maybe. That’s why it’s a NEW face of evangelicalism. Putting a whole bunch of 18 year old Al Mohler fans up on that soundstage would still have been the “old” face of evangelicalism.

    And the social gospel isn’t a bad thing. If the social gospel is the only gospel represented, then you’re onto something. But, if we’re to be like the original Christians, the ones who were called Christians by the people at Antioch for their actions, and not for their words, and not because they themselves called themselves Christians, then methinks that the social gospel is probably woven directly into the gospel as we know it. Or should know it.

  • Nate

    Paul, While I agree with you that we should meet needs while sharing the gospel, you are hardpressed to prove a social gospel mantra from the church at Antioch from the book of Acts. Acts 11:19-21 speaks of them witnessing to Gentiles. For that matter if would be difficult to find a high preponderence of social gospel rhetoric from Paul’s missionary journeys in Acts either.

    So while I will agree with that we need to meet needs as we share Christ, preaching the gospel is far more important the “new evangelicals” are making it out to be. Having said that, you are right to say we should hear their preaching or go on mission with them to find out. Yet, the apostle Paul was never shy to preach the unadulterated gospel when given the chance – our sin, Jesus’ death, burial resurrection, the need to repent, the grace of salvation.

  • Dustin

    Why do liberals simply ignore 1 Cor 15 where Paul clearly outlines what the gospel is. It’s not as complicated a discussion as some make it to be. The gospel is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus. You can’t just conform the gospel to whatever you feel the current trend of evangelicalism is lacking.

  • John

    Yes, I have a few problems with this panel, but I am not sure how much of that is the fault of ABC and its rules and/or editing. The gospel was conspicuously absent. However, the two biggest problems I saw were philosophical in nature.

    The first was the idea that instead of voting against gay marriage we should fly to other nations to stop the sex trade etc. Fighting the sex trade is a noble goal, but how does it contravene the first goal?

    The second was the idea by Gabe Lyon that we should be transforming this world into what it is supposed to look like. I think this idea is as old as Christianity, but it needs far more context to have anything like a realistic mandate upon believers. How is this different from the “Old” evangelicalism that attempted to do just this through the ballot box and moral majority?

    I am not against the views expressed in this short clip, but it should be fairly clear that there was not enough context or thinking for this clip to be really useful. Not that I would expect such from network news.

  • paul

    I’m ignoring nothing. But is the gospel SIMPLY telling people that Jesus died for their sins and then walking away? If it is, then remind me never to go to your church.

    On the other hand, I tend to believe that the gospel is LIVING the message. Yes, telling people the good news. But, let’s not stop there. Feeding the hungry because that’s what Jesus did. Healing the sick (or at least making sure that they have access to medicine), because that’s what Jesus did.

    To say that the gospel is ONLY telling people what the message is, that’s lazy, if not downright unproductive, in my book.

  • Dustin

    We have to be careful with confusing theological propositional statements with implications of the theological truth. Is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus really insufficient? Yikes. We can assert that there are shortcomings in the way that we respond to the gospel – no doubt. But we have to be careful not to define our terms based on what we view to be contemporary shortcomings in living out the propositions we believe.

  • paul

    “Is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus really insufficient?”

    No. However, if Jesus just came to earth, ate a cheeseburger, had a heart attack, and came back three days later because he didn’t get to eat his fries, then it’s pointless. Jesus’ death meant something because he was sinless. Part of that being sinless was healing, even on the sabbath. Part of that being sinless was feeding those that needed to hear his message.

    Same thing 2000 years later, trust me.

  • Michael Templin

    No Social Justice aspect to the Gospel= absolutely no Gospel

    No Proclamation of the Kingdom of God= Absolutely no Gospel

    No Proclamation of the Lordship and facts of Jesus the Messiah= Absolutely no Gospel

    Must have all 3.

  • MW

    Mr. Sagers,

    Charity and love? Really? Oh, I see–when writing critiques about our critics we should do so in charity and love. I certainly agree with you on that issue.

    What about charity and love extended to all at SBTS?

  • Jim Reed

    There is but one Gospel: the phyiscal and historical death, burial and resurection of Jesus. No more, no less; anything more or less is a lie and has no power to save. While there is a social effect that occurs when one truly embraces the Gospel, there is no “social justice aspect” to the propositional truth of Gospel. Stopping the sex and slave trades, freeing those oppressed, are good but we must not confuse doing good as a result of the Gospel embraced with the propositional truths of the Gospel preached. Works come after the Gospel, not as a part of it. The “social gospel” in its various forms is nothing more than a self-righteous, human merit-based false gospel re-packaged for a easily deluded and distracted humanity to draw us away from the person and work of Jesus on the cross to the aid and comfort of sinners who are going to feel the just wrath of a holy and righteous God if they do not repent. It is used by the adversary of our souls to make us comfortable in our sinful, fallen state. Preach the scriptural Gospel as clearly, concisely and exlcusively delineated in 1 Cor 15 and let God free the soul from sin; then and only then must and should we work to end oppression whereever it may be.

