Sunday, July 31, 2005

Evangelicalism (in brief)

James Crossley at Earliest Christian History asks: "what is an evangelical?" and “what is an evangelical biblical scholar?”. These, I'm sad to say, are questions that even evangelicals disagree over (sigh)! I read from Michael Pahl at Stuff of the Earth that bloggers have blogged this unto death. But I thought I would add my own two cents.

The term “evangelical” means different things to different people. For some, evangelical is a synonym for fundamentalist and is used pejoratively. I can easily imagine Janet Reno or Howard Dean calling someone a “son of an evangelical” as a term of abuse. In Germany Evangelische means not-Catholic. I think the term Evangelica [sic] might be German for Fundamentalist. [Somone correct my German please!]. In the US, the designation "evangelical" takes on quasi-political/social connotations and, for better or worse, associations with the Republican party. In the UK, evangelical could designate low church associations within Anglicanism.

As I see it, what is now evangelicalism is a network of Christians who follow something similar to Bebbington's quadrilateral.

- Conversionism—a belief that lives need to be changed (or a stress on the New Birth);
- Activism—the expression of the Gospel in deed (or an energetic, individualistic approach to religious duties and social involvement);
- Biblicism—a particular regard for the Bible (or a reliance on the Bible as ultimate authority);
- Crucicentrism—an emphasis on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (or a focus on Christ's redeeming work as the heart of essential Christianity).

In terms of historical origins - there is the Reformation heritage; influences of revivalism and pietism from the 18th-19th centuries; holding to the basics of the faith with early 20th century fundamentalism; but evangelicalism emerged as movement separate from fundamentalism in the 1950s as several intellectuals and Church leaders (e.g. J.I. Packer, Carl F. Henry; Daniel Fuller; Billy Graham etc) were dissatisfied with the isolationist tendencies and doctrinal rigidity of fundamentalism and instead wanted to engage the wider cultural world of the day.

I think evangelicalism should de defined theologically (as opposed to something like a renewal movement according to the late and great Stanley Grenz). What I regard as the sine qua non of evangelicalism is how one articulates the evangel; not necessarily some particular view of biblical authority, eschatology or soteriology.

On being an evangelical biblical scholar (of which I brazely identify myself as) I see five distinctives:

1.Evangelical Scholarship is done for the purpose of education, enriching and edifying the Christian Church.
2.Evangelical Scholars are mediators between the Church and the Academy and explain complex intellectual currents to lay people in language that lay people can understand.
3.Evangelical Scholars make genuine contributions to further the collective knowledge of their field.
4.Evangelical Scholars endeavour to help Christians develope a faith-seeking-understanding.
5.Evangelical Scholars aim to intellectually equip Christian leaders to carry out their missional vocation in the context of the 21st century.

Why I am I an evangelical, well, I believe in and have experienced the saving and transforming power of the evangel.

1 comment:

TheBlueRaja said...

Here here, Michael.