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Why Evangelicalism is Still the Best Option

Evangelicalism is not perfect. No informed person should make such a claim. Evangelicalism has its problems—big ones. This is nothing new. But I believe the strengths of Evangelicalism outweigh the weaknesses and present a better option than any other tradition. Otherwise, we would not be Evangelical!

While I often write about the weaknesses of Evangelicalism, sometimes complaining about our shames and blind spots, I want to do something different here. I am going to give a short list of what I believe to be the major strengths of Evangelicalism and why I believe Evangelicalism is still the best option:

1. Evangelicalism can celebrate diversityin necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. This is the dictum of Rupertus Meldenius (often mistakenly attributed to Augustine) which presents Evangelicalism’s celebration of unity and diversity. It means, “in essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity.” Evangelicals, I believe, like no other Christian tradition, can appreciate and celebrate diversity while at the same time adhering to a unifying center. Whether it be in worship style or liturgy, house churches or mega churches, Evangelicals recognize that all people are not alike and that there is room for subjective preferences. Evangelicalism, as a movement, cannot prescribe or proscribe the way people should be in areas that are based in non-essential personal preferences. We can recognize that God has created people differently—and this was intentional. If people have a personality that does not respond well to one style of worship, they are free to celebrate their diversity without feeling the obligation of adapting their style to some traditional norm.

As well, when it comes to non-cardinal issues of the Christian faith such as mode of baptism, belief about end times, views of creation, or even one’s view of predestination, Evangelicalism is not dogmatic. This does not mean that Evangelicals, such as me, do not or cannot have strong convictions in these areas: it just means that we recognize their relative importance in comparison to cardinal beliefs such as the person and work of Christ. Therefore, to be Evangelical is to be able to allow for and even, in many cases, celebrate diversity.

2. Evangelicalism promotes true conviction: Evangelicalism, representative of historic Protestantism, is built upon a distrust of one man’s or one institution’s ability to infallibly be dogmatic regarding truth to the exclusion of one’s personal convictions. In other words, Evangelicals hold to the position that belief cannot be outsourced to any human authority or tradition. Evangelicals believe that truth must be “adduced” by the individual before it can be truly believed. It is not that Evangelicals don’t recognize or respect authorities other than themselves, but that they understand that belief is ultimately an internal act of an individual’s will which requires true personal conviction. Evangelicals recognize the risk of “putting a Bible in everyone’s hands.” We recognize that in doing so we are allowing for the possibility of error and heresy. But we also recognize that the possibility of true conviction necessitates the possibility of error. In this, it is worth the risk. The personal conviction, however, should be fueled and fed from trusted outside sources, but, in the end, those outside sources cannot make the decisions for us. Therefore, in my opinion, Evangelicalism allows for true conviction more than any other Christian tradition.

3. Evangelical allowance of true scholarship: Closely connected to the second is the allowance of true scholarship. (Here is where I am really going to get into trouble.) Evangelicals are not under a necessary mandate to conform to a particular traditional system. The scholarship produced in biblical studies and theology is not an exercise in confirming an established tradition of dogma. If one were simply to enter scholarship to prove what a tradition mandates they prove, scholarship would become an exercise in confirming prejudice. This is not true scholarship.

Evangelicals are free to question, search, deny, confirm, doubt, and change to an extent that dogmatic traditions are not. Again, this is risky, but, in the end, it does not mandate a certain conclusion and can evaluate the evidence more objectively. In other words, Evangelicals don’t have to be lawyers defending a client of tradition, but they are instead investigators of truth. They can be critical scholars. Whether or not we always practice this is a different matter. But the issue is one of allowance. Evangelicals can be critical scholars who are willing to let the evidence take them wherever it leads, not simply to a predetermined destination. Therefore, I believe Evangelicals can practice true scholarship to a degree that other traditions cannot.

4. Evangelicalism is still evangelical. What I mean is that Evangelicalism is still committed to the spread of the Gospel more than any other Christian tradition. Evangelicals, with all their faults, do consistently present the need to have a personal conversion to Christ. I think that Evangelicalism still recognizes the problem and solution better than others. We are sinners who are in need of rescue. The cross is the apex of history, and we must personally have a conversion experience by trusting in Christ as our Lord and Savior. The focus is not the church, liturgy, or traditions.

I think that these reasons provide the basis for why I believe Evangelicalism will always remain strong even in the midst of our weaknesses. Also, please understand that it is the “spirit” of Evangelicalism about which I am speaking, not the nomenclature. In other words, even if the designation “Evangelical” were to go out of vogue (which could be the case), the spirit of Evangelicalism will always remain.

Please understand, too, that I respect other Christian traditions. I love the faith and stance of all those who, traditionally or not, are Christocentric, believing Christ—the God-man—is the center of all things. But, I would hope that everyone might understand that I am Evangelical for a reason. I simply believe that it offers strengths that are stronger than the strengths of other traditions. I also believe that its weaknesses are not as weak as the weaknesses of other traditions.

It is because of this I believe Evangelicalism is still the best option.

