A big part of the explanation by the EC was that they had had an advantage in an emphasis on the internals and grace. Their Christianity wouldn't obsess on externals and so they would have better Christians, even if they didn't look like mom and dad's Christianity. Their people would not be burdened by the standards and rules of their forefathers, and so they would be more authentic. Part of the paradigm was the pastor dressing down with the casual shirt and facial hair that would signal the new graciousness. Out went the stodgy organ for the drums and the guitar. Goodbye to the song leader and hello to the worship team. The auditorium was not the sanctuary any longer, but the "center." The church buildings were now the campus. New terms replaced the old terms in order to signal the change.
Since the seventies, the EC does not remain monolythic. You've got different varieties of this same motif. Now you'll see the rock band EC with the trap set right in the middle of their "stage." You have the short sermon (30 min) with plenty of comedic material, with monthly series pulling from the Beatles and U2. The pastor, like, relates. Some EC like to spice up their hard-core reformed doctrine with some gutter langugae. In certain cases, a more conservative EC has shucked most of the cultural distinctions that Christianity held, but they major on expositional sermons that are, however, short on the precise applications that "step on any toes." "Stepping on toes" is a no-no at an EC. There are those who haven't changed the name from the denominational one, but they have most of the other trappings of the EC. Some have moved in some eclectic music into their main services, majoring on traditional hymns, but their youth and singles departments have picked up on the "Christian" rock, rap, and jazz. Perhaps concerned about the perception of worldliness, they hide their fads and pragmatism in the teen and twenty-something groups.
The new trend is "the gospel." You may say, "But wait a minute, that's good right?" It sounds good to say that you are gospel-centered. If you look at this a little deeper, however, you find that the gospel becomes an excuse for the acceptance of worldliness. They don't want anything to get in the way of their exposure of grace. Grace, grace, grace, and more grace. And then "unity." The gospel unifies those with differences on the "non-essentials." You sprinkle infants? That's OK as long as you believe "the gospel." We'll get together. You speak in tongues? Not going to be a problem because of your "gospel-centeredness."
Part of the point with the new emphasis on the gospel is a reaction to standards that churches once held and practiced. They "didn't smoke or chew or run around with those that do," so, of course, they were just painting on their Christianity. It was mostly a fraud and the EC can give documentation for this. And evangelicals still do on their myriad blog sites, showing how that the churches that said no to movies, no to alcohol consumption, no to immodest dress, or no to pants on women, that these were all just a replacement for authentic Christianity. Oh, and they were a big joke too. Ha, ha, ha. They just didn't get it! What a bunch of loons!
Do you see the obsession of EC with externals? It's not that they aren't emphasizing externals. They've just lowered their standards. Having lower standards doesn't make someone a better Christian. Being more like the world in the way that you sound, the way you look, the way you talk, and the way you act---which EC definitely are since they made this break---doesn't mean that you are more internal or more gracious. There is a point that right wing externals can be painted. Christians can fake it. They can find out what the correct codes are and fit into them. But the left wing externals can do the same. The difference, as I see it, is that the left wing is easier than the right. You can fit more easily into the world by dropping or lowering considerably the standards.
The Pharisees weren't just about adding to Scripture. They also were into extreme reductionism, that is, limiting the teachings of God to the few essentials. They would relegate the law to the greatest of the commandments. Both ways still can concentrate on the externals to the exclusion of the internals, the real you on the inside.
Lowering the standards hasn't made EC more spiritual. It hasn't made them more authentic. All it has done is made their churches more worldly. The flesh loves the lower standards. They're easier. They are more genuine in a sense. Yes. The people love the world and so they don't have to fake that any more. But they also think they are more spiritual because they aren't faking it? Come on. Just because someone can put on his hip-hop gear for church doesn't mean that he loves the Lord more. That's the lie of modern EC. It's a heinous lie that uses the gospel to excuse worldliness.
So today we see church leaders touting movies and rock music. They don't prevent mixed swimming, women and men frollicking in the water, barely dressed. They don't stop anyone from drinking alcohol, because it's not just OK in moderation, but "a great blessing." And all of it is explained by "the gospel." This is what "the gospel" has done for them. And they don't judge each other in these matters, because they believe in "unity."
I know of a situation right now of fairly conservative EC. Under the leadership of their pastor, they changed the name of their church to the popular generic title. This was key. He tore off the tie for the polo shirt. He grew the facial hair. This EC brought in the drums and the guitars. In other words, the church took on the typical externals of the EC. They showed how important externals were to them, how pivotal they were.
The pastor of this EC got his hip worship leader. They were friends. They were close. They saw each other close up. This same younger man also took the leadership of the youth. All of this was, of course, so authentic and so genuine. And oh so internal. But all the young youth and music man did was fit into the new lower standards. It was easier. It was more fun. And he and his wife became the white wine experts and consumers of the movies. The grace and liberty were exhilarating. They were married with several children, close to the pastor, and he was having extra-marital relations with multiple other women. And this was all during this authentic time of genuineness at the very internal EC. Now this thirty something man and his wife are getting divorced.
These EC have taken up all these external features that show how much liberty they have an how in love with the gospel they are, even though their lives may not look like the gospel. I'm going to start calling them ECx, extreme evangelical churches. They require the lower standards. Anyone with higher standards is fake and can't be too spiritual, must be moralistic. They are ECx. Extreme. If you don't fit into their understanding of grace, which really is grace as an occasion for the flesh, which really is turning the grace of God into lasciviousness, then you aren't "gospel-centered." But none of that is really true. It's the myth of the ECx grace and internalism.