New Drive Toward Biblical Christianity

Signs of Evangelical Revival

Time magazine in a December 26, 1977, 7-pagc featured article announced that “U.S. Evangelicalism is booming.” It estimated that the movement numbered 45.5 million adherents, suggested that it “seems on the verge of becoming a national state of mind,” and endorses a claim that “Evangelicals have become the most active and vital aspect of American religion.”

Already in the fall of 1976 (Oct. 25) Newsweek in a similar leading article on “the Evangelicals” entitled “Born Again” observed that “the emergence of evangelical Christianity into a position of respect and power” was “the most significant—and overlooked religious phenomenon of the 70‘s.” It cited a Gallup survey report that “half of all Protestants—and a third of all Americans—say that they have been ‘born again.’” What it found “even more surprising” was “Gallup’s report that 46 per cent of Protestants—and 31 per cent of Catholics—believe that the Bible is ‘to be taken literally, word for word: a doctrine held only by the most conservative Christians.”

Commenting on this same development in a less flamboyant style, John R. De Witt could observe in the October, 1977 British Banner of Truth, “Particularly in this country there seems to be widespread renewal of interest in evangelical Christianity; and what is more significant perhaps, we are seeing also a recrudescence of interest in Reformed theology and church life. The new state of affairs is reflected in the student body of many seminaries; and the Reformed Theological Seminary (at Jackson, Miss.—editor) is no exception to this. One is grateful to God, and one is thrilled at the opportunity to have a share in equipping earnest, eager young men for the service of Christ. Many of us are most encouraged at what the Lord is so evidently doing, and we have great hopes for the future.”

A Deepening Concern for the Biblical Foundation – The Need of the Evangelical Movement

The 1976 Newsweek article already mentioned observed that “Despite the evangelicals’ newfound strength, a number of serious divisions have opened up within their ranks. Evangelicals are sharply divided over fundamental religious issues such as the infallibility of Scripture and what they think the Gospel requires of them as born-again Christians.” The recent Time article, while not analyzing this part of the development as clearly as the earlier Newsweek did, clearly shows up the confusion that prevails among those called “Evangelicals.” “It is easier to see signs of Evangelical life than to define exactly what an evangelical is.” if the movement is to be more than a passing wave of emotional excitement or a confusion of diverse groups who move off in many different directions, it needs clear definition and direction. And what is to define what an “Evangelical” should believe and do? The very name “Evangelical” suggests that one who bears it is supposed to be a follower of the Gospel or Bible.

As time remarked, Mainstream Protestantism . . . often seems drained of vitality.” The weakening of the convictions and influence of those churches as they lost their faith in the Bible and its teachings is well-known to our readers. The new Evangelical movement if it is to prosper needs Biblical definition and direction. It is by the Word of God that men are “born again,” said the Apostle Peter, and by the same Word that they must grow (I Peter 1:23; 2:2).

The New “International Council on Biblical Inerrancy”

To meet this need for Biblical definition and direction in the current Evangelical movement is tile expressed aim of a newly formed organization which could prove to be one of the most interesting and promising developments in the religious world in our time. It sees the big and booming Evangelical movement threatened by both a weak sense of Biblical direction and by new attacks on the Bible among its adherents. To deal with that need an “International Council on Biblical Inerrancy” met in Chicago late in September and according to a report in the November Eternity (p. 12) plans a ten-year program to study and defend biblical inerrancy and to educate and inform the evangelical community of the doctrine’s importance. The Council sees evangelical Christians as having to make a choice between “the existential methodology of Kant, Kierkegaard, Barth and Berkouwer” and “standing with Christ and the apostles for the historic view of verbal inerrancy.”

The organization considers this inerrancy controversy about Christ in the fourth century and that about the doctrine of salvation in the sixteenth century. At the same time it aims at “loving dialog” with “brothers” who disagree “rather than to cut them off from fellowship or discussion.” Jay Grimstead, its executive director, said, “We are committed to speak . . . in a way that will he considered loving, wise and scholarly.” It intends to publish material that answers the much neo-orthodox and higher critical writing which is confusing many evangelical Christians.

Associated with the new Council are respected and influential people from a variety of churches: James Boice, Gleason Archer, Edmund Clowney, Norman Giesler, John Gerstner, Harold Hoehner, Donald Hoke, J. I. Packer, Robert Preus, Earl Rademacher, Francis Schaeffer, R. C. Sproul, Jay Adams, John Alexander, Bill Bright, W. A. Criswell, James Kennedy, Elizabeth Leitch, Roger Nicole, Harold Ockenga, Ray Stedman, and Merrill Tenney.

Some are deploring the beginning of this “inerrancy campaign,” saying that we should work for evangelical unity, not dispute with other evangelicals, and that we should obey the Bible and not argue about it. But, it becomes increasingly evident that this issue must be faced for the good of the whole evangelical movement. How may we seriously try to persuade others to believe and obey the gospel if we refuse to face the questions of what the gospel is or of Who or what is to decide what it shall be? Seeking and holding to the answers God’s Word gives to such questions would appear to be indispensible if we are going to make any progress in doing His business.

Our Place: On the Sidelines or on Which Side?

The role of our own Christian Reformed Churches in these times of opportunity and in these new and exciting movements for the Christian faith is on the whole disappointing. Although we have a denominational reputation as champions of the Reformed Faith, the evangelical revival and the enthusiasm for the Reformed doctrines of the Bible which others welcome and share, seem to be leaving us largely untouched. I have not read any Christian Reformed names among those Orthodox Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, Missouri Lutherans, Southern Baptists and others who through the new Council on Biblical Inerrancy are calling and working for reformation and revival based on God’s Word. One of the main reasons why we are not taking an active part in these exciting developments is that up to the present our denominational leadership is trying to evade or compromise the question of what we believe regarding the Bible. And spectators, fence-sitters or rooters for the enemy will never win any games or battles. Let us pray that the Lord may yet arouse and move us to take the stand we should with H is Word in the battles and victories of that Word in our time.