120 Responses to “Why Evangelicalism is Still the Best Option”

  1. Where is a good working definition of “Evangelicalism”? Thanks.

  2. If you type “define:evangelical” into google search you get several options

    1)evangelical (relating to or being a Christian church believing in personal conversion and the inerrancy of the Bible especially the 4 Gospels) “evangelical Christianity”; “an ultraconservative evangelical message”

    2)Evangelicalism is a Protestant Christian movement which began in Great Britain in the 1730s.[1] Most adherents consider its key characteristics to be: a belief in the need for personal conversion (or being “born again”); some expression of the gospel in effort; a high regard for biblical authority; and an emphasis on the death and resurrection of Jesus.

    3)Evangelicals are an indie rock band from Norman, Oklahoma. Currently there are four members of the group: Josh Jones (lead vocals, guitar), Kyle Davis (bass guitar, keyboards), Austin Stephens (drums) and Todd Jackson (guitar). Their music is renowned for its energy and unabashed enthusiasm. (My money is on this one due to the suspicious, coincidental local)

    4) or I have been told an Evangelical is just an unkempt Fundamentalist. :)

  3. Good one, Cadis.

    I’d say #2 probably describes the Evangelicals I know best, although I certainly can’t deny have met a few #4’s as well!

  4. I have to disagree that it is the best option. I’ve come to realise it’s still just one colour in a much broader rainbow and the Catholics, Orthodox etc. are also just narrow versions of a much bigger picture, story and experience.

    The best option, is the one which has no name, because it’s not an organisation (like the rest) it’s just people getting on with following Jesus, discovering God, loving humanity and creation and acknowledging that, more often than not, we just don’t know.

    The Evangelical places a premium on right beliefs which is theoretically and in practice extremely devisive, it’s often not introspective before it criticises other groups, it’s legalistically unlegalistic, often arrogant, and it would seem, increasingly ineffective at carrying on Jesus mission.

    If we could re-discover what the Euangelion was perhaps we would deserve the title…

  5. Evangelicalism, as we know it today, and evangelicalism as held by its forefathers are so far from each other, it’s like looking at two different species. In days gone by, we were consumed with a passion for God, His Gospel and His people. Now? We are more concerned with taking care of a world which hates our Saviour and His Gospel.

    Doctrinal thought is actively discouraged as being “out of touch” and “divisive”. As to the count of being “out of touch”, like that really matters for anything? As for being divisive, yes – false and salacious doctrine is indeed divisive (Romans 16:17), but what of sound doctrine? Doctrine is highly important, otherwise we can all create some image of God and slap the title “Almighty” on it. I find those who disparage doctrine rather confusing, in light of the NT emphasis on it. Personally, I trust the Scriptures we possess more than anyone who merely obsessed with here and now.

    We’ve turned the Gospel from a message about man’s eternal destiny to “let’s clean up the world, and make it a better place”. Humanitarianism is good – but if you feed a man and send him on his way to hell, what good is that? The Gospel – that Christ died, was buried and rose for our sins, and that by faith in Christ, the merits of that work are applied to us – is the best news we can share. THAT is evangelicalism at its best – when the Gospel is faithfully proclaimed, the authority of God’s self-revelation in Scripture is upheld (though we cannot claim perfection in fully understanding it on this side of eternity) and most important, the supremacy of God and not creation is upheld and affirmed.

    Great thoughts, Mr Patton. Much food for thought…

  6. Excellent Michael. Like I told you, I like the diversity. I consider myself Arminian and I still enjoy coming to your blog and commenting since I’m not jumped on by 20 Calvinists at once. I tend to not be dogmatic on secondary issues. The only one that interests me really is eschatology where I am a strong orthodox Preterist.

    I think it’d be interesting for you to do something on worship styles. I find myself getting bored in church if I have a purely applicational sermon and usually with most music, I’ve lost focus by the time of the second verse. It’d be interesting to hear about how other people worship and see how many others might be the same way.

  7. #s 1 and 3 are interesting to think about in relation to each other, and are true only in a relative or qualified sense I think.

    In #1, if we instead think of diversity in terms of thought/beliefs, rather than practice, I think we find a broader variety of opinion among eg. Catholic Scholars. They are unified in tradition but seem more diverse in thought as regards Biblical Studies and Christian History than we Evangelicals do.

    And in a related sense, #3, Evangelicals have an ideal of true scholarship/academic freedom, but one cannot simply have one’s own opinions and still participate fully in the Evangelical community, as, for example, a Jewish scholar might.

    So, the freedom, I think, is only in “non-essentials”, which actually, in an earlier post of yours proved hard to pin down. We had people arguing that no doctrines need be affirmed, only direction toward Jesus, some saying yes and no to inerrancy, and others who would like to include some particular doctrine they see as foundational to others (like literal 6 day creation, etc.)

    I’m not sure what exactly to do with #2 (flush it says my wife — ha ha). In particular the premise that “belief is ultimately an internal act of an individual’s will which requires true personal conviction” seems not always true. I believe a lot of things without exercising my will—I hear or see something, believe it is as it seems and then either ignore it, remember it or act on it. A report from my wife that the kids have been good today requires no exertion of my will to believe. Some things we believe without trying to and without questioning them. It’s only when we have a desire not to believe something that we seem to need the will.

    Sorry for my disagreements. #4 is a good point, though.