  • Pedro

    “What do you feel are the most important issues facing the church today?

    (a)We have too many teachers who have read many books but a lot less of the bible. Who attend leadership meetings and conferences far more than they attend the presence of God for them to be taught, re-proofed, corrected, directed and lead by God. Almost all the leadership and conference meetings are used to school on how to lead God’s people effectively. While this sounds laudable, it is flawed because to lead a people who are lead by God (Rom 4:14), we can’t learn it like we learn management theories and that kind of example is not in the scriptures. The people of God are lively stones and that should be first emphasized- God wants we all (including leaders- those with ministry gifts, spiritual gifts, and elders) to hear him and grow to be quick to obey him like Jesus which is the emphases of Eph 4:13.

    (b)We have too many Apostles, Prophets, Teachers, Pastors and Evangelist who do not understand Eph 4:12-13. That certainly calls to question if they are what they emphatically claim to be.

    (c) The model of Church today deviates seriously from the pattern given in Acts. NT is fully prescriptive. We are to follow all of its example and where we are failing, becomes point of persistent prayer to God for grace to overcome like those who have gone before us. Not to water scriptures down by formulating theological theories just because God blessed us with intellect. We need to SUBMIT our intellect/mind to Him for renewal by His word and grace. For our mind is strengthen by grace and not philosophy.

    (d)While it’s true that Christians do not worship God out of fear of going to hell, it is certainly a reason to love, fear and obey God. Majority of the foremost leaders toady have backslide from this truth. So huge room was given to men who value matter than spiritual things of God and their teachings of prosperity has shaped the mind set of majority of believers and even unbelievers such that when they become believers they already presume that godliness is for gaining goods. There is a lot of refuge of lies that should not have been allowed to be taught in the church in the first place. Jam 3:1 doesn’t seem to make sense to today’s church.

    (e)Prophetic voice (not condemning voice) has become a taboo in the church. Prophets have been beaten down so much that many are in hiding. And those who are not mature in that ministry fear isolation so they are now reduced to exhorters who help further the agenda of Pastors who act as high priest of the local assembly. The more adventurous pastors/high priests are even pushing the boundary to becoming pastors/high priest of conglomerate of assemblies with invented titles like general overseers, founder/president, senior pastor etc

    (f)Nicknaming God’s people e.g. Evangelical, Pentecostal, Charismatic, reform etc. Often times, one can insult Jesus and get away with it but to go against their ideology is a bigger crime that cannot be escaped. The devotees who are mainly young intellectuals will fight and tear anyone to shred with their pen.

    (g) Result of the above: Culture centric theology, slick craftiness for reputation and the use of mind power techniques.

    We live in a time when a mere point to correct error is tagged criticism, Mr. know it all, divisive person, unloving, lacking understanding of authority structure, not obedient to authority etc

    At the end of the day, it is by lovingly insisting on the truth of God’s word and obeying God that will bless every one of us and the church. God has given grace differently to all so that all will be safe and blessed by the grace that works in others that is lacking in us. No pre-eminence of any sort is acceptable in the NT. ONLY one is pre-eminent in the church and is Jesus Christ who is the Head, Pastor, high Priest and Lord of the body – the church.

  • Mark

    I’m not against social justice. In fact, I am all for it in the biblical sense of the term as Jesus and the Apostles preached it. I am, however, against making everything centered on social justice that it turns the core Christian message into the social gospel. I have met many of these types of people at school, if you dig deeper these people lack real biblical knowledge and formulate their theology based on their own personal agendas.

    It amazes me how so many professing Christians in North America think they can twist the gospel around handed down to us by our Lord and the Apostles to make it so relevant to our modern age. Our Lord and the Apostles talked a lot about the eternal destructiveness of sin, the need for personal redemption from sin through faith in the person and work of Christ, and the necessity of lifelong discipleship and cross-bearing as a fruit of saving fruit. What do these people don’t get? It truly amazes me how young evangelicals these days are so ignorant of the biblical gospel.

  • russ

    As I read these comments it is clear that those who would take strong issue with this panel related to it’s expression of the good news (or lack thereof), are thinking of the good news (gospel) in terms of a compact theological proposition.

    I certainly would not that argue with that proposition as stated throughout this thread. But, I am concerned about that becoming the only way we talk about the gospel. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that this degenerates to a place where when the good news is being discussed it is most often in the context of some type of doctrinal quiz or litmus test of someone’s orthodoxy.

