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Early Networks

“Since I first coined the phrase ‘The New Evangelicalism’ at a convocation address at Fuller Theological Seminary ten years ago, the evangelical forces have been welded into an organizational front. First, there is the National Association of Evangelicals which provides articulation for the movement on the denominational level; second, there is the World Evangelical Fellowship which binds together these individual national associations of some twenty-six countries into a world organization; third, there is the new apologetic literature stating this point of view which is now flowing from the presses of the great publishers, including Macmillan and Harpers; fourth, there is the existence of Fuller Theological Seminary and other evangelical seminaries which are fully committed to orthodox Christianity and a resultant social philosophy; fifth, there is the establishment of Christianity Today, a bi-weekly publication, to articulate the convictions of this movement; sixth, there is the appearance of an evangelist, Billy Graham, who on the mass level is the spokesman of the convictions and ideal of the New Evangelicalism.

“New Evangelicalism has changed its strategy from one of separation to one of infiltration.”
–Dr. H.J. Ockenga, press release, 1957* [bold added]

“Neo-evangelicals emphasized the restatement of Christian theology in accordance with the need of the time, 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.”
–Dr. H.J. Ockenga, Foreword, Battle for the Bible by Harold Lindsell (1976)

Neoevangelicalism was set up as a movement from its very inception, as described above by its spokesperson and leader, Dr. Harold John Ockenga. Neoevangelical methodology would be most unorthodox – infiltration. Infiltration was particularly a useful tool to worm new theologies into existing denominations, seminaries, publishers and mission organizations. The strategy of infiltration would prove to be completely compatible with the clandestine mechanism of networking. And for the pragmatic neoevangelicals, the ends would always justify deceptive “infiltration” means.

The neoevangelical movement was launched by a cadre of men committed to a common purpose — to repudiate, mock, distort, caricature and destroy biblical fundamentalism. At the core of this “good old boy” network was, surprisingly, a woman. Historians credit Henrietta Mears as being the key individual who discipled a group of young men who would go on to serve as neoevangelical leaders in Dr. Ockenga’s movement.

Mears is credited as “mother” of the modern Sunday School movement. It was Mears who reformed Sunday School along the lines of education socialist John Dewey’s model. Henrietta Mears served as the Director of Christian Education at Hollywood First Presbyterian Church and founded Gospel Light Publishing.

Mears was surrounded by an inner core of men who jumpstarted the neoevangelical “Awakening.” This powerhouse group included Drs. Armin Gesswein and J. Edwin Orr, who worked tirelessly to create a new ecumenism. Dr. H.J. Ockenga, who is credited with starting the neoevangelical movement in 1942, worked alongside Mears, as did Charles Fuller, well-known for his radio program “The Old Fashioned Revival Hour.” The goal of these men was to create a new youth movement that recaptured the passion of the original Student Volunteer Movement of the 1800s.

These men would, in turn, assist Henrietta Mears in her discipling of the rising stars in the neoevangelical world. Al Dager provides a concise history of her influence in his book The World Christian Movement (Sword, 2002), and her goal was a global mission:

“Henrietta Mears was completely sold out to what she called ‘the Cause of Christ.’ By ‘the Cause of Christ,’ she meant winning the world to Christ—establishing Christianity as the guiding force in society through evangelization of the world. (p. 16)

The group of young men discipled by Henrietta Mears went on to form organizations and promote ideas that replicated her theology. These included Bill Bright (Campus Crusade), Billy Graham, Richard Halverson (chaplain of the U.S. Senate), James Rayburn (Young Life), Ralph Winter, and many others. Mission Frontiers described the impact of these encounters with Mears:

“Together, these leaders have helped set the pace for world evangelization over the last 40 years. They are the ones who have formed new mission agencies, launched publishing houses, organized evangelistic crusades, and convened international conferences.”

Oddly, Mears practiced a form of “impartation” on these young men, which is a Latter Rain cult practice of passing on an “anointing” or “mantle” from one man to another. Al Dager describes the history of Billy Graham’s impartation:

“. . . Mears established the Fellowship of the Burning Heart, wherein she encouraged her students to be willing to die for ‘the Cause of Christ.’ She laid her hands on them to receive her mantle. Thus they received within themselves a ‘burning heart.’” (p. 16)

“D.R. Riley, Henrietta Mears’s pastor in Minneapolis, and later President of Northwestern Schools, envisioned that his mantle was to be passed on to Billy Graham just as Elijah’s passed to Elisha. Graham at first balked at accepting Riley’s impartation. Near death, Riley called for Graham. There Graham accepted his mantle.