  8. 3. Evangelical allowance of true scholarship: Closely connected to the second is the allowance of true scholarship. (Here is where I am really going to get into trouble.) Evangelicals are not under a necessary mandate to conform to a particular traditional system. The scholarship produced in biblical studies and theology is not an exercise in confirming an established tradition of dogma. If one were simply to enter scholarship to prove what a tradition mandates they prove, scholarship would become an exercise in confirming prejudice. This is not true scholarship.
    .
    Evangelicals are free to question, search, deny, confirm, doubt, and change to an extent that dogmatic traditions are not. Again, this is risky, but, in the end, it does not mandate a certain conclusion and can evaluate the evidence more objectively. In other words, Evangelicals don’t have to be lawyers defending a client of tradition, but they are instead investigators of truth. They can be critical scholars. Whether or not we always practice this is a different matter. But the issue is one of allowance. Evangelicals can be critical scholars who are willing to let the evidence take them wherever it leads, not simply to a predetermined destination. Therefore, I believe Evangelicals can practice true scholarship to a degree that other traditions cannot.

    On the one hand, you have Fr. Raymond Brown, a Catholic priest, writing scholarly books on the New Testament that questioned the historical accuracy of numerous articles of the Catholic faith, yet much of Brown’s work was given a Nihil obstat and an Imprimatur.

    And on the other hand, you have Evangelicals who question or stretch the definition of Inerrancy or raise the specter of Open Theism or don’t properly toe the line of the Westminster Confession, and they’re booted out of ETS (or brought up for possible ejection) or their seminaries.

    So tell me again: Which tradition did you say practices or allows “true scholarship”? :)

  9. i see eric W arrived at a similar conclusion to mine above, apparently while i was still posting

  10. It seems to me Evangelicalism has been extremely fundamentalist and doctrinal. Or that it insists on an all-too-simple traditional view, of simple core beliefs; and is not flexible at all. It is anti-intellectual, to the point that a genuinely investigative, scholarly Evangelical theology, is a contradiction in terms.

    Worse, the name refers to a belief that one should spread one’s simple ideas – or “evangelize.” Never mind that James suggested that not all of us should be teachers; since we all make many mistakes. And teachers who make mistakes, will be judged more severely in the end; because they mislead not only themselves, but many others.

  11. I think too many of you are defining Evangelical according to the media and a “pop” evangelical outlook. It would be much better for you to start with the Evangelical Manifesto: http://www.anevangelicalmanifesto.com. At least it comes from people who know what historic evangelicalism is.

    Eric, I am not quite sure how to respond. I thought you must be joking if you are actually trying to argue that the institutionalized Catholic church, who has a thousand page catechism to which Catholics MUST agree, has more academic than Evangelicalism who does not have a definite creed and is not an institution. Bringing up Brown as the only example is great because he is considered by most Catholics to be a rebel Catholic. But better, consider Kung.

  12. Michael- as my post implied, I agree with EricW and I too have see that Catholics do have more academic freedom.

    They have to adhere to tradition as a symbol, but not in their academic writing. Forget big names, I look at the difference in Catholic grad students and Evangelical ones. One group can entertain certain ideas and not question whether they are Catholic. The other knows that if their ideas change too much they are no longer evangelical and might even be going to hell.

    On the one hand the Catholic can continue confessing, even with serious questions. They will still be taken in as Catholic at a teaching institution or parish. The Evangelical who shows some sign of uncertainty on certain doctrines will be dropped like damaged goods.

  13. as far as the evangelical manifesto, I guess maybe the difference is that Eric and I (if I presume to speak for him too) are thinking about how the community actually is functioning, rather than the abstract definitions we have given ourselves.

    you (i.e any person) may convince someone you’re evangelical by appeal to the manifesto in comparison with your own beliefs, but you still won’t fit their doctrinal statement and you still won’t be really accepted—they still don’t think an evangelical should be allowed to think like you do.

  14. J,

    Do Catholics have academic freedom to disagree with anything in the Catechism because the evidence leads them in such a direction AND remain Catholics?

    You answer, if you are familiar with Catholicism, will be no. By definition, if anyone disagrees with even a minor point in the catechism, they are no longer Catholic. This includes the Marion dogmas, the infallibility of the pope, along with a defense of purgatory and the inclusion of the Deuterocononical books.

    On the other hand, there is a great deal of freedom in Evangelicalism as the “creed” is very small.

  15. Evangelicalism isnot counter-cultural but bends over backwards to accomodate the culture.

    It is too focused on the ‘self’.

    It does not know how to rightly divide the Word into Law and Gospel, but melds them, therefore producing “Christian schizophrenics”.

    It has a disdain for the Sacraments and odoes not rightly understand their external nature (coming to us from outside of us).

    Other than that, I think it’s great!

  16. Unlike Fr. Raymond, Fr. Hans was barred from teaching theology, wasn’t he?

    Considering how questioning certain views (or counter views) of creation or evolution or inerrancy or Biblical interpretation or egalitarianism or sexuality can indeed lose you your pulpit or your teaching job or your publisher or your church or your ETS membership or your friends in many of these churches, I’m not sure Evangelicalism really has more freedom of belief and academic freedom than the Catholic Church.

  17. J,

    I am lost. You said, “they still don’t think an evangelical should be allowed to think like you do.”

    Who does not think an evangelical should think like me? I feel like I am pretty “straight and narrow” here. I agree that there are some fundamentalists who may raise an eyebrow here and there about what I say, but they are fundamentalists.

    J, are you mixing Fundamentalists, who have almost a little academic freedom as Catholics, with Evangelicals?

