Harold Ockenga, American Evangelical Leader

Dan Graves, MSL

Harold Ockenga, American Evangelical Leader

On this day, July 6, 1905, Harold J. Ockenga was born into a world in which liberal scholarship was eroding traditional Christian beliefs. He was just five when Reuben A. Torrey and Amzi C. Dixon, evangelical educators based in Chicago, issued ten small volumes under the title The Fundamentals.

Financed by oil wealth, these volumes were distributed to 3 million Christian leaders. The ten booklets set forth essential doctrines which Christians must not abandon: the verbal inerrancy of the Bible; the virgin birth and Godhood of Christ; Christ as our substitute in the atonement; the physical resurrection of Christ; and his eventual return to earth in a body. Harold became a fundamentalist.

Ordained as a minister, Harold pastored prominent Presbyterian churches. A look at his life provides a snapshot of the evangelical movement. In 1942, when it seemed necessary to evangelicals to create an organization to counter the liberal American Council of Churches, Harold was a co-founder of the National Evangelical Association.

A few years later, he co-founded Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasedena, California and became its first president (a role he exercised from the east coast of the United States). The school was set up as a conservative alternative to East Coast seminaries which had backed away from the inspiration and accuracy of Scripture and which had adopted positions critical of key Christian doctrines.

When Harold recognized that fundamentalism was isolating itself from effective social action, he came out as a neo-evangelical. The term, so popular now, came into use after he advocated the position in a 1948 speech. As Harold saw it, evangelicals needed to be involved even with the enemies of the church rather than completely separated. They needed to engage social issues. And they needed to take part in the theological dialog of the day, even though this meant opening discussion with liberals.

Because of his active involvement in higher education and his board relationship with the evangelical magazine Christianity Today, Harold helped give intellectual credibility to the modern evangelical movement in America. Too often, evangelicals had been suspicious of higher learning.

In 1963, Harold passed the presidency of Fuller Theological Seminary over to David Hubbard. Six years later, he helped found another Christian school, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Once more, he served as president. Harold died in 1985.

Bibliography:

  1. "Filling the Blanks with Fuller." http://ockenga.cjb.net/
  2. Marsden, George. Reforming Fundamentalism. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1987.
  3. Shelley, Bruce L. Evangelicalism in America. Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans, 1967.
  4. Various internet articles.

Last updated July, 2007

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