    The gospel of Jesus Christ finds its epicenter in the event that forms the proposition, but the reality and implications of that event run deep and wide. We cannot fathom it’s scope, and we cannot fully understand or systematize it.

    But, all of it is part of the good news.

    The good news is that the kingdom of God is at hand! The good news is that there is no longer Jew or Greek, slave or free, male of female, but all… The good news is that blind eyes see. The good news is that there is now a group of people who will rescue babies from the trash heap of Gehenna, stick around to minister to the sick when everyone else has left, and love the dying on the streets of Calcutta. The good news is that there is a group of people who are wrestling again with the call to return to the abandoned place of empire and live out the love of Christ. Why? Come find out!

    All of this most certainly is good news, and if it is undergirded and empowered by the work of Christ than it is all a part of the good news.

    A former car of mine, a 69 VW bus I restored, is not an engine, but without the engine it can never truly by a car. In any given conversation I may talk about the engine almost exclusively, to the omission of other vital parts of what makes that machine a car, like the steering wheel and controls, the chassis that holds it all together, the windows, so the driver can see where he is going, the vintage 2-tone paint job, etc… In any conversation, I might not mention the engine at all. I’ve yet to ever have someone claim that I wasn’t really talking about a car because I never mentioned the engine in a given conversation.

    But, then again, I’ve never listened to anyone talk about their car with the motivation of trying to test whether or not they really know what a car was.

    Back to the matter at hand, of course there is a place for that. If I’m talking to a potential future leader at my camp, I want to know that he or she can fully articulate the good news, starting with the death of resurrection of Christ. Of course. But, that is not the context of this main stream media interview, which is specifically targeted at hearing about a certain aspect of renewed thinking within the ranks of Evangelicalism.

    And, I would argue that going straight to the proposition is not the evangelistic model of the New Testament as expressed in the life and ministry of Jesus or the Apostles.

    Along these lines, Mark (#23), in all sincerity (I appreciate your zeal!), your description of the way that the Lord and his disciples expressed the good news actually does not look like the biblical account to me. Rather, it reads like a crude summary of someone’s particular systematic theology. A theology that I more or less agree with, by the way, but that is not my point here. 🙂

  • Larry S

    good post Russ.

    I wonder what little Zac who invited Jesus to dine would think of this Thread.

    No great wedge between ‘propositions’ and action for him.

  • Michael Templin

    @ Jim Reed Are you serious? Maybe you should read the witness of Luke. There is defiantly a social aspect to the Gospel!


    46And Mary said:
    “My soul glorifies the Lord
    47and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
    48for he has been mindful
    of the humble state of his servant.

    John the Baptist Disciple inquiry about Jesus

    Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy[b] are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. 23Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.

    We have only looked at three of many texts in Luke, let alone the rest of the bible.

    From now on all generations will call me blessed,
    49for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
    holy is his name.
    50His mercy extends to those who fear him,
    from generation to generation.
    51He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
    he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
    52He has brought down rulers from their thrones
    but has lifted up the humble.
    53He has filled the hungry with good things
    but has sent the rich away empty.
    54He has helped his servant Israel,
    remembering to be merciful
    55to Abraham and his descendants forever,
    even as he said to our fathers.”

    Jesus Self Proclaimed Mission in Luke 4

    16He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. 17The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
    18″The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
    because he has anointed me
    to preach good news to the poor.
    He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
    to release the oppressed,
    19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”[e]

    How can your above Gospel not include anything about the Kingdom of God? The most occuring subject of Jesus and the Christ folower?

  • Francis Beckwith

    I quit worrying about this stuff years ago. This is what I’ve come to learn: Every generation of Evangelicals produces some small sect of really smart hipsters who think they can reinvent the wheel because the current wheel is not “round enough.” And, with few exceptions, they are almost always wrong. Why?

    It’s because wisdom is timeless, and what they are drawn to is trendy. This is not to say that something trendy can’t also be the product of wisdom. Rather, it’s to say that for all their talk of “challenging current paradigms” is a transparantly selective skepticism. You, for example, will never find an Emergent Churcher express skepticism about “sustainability” or “body art,” since these are trendy and would turn off the cool kids. No, it’s always the ancient wisdom that gets dissed, e.g., biblical views on human sexuality, the nature of God, the exclusivity and uniqueness of Christ, the inspiration of Scripture, etc. This is not to say that these folks get some things right. They do. Rather, it means that we should always be wary of a “prophet” whose pointing fingers are connected to two left hands.

  • russ

    Denny and Francis,

    I agree with the critique of ’emerging’ culture regarding the cult of hipness. But I fail to see a strong connection with that critique and the content of this interview.