    One thing that might enlighten you is to attend an Evangelical Society Meeting. It is there that you will see the diversity and unity of evangelical scholarship coming together in a unique way.

  18. Eric, you are talking about Fundamentalism, not evangelicalism. In evangelicalism, you have young earth, old earth, and theistic evolutionists. Notice on the Evangelical Manifesto, nothing was said about creation or, even, inerrancy. I know that ETS has inerrancy as one of its main criteria for membership, but that does not mean that society members reject people like Roger Olson, who does not accept inerrancy, as non-Evangelical. If they do, they are showing themselves to be Fundamentalists. Roger Olson is even a guest speaker at ETS often and everyone respects him a great deal. Same with NT Wright.

    I know that there are always going to be the fundamentalists of every movement and it hard to tell the difference, but Evangelicalism presents the very spirit of freedom and grace that fundamentalism kills. Therefore, the two cannot be identified unless you are just following the media.

    I am as much against “pop” evangelicalism as the next guy. But that is not what I am talking about here.

  19. I was at an ETS conference when Roger Olson spoke (Valley Forge, PA, I believe), and IIRC, he prefaced his remarks by saying that ETS won’t let him be a member. :)

    And D.G. Hart has put forth the argument that “Evangelical/Evangelicalism” is a meaningless term. Read his book Deconstructing Evangelicalism. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, but I think he suggests that you really can’t separate Evangelicalism from Fundamentalism; if you do, you end up with an “Evangelicalism” that is so broad and amorphous and contains such contradicatory elements that it’s really not right to include them all under the name “Evangelicalism” – or to use a single term like “Evangelicalism” to suggest that all these “Evangelicals” really are basically one in faith and practice vis-a-vis those who are not “Evangelicals” (and “Evangelicals” put “Fundamentalists” among those who are not “Evangelicals”).

  20. cmp-

    i’m not appealing to catholocism and what it states, i’m appealig to catholic community. Ted Kennedy, for instance, got a catholic funeral. Seems pretty flexible to me. Notre Dame knighted Obama and got a slap on the wrist.

    on the “you”, as i define it in the 1st use in that paragraph, it’s “i.e. anyone”, that is, not you, cmp, personally.

    i’m not confusing evangelicals and fundamentalists. i’ve been to ETS several times and yes there is diversity to an extent, but in the background is always some discussion of who should get the boot (open theism anyone?) or whether the doctrinal statement needs to be more restrictive, or who’s bible version is really the one fit for evangelicals. regardless of the outcome, this sets the tone—not that i don’t have a nice time, but as community, this is how i see us.

  21. Eric,

    Yes, I have read the book too.

    Roger Olson still considers himself to be an Evangelical. How do you explain this?

  22. I explain it the way I think Hart does – i.e., the term “Evangelical” is too broad and ultimately meaningless because it includes people like Olson who aren’t allowed to join ETS. :) If ETS is “Evangelical” but excludes people like Olson who consider themselves to be Evangelicals (and many other Evangelicals consider Olson to be one, too), then who defines “Evangelical” – and how can ETS call itself the “Evangelical Theological Society” when it won’t let all “Evangelical” theologians be members?

    Maybe ETS should change its name to the Our Definition of Inerrancy and Theology Theological Society?

  23. Re posts 9 & 13 and academic freedom

    Evangelicalism may seem to have more academic freedom because it is composed of various denominations that differ from each other in theology and theological statements. However, within each denomination there are very clear statements of faith / theology that are quite explicit and rigorous (e.g., Lutheran, Reformed). In addition, churches usually have their own statements of faith that they use to weed out those who disagree from being members or holding pastoral or organizational positions. The same goes for many evangelical parachurch organizations.

    I can’t see liberation theologians being tolerated in evangelical churches the way they were tolerated in the Catholic churches. Officially in the Catholic church one is supposed to adhere to and believe in the entire catechism, but the RCC doesn’t give someone the boot if they don’t; their priests even continue giving communion to catholics that support and promote abortion. That is very much unlike the evangelical camp where the church or denomination or parachurch would give the boot.

    Look at the southern baptist seminary that gave women professors the boot when it took an official complementarian position. Remember when Piper, at Driscoll’s church, urged truly evangelical colleges and seminaries to expunge any Arminian faculty they might have? He stated, “how should we regard these errors [Wesleyanism and Arminianism] in relationship to the teaching office of the church and other institutions? . . . Here’s my rule of thumb: the more responsible a person is to shape the thoughts of others about God, the less Arminianism should be tolerated. Therefore church members should not be excommunicated for this view but elders and pastors and seminary and college teachers should be expected to hold the more fully biblical view of grace.”

    I’m not sure one is really better or worse than the other for tolerating or restricting academic and theological freedom. However, it does seem that it is evangelicals, not Catholics, who more often and more strongly get their knickers in a knot over divergent theology.

    Regards,
    #John1453

  24. J,

    lol…touche

    Well, you know as well as I, that is not what it is SUPPOSED to be. When and if Evangelicalism goes in that direction, then it is going toward Fundamentalism and against its original spirit.

    However, I DO think that this spirit is still present in Evangelicalism more than any other tradition, though not perfect. And that is the point of this post.

