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“The Danger of the Philosophy of New Evangelical Positivism”
by David Cloud Mar. 4 2009   
March 4th, 2009

One of the greatest dangers facing fundamentalist Christians today is the New Evangelical philosophy that has pervaded evangelicalism over the past 50 years. It is particularly dangerous because it appears at first glance to be biblically sound. The heart of New Evangelicalism is not the error that it preaches but the truth that it neglects. It focuses on the positive, largely avoids theological controversy and unpopular subjects (i.e., ecclesiastical separation and hell).

The New Evangelical narrows down his message, focusing only on a portion of the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:27). This means that much that the New Evangelical preaches and writes is scriptural and spiritually beneficial. The New Evangelical might say many good things about salvation, Christian living, love for the Lord, marriage, child training, sanctification, the deity of Christ, even the infallibility of Scripture.

When faced with a requirement of coming out plainly against error and naming the names of popular Christian leaders, though, he will refuse to take a stand and will, more likely, attack the one who is trying to force his hand or will lash out against “extreme fundamentalism” or “second degree separation” or some such thing.

Billy Graham is the king of positivism and non-judgmentalism.
Graham’s books are on the shelves of the vast majority of Christian bookstores today. He is extremely influential, and his message has been described as “hard at the center but soft at the edges.” He says his job is merely to preach the gospel, that he is not called to get involved in doctrinal controversies.

In 1966 the United Church Observer, the official paper of the ultra liberal United Church of Canada (in 1997 Moderator Bill Phipps said Jesus Christ is not God), asked Graham a series of questions. His answers demonstrate the New Evangelical positive-only, non-judgmental style:

Q.  In your book you speak of ‘false prophets’.  You say it is the ‘full-time effort of many intellectuals to circumvent God’s plan’ and you make a quotation from Paul Tillich.  Do you consider Paul Tillich a false prophet?


Q.  Do you think that churches such as The United Church of Canada and the great liberal churches of the United States that are active in the ecumenical movement and whose ministers study and respect the work of Paul Tillich and other great modern teachers are ‘apostate’?

A.  I COULD NOT POSSIBLY PASS THIS TYPE OF JUDGMENT ON INDIVIDUAL CHURCHES AND CLERGYMEN WITHIN THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA -- my knowledge of The United Church of Canada is too inadequate, and my ability to make such discernment is too limited. My books and writings are public knowledge but I love fellowship and work with many Christians who don’t agree with me theologically in everything.  As to my calling everyone ‘apostate’ who reads and gets help from Tillich -- this is preposterous.  There are too many shades of theological opinion in a large denomination to lump them all off as liberal, neo-orthodox, conservative, fundamentalist, or what have you!

Q.  Does your organization stand with us for a modern, enlightened, scholarly attempt to explain to our people what ‘The Bible says’? Or does it stand with those who describe us as ‘an apostate church spreading our unbelief’?

A.  OUR EVANGELISTIC ASSOCIATION IS NOT CONCERNED TO PASS JUDGMENT -- FAVORABLE OR ADVERSE -- ON ANY PARTICULAR DENOMINATION.  WE DO NOT INTEND TO GET INVOLVED IN THE VARIOUS DIVISIONS WITHIN THE CHURCH. We are simple Gospel preachers, not scholarly theologians -- though several of our team members have their earned doctorates. We feel that our calling is that of specialists -- winning people to a personal commitment to Jesus Christ! We do not intend to allow ourselves to become bogged down in the many religious crosscurrents (“Billy Graham Answers 26 Provocative Questions,” United Church Observer, July 1, 1966).

This is pure New Evangelicalism. The New Evangelical will preach against error in general terms but rarely will he do it plainly and specifically.

Graham’s refusal to preach anything beyond the most basic aspects of the gospel (and even that much is questionable) is why he is acceptable both to Roman Catholics and theological Modernists. Charles Dullea, Superior of the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome, said: “Because he is preaching basic Christianity, he does not enter into matters which today divide Christians. He does not touch on Sacraments or Church in any detail. ... The Catholic will hear no slighting of his Church’s teaching authority, nor of Papal or Episcopal Prerogatives, no word against the mass or sacraments or Catholic practices. GRAHAM HAS NO TIME FOR THAT; he is preaching only Christ and a personal commitment to Him. The Catholic, in my opinion will hear little, if anything, he cannot agree with” (Dullea, “A Catholic Looks at Billy Graham,” Homiletic & Pastoral Review, January 1972).

Graham is only one example of the multiplicity of New Evangelical authors who fill the shelves of the average Christian bookstore today.

The emphasis of the books available in these bookstores is not on solid Bible preaching and teaching and plain exposure of those errors that are corrupting God’s people and work today. Rather, the emphasis is on “a positive proclamation of the truth” and feel-good shallow pabulum. As J.I. Packer says about Richard Foster and the Renovare books, they are “mild on sin but firm on grace” (back cover to Foster’s book Life with God). Packer meant this to be a compliment, but it is actually an indictment, because the Bible is firm on sin as well as firm on grace. You can’t have a proper perspective of grace without a proper emphasis on sin, because it is the awfulness of sin and the greatness of God’s holiness and terrible justice that allows us to see grace in its proper perspective. Otherwise, it is “cheap grace,” and cheap grace is what lines the shelves of the average Christian bookstore.

You have, for example, Robert Schuller’s “Turning Hurts into Halos” and Kay Arthur’s “Lord, Heal My Hurts” and Charles Stanley’s “The Source of My Strength (Healing Your Wounded Heart)” and David Jeremiah’s “A Bend in the Road (Experiencing God When Your World Caves In).”

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