Harold Ockenga and the New Evangelical Movement he Founded
The following is a review of the book The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga
, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism by Garth M. Rosell (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008).
Rosell is the son of Merv Rosell, an evangelist who associated with Ockenga
, Graham, and other leaders of the New Evangelical movement
OCKENGA WAS THE FOUNDER OF THE NEW EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT AND ENUNCIATED THAT MOVEMENT'S REJECTION OF SEPARATION
(1905-85) was possibly the most influential evangelical leader of the 20th century.
He was pastor of the prominent Park Street Church in Boston, founder of the National Association of Evangelicals, co-founder and first president of Fuller Theological Seminary, first president of the World Evangelical Fellowship, president of Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, a director of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, and chairman of the board and one-time editor of Christianity Today.
In the 1950s Ockenga
helped found the New Evangelical movement
that rejected separatism and aimed at a more positive and pragmatic philosophy as opposed to the negativism and isolation of fundamentalism.
Looking back on this epic speech thirty years later, Ockenga
Neo-evangelicals emphasized the restatement of Christian theology in accordance with the need of the times, the REENGAGEMENT IN THE THEOLOGICAL DEBATE, THE RECAPTURE OF DENOMINATIONAL LEADERSHIP, AND THE REEXAMINATION OF THEOLOGICAL PROBLEMS SUCH AS THE ANTIQUITY OF MAN, THE UNIVERSALITY OF THE FLOOD, GOD'S METHOD OF CREATION, AND OTHERS" (Ockenga, foreword to Harold Lindsell's book The Battle for the Bible).
represented the changing mood of the sons of the old fundamentalists.
They were tired of exposing error and separating from modernistic, compromised denominations and churches.
WAS A POWERFUL INFLUENCE ON BILLY GRAHAM
But while Billy Graham is the popular face of New Evangelicalism
, Harold Ockenga
was the brain behind the movement.
was founded by young men.
renounced separatism he
was in his
One reporter observed that the leaders of the Billy Graham crusade in Boston, in 1950 where Ockenga
had a central role, "were nearly all in their twenties and early thirties" (p. 138).
WAS A SEPARATIST DURING THE EARLY PART OF HIS
In 1929, Ockenga left Princeton Theological Seminary because of its theological modernism.
He followed J. Gresham Machen and other conservative Presbyterians out of Princeton and continued his studies at the newly established Westminster Theological Seminary.
In those days, Ockenga
"Princeton has changed and can never be the same, so they set forth to organize a new seminary which would be true to God's Word. ...
I left Princeton, an assured degree, an assured Fellowship which would send me to Europe, and all the material advantages and came here to Westminster Theological
It was a question of taking a definite stand for Christ and we have done it, but at great cost" (pp. 58, 59).
In the early days of his pastorate at Park Street Church in Boston beginning in 1936, Ockenga said that separation was necessary.
Preaching on the threatening letter that came to King Hezekiah in 2 Kings 19, Machen charged Ockenga
to take a stand for truth and not to fear controversy.
This was a true and mighty challenge, but Ockenga ultimately renounced it, and the evangelical world has become a traitor to the truth by its unwillingness to earnestly contend for the whole counsel of God and to separate from the enemies of the Word of God.
WAS A PROTESTANT
It is important to understand that the evangelical movement is fundamentally a Protestant movement.
This is why it has the universal view of the church and is careless about the mode of baptism and the Lord's Supper, usually allowing for infant baptism and sacramentalism.
ministry as a Methodist but he
easily changed over to Presbyterian.
In fact, he
said, "I will now have had the experience of ordination from a Methodist Bishop and from a Presbyterian Presbytery" (p. 64).
BOUGHT INTO THE ERROR THAT THERE ARE "UNESSENTIAL DOCTRINAL DIFFERENCES"
After arriving in Boston, Ockenga participated in the New England Fellowship and was influenced by its founder and president J. Elwin Wright, who sought for an evangelical ecumenism.
The New England Fellowship had a powerful influence on the formation of The National Association of Evangelicals in 1942, and Ockenga was a chief player.
He traveled across the country meeting with Christian leaders and encouraging them to support the new organization and its inclusive philosophy, and he became its first president.
From the beginning, Ockenga
supported the inclusion of Pentecostals in spite of their heresies pertaining to Spirit baptism, filling, and gifts, among others.
The philosophy of "secondary" doctrine has become the working philosophy of modern-day evangelicalism, but it is a damnable thing that has caused great spiritual destruction.
HELD TO MANY GOOD THINGS BUT HE
DID NOT SEE THAT IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO MAINTAIN THE TRUTH IF ONE'S ASSOCIATIONS
The Bible warns, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33), but Harold Ockenga
did not take this to heart and instead renounced separatism and called for the infiltration of modernistic denominations and institutions, and this oversight and disobedience has resulted in the ruin of evangelicalism.
was "open to cooperation whenever it could be done without theological compromise" (p. 158), but it is impossible to cooperate with error without theological compromise.
Consider just a few specific examples of doctrines that Ockenga
believed that were given up by his
sons and daughters in the New Evangelical movement
believed in the infallible inspiration of the Bible and called this "the watershed of modern theological controversy" (The Surprising Work of God, p. 82).
called on evangelicals to associate with those who deny the Bible's infallibility, and as a result the movement has become riddled with unbelief.
Consider, secondly, that Ockenga
believed in the necessity of the new birth and called for clear evidence of conversion (p. 83).
condemned the practice of separating from those who don't believe this and who accept mere infant baptism and church membership as salvation.
As a result, evangelicalism is riddled with pastors and church members that don't have a biblical testimony of salvation.
also believed in total abstinence and promoted a "five point program to end the production, distribution, and use of alcohol" (p. 172).
urged people to "talk with the children in the church and the home and warn them of the evils of drink" and challenged them to "write in your Bible, 'I will abstain from all alcoholic beverages'" (p. 172).
taught evangelicals to become more "culturally relative" and to associate with liberals who drink, and it is not surprising that his
grandchildren in the faith, the emerging church
, love to drink. (See "Emerging Church
Loves to Drink" at the Way of Life web site.)
believed that "only the atoning work of Christ on the cross was sufficient to forgive sins, tame the rebellious heart, and bring genuine peace with God" and that "consequently, the fundamental solution to human sinfulness and the starting point for all genuine social reform is the transforming power of the gospel" (p. 173).
But because of the evil communications that have resulted from the disavowal of biblical separation, Ockenga's grandchildren believe that the pursuit of social-justice issues apart from gospel preaching is perfectly legitimate. (See our book "The Emerging Church
" for extensive documentation.)
There are many other things that Harold Ockenga
and the other founders of New Evangelicalism
believed that their children and grandchildren have either questioned or soundly rejected.
This is very sad, but does not the Bible warn, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Corinthians 15:33).
renounced separatism and compromised the position he
had formerly held, he
was warned and exhorted by his
"I I feel like weeping and lamenting and mourning over you. ... some of the things you are doing only cause me grief and heaviness of heart. [It] grieves me Harold
to see you giving way here a little and there a little to policies that will be the ruination of our country. [