    Also, I am certianly not talking about the cafiteria Catholic tradition of the Kennedy’s!!! Of course they have freedom, but it is not really a representation of true Catholicism. By definition, Cafeteria Catholoics are not REALLY Catholics. Let’s give Catholicism the benefit there. Just like the Jesus Seminar is not REALLY Protestant (in the historic sense).

    If we allow for redefining of terms, I would concede that you are right. But I am trying to stick with what things are meant to be. We need reform, not simply gripping from within. That is what the Emerging church offered and it did not really work.

  25. John, that is the beauty of the ideals of Evangelicals. It allows you have have your convictions and belong to particular expressions, but it houses us all. And in the end of the day, we are supposed to know we are ultimately of the same family.

    Evangelicalism is transdenominational and is not, nor should ever be, a denomination.

  26. “Evangelicalism is transdenominational and is not, nor should ever be, a denomination.”

    There is no such a thing.

    A denomination is a point of view. It is ceratin values. Every faith tradition has them.

    Non-denominationalism is a falsehood.

    They are the non-denomination denomination.

  27. Eric, ETS is a representation of a (one) society within Evangelicalism. It is not the only society nor does it claim to be. There are also broader Evangelical societies that would allow for Olson. ETS would not say they are illegitimate. But it is the spirit of Evangelicalism to have societies that are allowed to make their own rule of belonging to that society. ETS does not say “In order to be a part of Evangelicalism, you have to …” but “In order to be a part of this society…”

  28. OK, got to keep preparing for class tonigh…way behind. Teaching on the early church persecutions. Never taught on it before at this level.

    I will check in tomorrow and dispel with the wave of my pen all critics who dare to oppose my masterpeice here ;)

    Thanks for the discussion.

    (Oh, if you don’t agree with me, you are NOT evangelical)

  29. I lied,

    A denomination is an institutionalized expression. Evangelicalism is not institutionalized, nor will it ever be.

  30. They do things in just about the same way as the so-called institutional churhes do.

    So I disagree.

  31. How would one define a modern day Spurgeon, I wonder? He was pretty much a brass tacks kind of guy, who probably today would be considered a rank fundamentalist. However, even though he was British Reformed Baptist, he never lost sight of the real meaning of evangelicalism.

    He had this to say about it:

    “We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.”

  32. He had this to say about it:
    .
    “We are not called to proclaim philosophy and metaphysics, but the simple gospel. Man’s fall, his need of a new birth, forgiveness through atonement, and salvation as the result of faith, these are our battle-ax and weapons of war.”

    But “Evangelicals” as well as other Christians disagree among and between themselves on what is the “gospel” (and whether or not it’s “simple”), what exactly was “man’s fall” and how exactly and specifically did it impact or affect man, how the “new birth” is acquired/given, how the atonement worked and/or works, and what part faith plays in salvation in conjunction with or apart from other things, like works.

    So while Spurgeon’s battle-cry definition of “evangelicalism” sounds good, can he really rally all the troops behind it once they begin asking themselves and each other what he (or they) mean(s) by these things?

  33. Eric W,

    You are right in your assessment of what often happens as opposed to what to needs to. I have had to deal with exactly that situation many, many times in my ministry travels to various churches of all denominations. More often than not, our ministry (which contained folks of several different denominations) was faced with having to agree to adhere to the do’s and don’t’s of a particular denominational agenda, in order to minster at a particular church. It often got exhausting and confusing trying to adjust to it, without watering down the message.

    To be fair, however, I think sometimes we all tend to over analyze the message of Christianity in such compartmentalized terms, that we get mired down in more non-essential details than real substantial messages, and miss it entirely ourselves.

  34. Re post 26

    BTW, the correct spelling would be “touché”. In fencing, touché (French pronunciation: IPA [tuʃe] or “too – shay”) is used as an acknowledgement of a hit, called out by the fencer who is hit. Sorry, but I took both fencing and French growing up.

    I would also disagree that those Catholics who don’t agree with the whole enchilada of the catechism are not really Catholic. Anyone who takes communion in a Catholic church is and remains a real Catholic despite any divergences of belief or practice.

    Regards,
    #John1453

  35. I’m totally confused. I thought Lewis Sperry Chafer was both a Fundamentalist and an Evangelical. I thought this of Walvoord too.

    This is an exerp taken from “A Review of Lewis Sperry Chafer “Systematic theology” by John Walvoord

    “Taken as a whole the eight volumes in Systematic Theology constitute a monument in the field of theological literature. It is the first consistently premillennial systematic theology ever written. For the first time modern Fundamentalism has been systematized in an unabridged systematic theology. The work is definitely creative and original. There is no other work in systematic theology which is comparable to it. Its form of treatment, method of interpretation, and unabridged character have no parallel. Unlike most systematic theologies, it is presented in highly readable form, deals with practical as well as doctrinal problems, and constitutes a veritable thesaurus of sermonic material for the preacher. It abounds in devotional passages and is closely linked with the content of the Scriptures. As a product of a lifetime of study, the work has been tested and tempered through years of classroom and public ministry in which the author was recognized internationally as an outstanding expositor of the Scriptures. As a representative, authoritative, and comprehensive treatment of systematic theology it will occupy a place filled by no other publication.”

    Michael, are you saying that Chafer and Walvoord were not Evangelical or are you saying they were not Fundamentalists? Certainly both of these men I would say had regard for true conviction and true scholarship.
    I give. I’m totally confused.