“Thus, Graham was named acting President of Northwestern Schools. At the same time, he was teaching at Forest Home Christian Conference Center. There, one evening, J. Edwin Orr met with Graham and was persuaded that Graham had, indeed, received Riley’s mantle. Orr then laid hands on Graham to receive his mantle. Thus, Graham became an accepted, anointed evangelist along with Bill Bright and Richard Halverson, all members of the Fellowship of the Burning Heart.

“While Bright was able to start with a ready-made network of college campus meetings, Graham went into every major city under the auspices of Armin Gesswein’s prayer meetings. Almost from the beginning, Graham would not accept any invitation to preach where ecumenical representation—including Roman Catholic clergy—was not present. That is still his policy today.” (p. 20)

Historian Richard Riss, in his 1987 book Latter Rain (Kingdom Flagship Foundation), chronicles the activities of the older men in shepherding the young generation towards the goals of neoevangelicalism. J. Edwin Orr helped Billy Graham to see that his “view of the Scriptures was narrow and that if he remained circumscribed in his view of the Scriptures his ministry would be curtailed as a result.” (p. 29)

“. . .[A]s a result of Graham’s association with Harold Ockenga, Graham moderated his sensationalism, expressed distaste for interdenominational feuds, and deplored the intolerance and sectarianism displayed by some fundamentalists which had a tendency to destroy their own effectiveness. He expressed a willingness on his part to ‘fellowship with all born-again believers,’ and announced that he would refuse any invitation to conduct a revival that was not tendered by a majority of the Protestant clergy of the host city.” (p. 45)

From the beginning, Billy Graham was a packaged and stage-managed “evangelist extraordinaire” who “more than any other single force, was responsible for preparing the groundwork for the acceptance of neoevangelicaldom,” according to Jeremy Rifkin in The Emerging Order (G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1979, p. 166-7). Armin Gesswein and J. Edwin Orr orchestrated Billy Graham’s revivals that brought him national recognition (p. 32). And after Billy Graham had a “vision” that accompanied his repudiation of biblical separation, “he frequently phoned or visited Henrietta Mears, seeking her counsel and praying with her.” (p. 30) To underscore his commitment to neoevangelicalism, Graham resorted to casting aspersions on fundamentalism. William E. Ashbrook, in his 1963 book The New Neutralism records several notable instances:

  • “According to Christian Life magazine for March 1956, when Graham was asked to define the fundamentalist label he had been plastered with, Billy objected: ‘I don’t call myself a fundamentalist,’ he said. He declared there was an aura of bigotry and narrowness associated with the term — which he certainly hoped was not true of himself.” (p. 16)
  • “As reported in the Buffalo Evening News: ‘He [Graham] warned that the NAE stands at the crossroads and “could slip into an extreme ultra-fundamentalism that God has long since bypassed and proved that His hand is not on it . . . .”‘” (p. 26)

Richard Riss records that these Forest Home College Briefings done by Mears et al were the result of a simultaneous vision experienced by four young men (Bill Bright, Richard Halverson, Louis Evans and John Franck) and Henrietta Mears on the night of June 24, 1947, in which “fire fell” from heaven (p. 25) and they “received a vision to have a conference for college students from throughout the nation.”

“The word ‘briefing’ was added to the title of the conference; just as soldiers during World War II had been briefed before their missions, so the College Briefing Conference was to prepare men and women to go out commissioned and trained to win the world for Christ.” (p. 26)

The effect this had on Bill Bright was profound:

“During the 1947 revival at Forest Home, Bill Bright gave up a secular business and decided to prepare for campus work. After completing seminary at Princeton and Fuller, he continued his student-directed missionary efforts, living with his wife at the home of Henrietta Mears and using her home as a center for the emerging crusade, which later became Campus Crusade for Christ.” (p. 28) [Ed. note: Bright never actually completed seminary.]

Al Dager reports that Bill and Vonette Bright lived with Henrietta Mears eleven years (p. 18). He also cites the impact Henrietta Mears had in the life of Jim Rayburn, who founded Young Life (p. 18). Many other neoevangelical leaders got their ministries or careers start at this time in a similar way.

Several interesting features of the early neoevangelicalism movement included a focus on ecumenical ministerial groups and prayer movements. In fact, a “network of pastors’ prayer meetings sprang up across North America” (Riss, p. 32). J. Edwin Orr put an emphasis on signs and wonders as part of this “Awakening,” and even noted that “the Holy Spirit was forming a cloud of blessing over the [Seattle] area” (Riss, p. 32). Chosen young men were groomed by the “anointings of acceptable evangelists” (Riss, p. 33).

