The Big TentBilly Graham was a very well known evangelist from the 20th century, who became famous not just by the contents of his preaches but also because of his close relationship with notorious politicians and famous leaders of those times, that helped him become the symbol of the evangelism by â€œbranding the evangelicalism as the mainstream American faithâ€ (The Big Tent 31). Grahamâ€™s religious beliefs went from the fundamentalism in which he was raised , to a open and liberal conception of faith, ending up in what was called the New Evangelical approach to religion, a more moderate and tolerant way ofinterpreting Godâ€™s message.
As he defined himself, he was â€œa theological conservative but a social liberalâ€ (The Big Tent 28). Just like Graham, throughout the twentieth century the religious beliefs of the people went from one extreme to the other going through a more moderate expression of those beliefs, accompanying the social and political events that were taking place at the same time.By the year 1900, the general religious belief was based on certain principles which were deemed to be the basis of the true faith: the Bible is the only truth, the divinity of Virgin born Jesus Christ, Christâ€™s bodily resurrection and the existence of biblical miracles. At that same time, Darwinâ€™s theory of evolution initiated a different approach to religion that made more emphasis on Christâ€™s humanity and challenged the divine quality of creation.
Although by 1918 there were other religious tendencies (like Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians) that differed between them, they all had a sharedorthodoxy, Darwinâ€™s theory changed this scenario by giving ground to a new expression of the religious beliefs: the modernism, that would foster the concept that God can be seen in the evolution of man on earth. As a result,some Presbyterians and Baptists started practices based on the new liberal approach to the Christian orthodoxy, while their opponents (now called the fundamentalists) would state that liberal theology was a false religion that could not exist in parallel with what they called true faith (as theologian J. Gresham Machen sustained).
Soon, these arguments resulted in the modernist controversy surpassing the success of the Christian missions and by 1940, the fundamentalism was not as popular as it used to be. Fundamentalists started to split even within their own group giving origin to what was called the separatists, which were the more radical believers. As a result of those splits, a new movement by orthodox believers that were in disagreement with the separatists emerged, lead by pastor Harold Ockenga and called the Protestant conservatives . This was the first stage of what later on would be the New Evangelicalism. At this point Billy Graham had developed his fundamentalist beliefs into a more open minded approach which was closer to the modernism.
At this same time the second World War was taking place, nuclear weapons were used and there was massive destruction. During the duration of the war, Graham discovered that religion beliefs had to be simple and tolerant, therefore he questioned both the fundamentalists and the modernists for being too extreme in their predicaments, thus adopting the moderate approach of the New Evangelicalists.. By the end of the war in 1945, people were disbelieving in everything and there was a need for renewed spirituality.
The New Evangelicalism used B. Graham as the preacher of choice to spread their concept that salvation would come by means of the faith only, and he succeeded in converting believers that were in disagreement with the polarization.