  36. Maybe we need to take the apophatic approach and only say what Evangelicalism is NOT. :)

  37. Cadis-

    I think you are experiencing the “too broad” and “meaningless” aspects of the term Evangelical that Eric alluded to earlier.

    Eric-
    I like the apophatic idea. But it looks like dispute is already about to break out over whether Evangelicalism is not institutionalized or not “not institutionalized” (31 and 32 above). ;)

  38. Re CMP’s point 1, about diversity

    CMP goes so far as to italicize the word “celebrate”. But is that even remotely close to the truth, or just an empty platitude that evangelicals would like to believe about themselves, especially in contrast to those nasty, judgmental, witch-hunting, protestant burning catholics?

    If evangelicals are so open to diversity, why have evangelicals until recent decades rejected charismatics and pentecostals (and many still do)? If they’re so open to diversity, why have evangelicals until recently rejected rock music and alcohol consumption? If they’re so open to diversity, why are worship wars predominantly an evangelical thing? If they’re so open to diversity, then why do calvinist evangelicals reject arminian evangelicals? If they’re so open to diversity, why do then not accept each other’s baptisms? If they’re so open to diversity, why are their churches still so divided along racial lines? Do evangelicals allow diversity on abortion? no. On homosexuality? no. On divorce? no, or only trivial divergance. On premarital sex? no. On inerrancy? no. On Israel? no. On the attributes of God? no. On the historicity of Old Testament events? no. On women in leadership? no. While there are some divergent opinions and practices, by far the consensus is against women leaders and against associating with those who do have them. Diversity on this subject is certainly not celebrated or tolerated. Is diversity on evolution tolerated and celebrated? no, except among a very few academics.

    Oh yeah, I forgot, there is diversity permitted at the scholarly level on the end times schedule. Whoop de doo.

    There may be some diversity in belief among evangelical scholars (but not much, and not until recently), but there is even less among the rank and file.

    The diversity among evangelicals resides largely in their different regional spoken accents and food and clothing preferences. That is, it largely consists in the diversity in the surface attributes of American culture, which they have adopted from non-Christians.

    The Anglican church is far more diverse theologically and culturally than evangelicals. Mainline protestant churches are far more diverse theologically and culturally. Evangelicals are, by contrast, narrowminded both theologically and culturally and for the most part distrust higher learning (as respects the bible).

    In 2007 the National Review printed that “Liberals and secularists in particular view evangelicals with both disdain and fear. Evangelicals are seen as narrow-minded, anti-intellectual . . .”

    In 2009, the Religion News Service printed that “. . . knows the stereotypes about evangelical Christians: judgmental, sanctimonious, narrow-minded. He may not buy into the image, but at the same time, he knows how real—and damaging—it can be.”

    Oh yeah, the evangelicals have sure earned a reputation for celebrating diversity.

  39. CMP keeps referring to RCC features as a contrast to the wonderful evangelicals–such as the bad ol’ catechism that they have to sign up to but evangelicals don’t. OK, here’s a question, name one catechism where evangelicals celebrate diversity but Catholics don’t. Marianism? No. The RCCs go one way on the issue and evangelicals go the other, with no diversity allowed (what evangelical has ever prayed to Mary?). Justification? They go one way and evangelicals go the other (with no diversity celebrated). Pope? They go one way and evangelicals go the other (with no diversity on that topic either). And, in so far as there are evangelical branches of the Reformed faith (e.g. presbyterians) or Lutherans, evangelicals in those churches have to sign up to lengthy catechisms too.

    Regards,
    #John

  40. John, the point is that Evangelicals are free to believe in the Marian dogmas or disbelieve. Most happen to disbelieve them because of the evidence, not any mandate. The point is freedom, not the particular stance.

    Just look at Scot McKnight and his view of Mary. Look at Lutherans and some of the early reformers.

  41. John, Evangelicals do not leave out Charismatics at all. I have written much on this. I would say that the tendency in Evangelicalism these day is toward Charismaticism to some degree. However, you are still missing the point of the principle of freedom. It is not simply what most evangelicals are or what the passionately argue for that is the defining point of Evangelicalism, but it is the freedom to examine the evidence and follow it wherever it leads and remain in this large fold.

  42. Michael, I would respectfully disagree that evangelicals are free to believe the Marian dogmas in any significant sense of “free”. There may not be an written statement of faith that explicitly denies the Marian dogma, but no one would agree that such beliefs are properly within evangelicalism; it’s too ingrained to need to be said. More importantly, no one who held to such beliefs would long remain in a pastoral or leadership position in any evangelical church or parachurch ministry. The early reformers would not be considered evangelicals (that is, part of some group that is distinctly “evangelical”), neither historically nor in the more recent (since 1947) sense of evangelical.

    As for charismatics, I did insert a time frame reference. Charismatics and pentecostals would not have been considered fit to be called evangelicals until the 70s, so it is a recent phenomenom.

    I would also deny that evangelicals are free to follow the evidence to wherever it leads. Tell that to Peter Enns and see if he agrees. Chalke and others who challenge penal substitutionary atonement wouldn’t agree that evangelicalism either celebrates diversity on this topic or encourages following the evidence to where it leads.