    What ‘ancient wisdom’ is being dissed?

  • Scott

    Not every evangelical who challenges the dominant paradigm should be labeled as “emergent” or “pomo.” It’s an incredibly lazy and unfair critique.

  • paul

    what Russ said.

    I’ll order mine with a side of “who would be skeptical of the idea of sustainability?” though.

    Thanks, Francis, I’ll eat it here.

  • Jim Reed

    @ Michael Templin Thank you for your directed comments. First, the “poor” in those passages are the “spiritually” poor, not the temporally/materially poor. In Mary’s response, the phrase “humble estate” is her humility of spirit, not her physical lack of material wealth. The use of this passage in the context of your comments is that God chose her because she was materially poor, which is clearly not the context of the overall passage and the whole of Scripture. Even in the passages where Jesus feeds the multitudes, those passages are relevant as to the outworking of the Gospel: they came to hear Jesus teach without any expectation of any physical or “social justice” and after Jesus had taught them, he had compassion for them concerning their physical need at that moment, not the establishment of a program of an ongoing nature. This said, the Scriptures as a whole do clearly teach that once one has embraced the Gospel, a significant social change should and must occur in his life as well as the lives of those around him. The first person who comes to my mind in this regard is William Wilberforce. For those who do not recall the historical importance of this man, I’ll leave it as an exercise to do some research and see the significant social change that he tirelessly worked to achieve. Wilberforce did not do this a part of the Gospel but as a sincere and appropriate response to its liberating truth once completely and entirely embraced in every aspect of one’s life.

    This said, I note that this is not “my gospel” but THE Gospel as delineated in the Scripture. I did not dismiss the truth of kingdom living, I simply noted its place. Men are not saved by the gifts of the kingdom but are invited to partake thereof after entering into the kingdom. During Jesus’ life, he was Jew under the law ministering to Jews under the law. The kingdom of God on earth was national Israel and all Jews after the flesh were members of the kingdom. Every passage you cited must be viewed in this light, especially considering Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophoenician woman (cf. Mark 7:25-30 and Matthew 15:21-28). Today, the Kingdom of God consists of all those who are the spiritual children of Abraham by grace through faith solely in the finished work of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, they alone being true Jews (cf. Romans 2:28-29, 4:13-18, 9:6-8). While we are not to turn a blind eye towards the needless suffering of the unrepentant of this world (rather, quite the opposite), the Gospel is not to bring them a temporal liberty that can and has been devoid of spiritual liberty but to bring them spiritual liberty that enables them to seek after temporal liberty.

    I am glad that you mentioned Jesus’ response to John. I note that the in the Greek the word translated “preached the good news” is the verb form of the same word translated as “Gospel” in I Corinthians 15 and elsewhere. In short, Jesus both performed signs and wonders AND preached the Gospel. The Gospel neither was nor included those signs and wonders but was merely confirmed through them. These signs and wonders were not human social programs but the supernatural resurrection power of God anointing Jesus through his immersion in the Spirit. I’ll let you digest the implications of this, especially considering how those most active in the preaching and practicing of a “social gospel” are usually the furthest removed from the modern signs and wonders movements.

    To answer your question, yes, I am serious. Far too often the “social gospel” leads men from preaching the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus the Anointed One to preaching social, economic and political “liberty” as conceived by the one preaching before and quite often to the exclusion of introducing them to the cleansing power of the blood offered once for their sins (cf. Ephesians 2:13; Hebrews 12:24; 13:12, 20; 1 John 1:7). While the Gospel is Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection alone it does not leave those who have embraced it without a socially just work thereafter. Indeed, for those who have found the one and only source of true liberty there is by the nature of the new birth a desire to share that liberty with all, both spiritually and temporally.

  • Michael Templin

    If you can read Luke and Acts and come to the conclusion that he is speaking of the spiritually poor then so be it. I find that to be an unrealistic position.

    Luke 1:46-56
    Luke 6:20
    Luke 7:22-23
    Luke 18:18-27
    Luke 4:16-21
    Luke 14:13
    Luke 14:21
    Luke 16:19-31
    Luke 19:1-10

    here are most of Luke’s use of “poor” in his Gospel. The natural reading of the text and it’s context do not grant a reading of “spiritually” poor, except the possibility is there on the sermon on the mount (but I think Luke has framed Jesus’ teaching differently than Matthew).

    The Gospel is the Good News of the Kingdom of God: Poor are feed, blind receive sight, the Lame walk, sins are forgiven, Israel is restored, and the Kingdom of Darkness is dethroned, through the death, burial, resurrection, and reign of Jesus the Messiah.

    This is both scripturally and historically sound from the apostolic church to the common day.Now what is your problem with it? Does it not fit your reading of the text?

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