The Neo-Evangelical movement was a response among orthodox evangelical Protestants to the separatism of fundamentalist Christianity beginning in the 1930s.


The term was coined by Harold Ockenga in 1947, to identify a distinct movement within the broader evangelical fundamentalist Christianity of that day.

What has been termed a split within the fundamentalist movement, came about as they disagreed among themselves about how Bible-believing Christians ought to respond to an unbelieving world. The neo-evangelicals urged that fundamentalists must engage the culture directly and constructively ^1^, and they began to express embarrassment about being known to the world as fundamentalists. As Kenneth Kantzer put it in those days, the name fundamentalist had become “an embarrassment instead of a badge of honor. ^2^

The Fundamentalist opponents of these new evangelicals, on the other hand, saw themselves as more willing to publically confront Church apostasy and personal immorality than neo-evangelicals; and they believed this to have its proper and constructive place. In short, they saw the neo-evangelicals as often being too concerned about social acceptance and intellectual respectability, and being too accommodating to a perverse generation that needed correction. In addition, they saw the efforts of Billy Graham, who worked with more liberal mainline denominations (and especially with Roman Catholicism), as a mistake and they tended to support their own evangelists. [1]

Engagement without accommodation

Neo-evangelicals held the view that the modernist and liberal parties in the Protestant churches had surrendered their heritage as Evangelicals by accommodating the views and values of the world. At the same time they criticized their fellow Fundamentalists, for their separatism, and their rejection of the Social gospel as it had been developed by Protestant activists of the previous century. They charged the modernists with having lost their identity as Evangelicals, and attacked the Fundamentalists as having lost the Christ-like heart of Evangelicalism. They argued that the Gospel needed to be reasserted to distinguish it from the innovations of the liberals and the fundamentalists.

As part of this renewal of Evangelicalism, the new evangelicals sought to engage the modern world and the liberal Christians in a positive way, remaining separate from worldliness but not from the world — a middle way, between modernism and the separating variety of fundamentalism. They sought allies in denominational churches and liturgical traditions, disregarding views of eschatology and other "non-essentials", and joined also with trinitarian varieties of Pentecostalism. They believed that in doing so, they were simply re-acquainting Protestantism with its own recent tradition. The movement's aim at the outset was to reclaim the Evangelical heritage in their respective churches, not to begin something new; and for this reason, following their separation from Fundamentalists, the same movement has been better known as merely, "Evangelicalism". By the end of the 20th century, this was the most influential development in American Protestant Christianity.

These "evangelicals" used the fundamentalist label to describe the group that advocated separation and confrontation, as the proper response to an unbelieving culture. The self-identified fundamentalists also cooperated in separating their opponents from the fundamentalist name, by increasingly seeking to distinguish themselves from the more open group, whom they often characterized derogatorily, by Ockenga's term, Neo-evangelical.


The term neo-evangelicalism no longer has any reliable meaning except for historical purposes. It is still self-descriptive of the movement to which it used to apply, to distinguish the parties in the developing fundamentalist split prior to the 1950s.

The term is now used almost exclusively by conservative critics, to distinguish their idea of Evangelicalism from this movement. They claim that a loss of Biblical authority was evident early, which would later bear fruit in more and more accommodation: which they perceive to have happened wherever neoevangelicals deny, or too severely qualify their belief in, the doctrine of biblical inerrancy [2]. Some liberal writers, speaking critically, might refer to neo-evangelicalism or neo-fundamentalism, with comparably variable meanings.

The neo-evangelicals are largely credited with the relative, apparent success of the fundamentalist aim in the English-speaking world — now the name Evangelical has been captured for primary reference to those who at a minimum affirm the fundamental Christian beliefs — but, even so, the Fundamentalist name does not apply to the Evangelical movement because of the neo-evangelical division.

Notable Neo-evangelicals


  • Carpenter, Joel A., "Fundamentalist Institutions and the Rise of Evangelical Protestantism, 1929-1942," Church History 49 (1980) pp. 62-75.
  • Marsden, George M., Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, William B. Eerdmans, Grand Rapids, 1987.
  • Pierard, Richard V., "The Quest For the Historical Evangelicalism: A Bibliographical Excursus," Fides et Historia 11 (2) (1979) pp. 60-72.
  • Price, Robert M., "Neo-Evangelicals and Scripture: A Forgotten Period of Ferment," Christian Scholars Review 15 (4) (1986) pp. 315-330.


_This article is based on a verbatim copy of the whole or part, of a past version of the English-language Wikipedia article, Neo-evangelicalism, and may be subject to the copyright restrictions of GFDL, section 2 (Verbatim copies), and section 4 (Modifications)._


  1. Henry, Carl F.H., The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947) Originally published 1947; reprinted, Eerdmans, 2003 (Grand Rapids, MI), Paperback, p. 89.
  2. The Fundamentalist-Evangelical Split retrieved July 2005 17:23 (UTC)

See also