    Other than a few evangelical scholars, does evangelicalism as a whole support (let alone celebrate) Sparks’ book, “God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship”? No. Rather, it’s seen as a threat and challenged as being outside the pale. This is what Peter Enns wrote about the evangelical reaction to Sparks’ book: “Sparks is arguing that evangelical biblical scholarship has largely failed in not appropriating critical scholarship as it should. This failure stems from a faulty theology that expects things from Scripture that critical scholarship has shown to be untenable. I realize Sparks may not word it precisely this way, but this gets at what I think is a point of tension. Sparks is critiquing failings in evangelical theology on the basis of its failure to appropriate critical advances in our knowledge of Scripture. What this amounts to for some readers is a criticism of evangelical theology for being evangelical. Hence, the response is that Sparks is no evangelical, and so his book actually demonstrates why evangelicals should not appropriate critical scholarship.

    What I have seen thus far in some of the early criticisms to the book is far less engagement over the content of the book than I had hoped. What I see, rather, is a lot of marking of territory about who can rightly claim to be evangelical. Much of that criticism is centered on two issues: inerrancy and Descartes.”

    In 2004, in the journal First Things, Mark Knoll had this to say: “Ten years after the publication of The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, I remain largely unrepentant about the book’s historical arguments, its assessment of evangelical strengths and weaknesses, and its indictment of evangelical…

  43. John,

    I am an Evangelical and I asked Enns to blog here two weeks ago.

    Dan and I both are Evangelicals and respect Enns. In fact, he was applauded at the last ETS meeting when he was on a panel discussion with Darrel Bock. Enns was kicked out of a seminary with particular guidlines. I would be kicked out of there as well. Enns would be kicked out of DTS, but that does not mean he is not an Evangelical. Neither DTS or Wesminster are Evangelicalism, but they are within Evangelicalism.

    While being an Evangelical means that you have freedom, it does not mean that people in the camp are going to accept or agree with your position. They may be greatly against it and say it is dangerous. That is part of the Evangelical freedom. But when it comes to push or shove, an Evangelical is (ideally) not going to call your salvation into question so long as the main essentials are in tact.

    Again, Evangelicals have the freedom to debate with great resolve and love for the truth, even in the particulars of non-essentials. But it is the final attitude that, unlike Catholics, will say that you are part of the True church because we center around the person and work of Christ.

    Because of this, Evangelicalism is the best option in my opinion.

    What is the best option in your opinion?

  44. Michael, I do greatly appreciate your interaction, and respect your opinion. However, I think that we are approaching the issue of whether evangelicals celebrate diversity from different perspectives. Your perspective is more academic and individual and anecdotal, whereas mine is more rank and file, cultural, and a broader less anecdotal perspective.

    Would evangelicals have gained a reputation for being narrowminded if they really did celebrate diversity on a widespread basis? Hardly. Sure, there are more broadminded evangelicals like you, but that is not the rule. Would Mark Noll’s critique have been accepted as generally accurate if it were not true that evangelicals were anti-intellectual and not open to exploring their theology?

    Furthermore, the critiques of both Enns and Sparks have been widespread among the evangelical community, and Enns quote about the reaction to Sparks is in reference to evangelicalism generally, and not to a specific school.

    Is there a single area of biblical study or theology where evangelicals have experienced or celebrated diversity or allowed their scholars and pastors to follow the evidence where it leads? With the exception of continuation of the charismata there is none. And even the acceptance of charismata was a cultural phenomenom and not one where scholars or lay people followed the evidence where it led. Until very recently charismatic and pentecostal scholarship was quite poor and irrelevant to the wider academic community. No one was intellectually convinced that they should become charismatic; they followed friends, or joined the next exciting thing, or were experientially convinced. The evangelical scholars followed after.

    I would agree that evangelicalism is becoming more diverse, and even Noll in his article points to signs of hope. At one time Southern Baptists were not considered to be part of the evangelical movement, nor Wesleyans. Now the former are, and many of the latter are as well. There are also evangelical branches of the Anglican church. Pentecostals are now often grouped under the evangelical banner, whereas previously they were not.

    Nevertheless, I would strongly disagree of your description of the distinction between Catholics and evangelicals. As long as one takes communion in a Catholic church and does not reject the sacraments, one is a Catholic no matter what one believes. That cannot be said of evangelicals. Both Sparks and Enns and Boyd are placed outside the scope of, or on the outer cusp of, evangelicalism simply because of what they believe. It does not matter if they go to or lead a church that is evangelical. Another area where this aspect appears is in the area of ethics. Catholics have a much wider diversity of scholarship and opinion in moral theory than evangelicals; the contest is not even close. Evangelicals have a very narrow scope of what counts as acceptable moral theory and thinking.

    regards,
    #John

  45. BTW, the whole who gets to heaven thing isn’t a distinction in the evangelicals favour either. How many people, like me, grew up in an evangelical home where their parents thought Catholics were going to hell. Yep, I see that hand, and that one too, goodness, there are hands going up all over the place.

    The cold war between Catholics and evangelicals did continue up into the 60s. But things have warmed considerably since then. And though the RCCs haven’t repealed any of their anti-protestant denunciations they made during the reformation, even the Pope recognizes none RCCs, including evangelicals, as brothers. True, it’s as estranged brothers and not allowed to partake of communion in a Catholic church, but still they see us as fellow travellers that they will meet again in heaven.

    Consequently it’s incorrect to say that Catholics don’t consider evangelicals to be part of the broader body of Christ (and thus saved).