Various historians credit William Randolph Hearst for the meteoric rise of Bill Graham. Henderson Belk, the Rockefeller brothers through their various funds, and the Pew family, among others, contributed significant amounts of money on pivotal occasions to give credibility and a firm foundation to this rapidly burgeoning network.


Fuller Theological Seminary was a network hub for these young leaders who went on to become influential in evangelicalism and the world mission movement. Fuller modeled itself after secular institutions of higher learning by purposefully concentrating on training a generation of academic leaders who could then practice intellectual infiltration, diffusing the new doctrines of neoevangelicalism throughout other evangelical colleges and seminaries, publishing houses and mission agencies.

Fuller’s School of Theology spawned new doctrines. Fuller’s School of Psychology worked to integrate psychology with theology, eventually incorporating aspects of New Age mysticism. Fuller School of World Missions, founded in 1965 by Donald McGavran, was heavily influenced by Ralph Winter, who set up his interlocking U.S. Center for World Mission.

The extensive networking of these original, second and third-generation men is mind-boggling. There were cross-connected organizations that continually birthed new groups, and interlocking boards of directorates at every juncture in this movement. Historian Nancy Flint chronicled a significant group of networking Fuller leaders who impacted neoevangelicalism with their new doctrines, books, organizations and agendas. Here are just a few examples:

Donald McGavran
DAWN, Spontaneous People Movements, group decision-making, Bridges of God (1955)

Ralph Winter
“Secret Mission of the Church,” Abrahamic Covenant, SIIS (Perspectives), American Society of Missiology, Theological Education by Extension

C. Peter Wagner
Methodologies/strategies of mission, strategic warfare network, New Apostolic Reformation, School of the Prophets, mentor to Rick Warren

John Wimber
Restoration implementor, Vineyard churches, “Signs, Wonders and Church Growth” class with Wagner

Charles Kraft
Paradigm shift to eastern worldview, encounters

Richard Foster
Renovare, contemplative, Celebration of Discipline

G. Eldon Ladd
Theology for dominionism The Gospel Of The Kingdom (1959)

Don Richardson
Eternity in Their Hearts, contextualized Gospel, redemptive analogies

Robert Grant
Christian Voice, American Freedom Coalition, voter scorecards

Jay Grimstead
Coalition on Revival, Christian Worldview, dominionism

Arthur Glasser
Diffusion of Innovations, progression of interaction, World Council of Churches

Robert Coleman
The Coming Revival

Bill Bright
Campus Crusade for Christ, Jesus Film Project, evangelist, ecumenical movement,

Billy Graham
Evangelist, BEA, Fuller Board of Directors, The Lausanne Movement

David DuPlessis
“Mr. Pentecostal,” Catholic Renewal Movement

David (Paul) Yonggi Cho
Church Growth Movement, cell church model, Incubate the Kingdom

Roberta Hestenes*
Spiritual Formation, World Vision

Jay Gary*

BEGIN, Perspectives, AD2000, Celebration 2000, Lausanne, Jesus March

William E. Ashbrook, in his historical account of the heretical activities of these leaders, observed the following about Fuller Theological Seminary:

“Fuller Seminary is a stronghold of New Neutralism. Back in 1953 an editorial in The Evangelical Beacon, voice of The Evangelical Free Church of America, said: ‘Leading the way toward a new emphasis in evangelical thinking, the Fuller Theological Seminary declares itself in favor of a new evangelicalism, by which it means a merger of the fundamentalist’s affirmation of the super-naturalness of Christianity and the social passion that has characterized the liberal wing of the Church . . . We believe other evangelical schools will follow the example of Fuller Theological Seminary, and that the new emphasis will make possible a greater impact of the gospel upon our country and the world – just so there is no compromise on the great essentials of the Christian faith.’ Tragically, however, such a course always results in compromising the faith, . . . . As predicted, other Seminaries have followed Fuller into the New Evangelical fold . . . .” (The New Neutralism, p. 52)

John E. Ashbrook, in his sequel to his father’s book, entitled New Neturalism II: Exposing the Gray of Compromise (Here I Stand Books, 1992), continued the historical chronology of the activities of these early men who were given impartations by Henrietta Mears. The quotes at the top of today’s post were found in his book, and much of the documentation is expanded upon. Ashbrook concluded by noting that “Fuller has moved from a scholarly seminary to a zoo displaying all the theological species.” (p. 94)

The Truth:

“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.” (1 John 2:15)

[*Not on the original list but added because of their far-reaching significance.]