Volume III - Church History

Twentieth Century

Protestant Neo-Evangelicalism

In the 1940s, a new generation of young preachers and scholars from within conservative, fundamentalist Protestantism began calling for “a new Fundamentalism” that would reject Fundamentalism’s historic anti-intellectualism, divisiveness, lack of social conscience, and uncritical alliance with political conservatism. Major developments in this rise of Neo-Evangelicalism were the establishment in 1942 of the National Association of Evangelicals; the publication of Carl F. H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism (1947); the founding in 1947 of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California; the founding of Campus Crusade for Christ by Bill Bright (1921–2003) in 1951; the launching in 1955 of the periodical Christianity Today; and the rising popularity of a dynamic young traveling evangelist named Billy Graham (b. 1918).

Neo-Evangelicalism continued strongly in this period, while the increasingly liberal “mainline” Protestant denominations were losing members in greater and greater numbers. Besides Billy Graham, Rex Humbard (1919–2007) and J. Vernon McGee (1904–1988) were leading evangelical preachers, while the traveling evangelists Oral Roberts (1918–2009) and Jimmy Swaggart (b. 1935) preached the Pentecostal message to broader and broader audiences. In general, the evangelicalism of the latter half of the twentieth century and into the 21st century included much more emphasis on involvement in social action work.

The early years of the 21st century saw continuing development of the megachurch movement—the rise of numerous, mostly evangelical and Pentecostal churches each with a stated membership of over 2000—though by 2013 this movement seemed to be tapering off. The mainline denominations continued to decline in membership.