    As for options, I see no reason to depart from what I was raised in (broadly evangelical adult-baptist nondenomination), so I currently go to such a church. It’s as good a place as any to worship God, participate in community, and grow. I wouldn’t go for the Catholic option, but it’s certainly not because evangelicals are (allegedly) more diverse.

    Regards,
    #John

  46. John, that is why we have to distinguish, as I am trying to do here, Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism as a “fundamentalist” (in the specific sense of ahering to the fundamentals) movement our of Fundamentalism.

    I think that most people need to reread Ramm and Henry on this subject so that we are not guilty of anachronism or historical revisionism. All one has to do is look to Mark Noll as the historian of Evangelicalism, both in a proper and a celebratory way.

    What you describe is Fundamentalism. What I am describing is a proper way to look at Evangelicalism.

    Again, three key authors: Noll, Ramm, Carl Henry.

    Then finally, I would ask you to look toward the most iconic Evangelical figure Billy Graham.

    After you are done with that, throw in some Olson and Oden.

    Then come back to the Calvinists once again.

  47. John, I challenge you to do this:

    Take this statement:

    “Nevertheless, I would strongly disagree of your description of the distinction between Catholics and evangelicals. As long as one takes communion in a Catholic church and does not reject the sacraments, one is a Catholic no matter what one believes.”

    And ask it at Karl Keaton’s http://www.catholic.com in their forum. They have much approval in the Catholic church and some of the best Catholic apologists are there.

    In the end, I would challenge you not to define things first by what the current culture of the subject believes. If that is the way we define things, then America, Christianity, marraige, and the like is without hope. Otherwise, let us try to engage people to understand what the truth is about the subject. Once eductation stops, I agree, go to the local market and get your info. But I don’t think we need to give up and join in the trumpet of defeat or defeatism just people people are ignorant.

    (Not directing this at you of course)

  48. Got all my work done BTW!!

    Off to teach early church history. (Not to ask them what they think “early church history” is.

    JUST KIDDING!!

    BTW: Evangelicals are demonstratably funnier than non-evangelicals.

    POP Quiz: What is an Evangelical? Answer: A nice fundamentalist! HA

    POP Quiz 2: How can you tell an Evangelical from a Fundamentalist? Ask them if they like Billy Graham! Ha

    Lots of truth to both of those.

  49. I’m a bit puzzled to be told that what I have been describing is fundamentalism rather than evangelicalism. I’ve referred to and quoted from documents and writers who purport (in their opinion at least) to be talking about evangelicals.

    It’s no surprise that evangelicals have been very conservative culturally and intellectually. Isn’t that why Carl Henry wrote his book in ’47? Evangelicals have not yet escaped those roots, though his and B. Graham’s work are now paying dividends. Nevertheless evangelical cultural has, for those reasons and others, not historically been one that celebrates diversity of any kind. The reformers, especially Luther, persecuted and killed my Mennonite forebears, though one couldn’t really call them “evangelicals” in the sense of evangelicals being a culturally distinct and identifiable group.

    As for Catholics, it is correct to say that they consider themselves the one “True” church (with a capital T), but that does not mean that they believe we are going to hell. The most recent relevant document on this is the one that the current pope released through the Vatican in 2007, in which it was stated that the Second Vatican Council’s opening to other faiths – including “ecclesial communities originating with the Reformation” – had recognised there were “many elements of sanctification and truth” in other Christian denominations, but had also emphasised that only Catholicism was fully Christ’s Church. The document said that other Christian faiths “lack elements considered essential to the Catholic Church”.

    Still, I guess the evangelicals are a bit better because we’ll at least allow a Catholic to take communion in church (even though a Catholic is not supposed to take communion anywhere except in a Catholic church). If the focus is solely on “True” church, then I agree that you are correct, but the problem is that evangelicals don’t use such conceptual categories or language so it ends up being a bit of an apples and oranges thing.

    Regards,
    #John

  50. I’ll challenge all of CMP’s other points eventually, but at this juncture I only have time to add a comment about his point #4, that they are still evangelical, that is, spreading the Gospel.

    George Barna of The Barna Group has stated that “There does not seem to be revival taking place in America. Whether that is measured by church attendance, born again status, or theological purity, the statistics simply do not reflect a surge of any noticeable proportions.” Moreover, he has also found that “…evangelicals remain just 7% of the adult population. That number has not changed since the Barna Group began measuring the size of the evangelical public in 1994….less than one out of five born again adults (18%) meet the evangelical criteria.”

    The 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches found that the The Assemblies of God, the Mormon church and the Roman Catholic Church were the fastest-growing major denominations in the United States in the previous year. While the AoG have been a part of the National Association of Evangelicals since 1943, there is still the RCC growth that contradicts CMP’s point # 4 as being an evangelical distintive that makes it a better option.

    I do agree that evangelical is a good option, I just don’t agree that it’s the best option.

    regards,
    #John

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  1. The Divine Conspiracy Blog » Blog Archive » Evangelicalism - September 1, 2009

    […] Michael Patton on Why Evangelicalism is Still the Best Option here. Posted in Theology | No Comments » Leave a […]

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    […] from Parchment and Pen, where C. Michael Patton (whose material has appeared thrice at Patheos) explains why he believes evangelicalism is still the best option.  Although his answer is slightly […]

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