How new are the “new evangelicals”?

Evangelicals are deserting the right because they are deserting liberalism. And they are doing this because they are deserting, or at least redefining, evangelicalism as traditionally understood. This is witnessed by the modification or sometimes abandonment of the central defining feature of traditional evangelical doctrine, namely, the penal substitutionary theory of atonement. Historians such as Boyd Hilton have shown how this thoroughly economistic and contractualist account of Christ’s death have often aligned in modernity with an embrace of capitalist market economics. Equally, evangelicals have been influenced by the charismatic movement, which has accentuated a stress on the emotive and the communal. Again their scripturalism is leading them into a “post-protestant” questioning of the Reformation reading of the Bible and an increasing worry that the Reformation may itself be responsible for the secularization process. Finally, the making of common cause with Catholics over abortion and other issues has led to a steep decline in traditional anti-popery. Both the new opening to Rome and the charismatic influence involve a heightened sense that being a Christian involves being a member of the body of Christ or the Church: this is after all writ clear by St. Paul.

John Milbanks, The Immanent Frame.

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