Archive | Evangelicalism

In Search of True Evangelicalism


I could go through and trace the common accepted academic definitions of “evangelicalism.” They are out there. There are some great contemporary historical treatise on the subject. But that would be detractive and be an adventure in missing the point. Well, shoot. . . I suppose I will go on this adventure, but only giving the cliff-notes.

David Bebbington’s Evangelicalism

David Bebbington has created what has become the most accepted definition of Evangelicalism out there today. It is often called “Bebbington’s Quadrilateral.” Here are his four main criteria of what it means to be evangelical (it’s hard to know when to capitalize this darn word):

  1. Biblicism: Don’t you love that word? This simply means that evangelicals take the Bible seriously as the authoritative word of God.
  2. Crucicentrism: Try to pronounce that! This is a focus on the centrality of the cross of Christ and its atoning value for mankind. For evangelicals, the cross is the central event of all theology.
  3. Conversionism: Evangelicals believe that people need to have some type of conversion “event” where they accept/trust Christ as their Lord/God. In other words, without a true conversion to Christianity, people are lost.
  4. Activism: Evangelicals are, well . . .  evangelical. We believe that the Gospel needs to be spread in definite encounters through the various cultural means.

Book Recommendation: The Dominance of Evangelicalism by David Bebbington


While I believe that the characteristics of Bebbington listed above are all true, I am going to hopefully extend and (if possible) simplify our understanding of Evangelicalism by breaking it up into three areas: 1) Evangelical Doctrine 2) Evangelical Actions, and 3) Evangelical Attitude. All three are necessary to understand Evangelicalism as both a twentieth-century American Christian movement and as an historic representation of Christianity. Continue Reading →

5 Reasons I Reject the Doctrine of Transubstantiation


The doctrine of Transubstantiation is the belief that the elements of the Lord’s table (bread and wine) supernaturally transform into the body and blood of Christ during the Mass. This is uniquely held by Roman Catholics but some form of a “Real Presence” view is held by Eastern Orthodox, Lutherans, and some Anglicans. The Calvinist/Reformed tradition believes in a real spiritual presence but not one of substance. Most of the remaining Protestant traditions (myself included) don’t believe in any real presence, either spiritual or physical, but believe that the Eucharist is a memorial and a proclamation of Christ’s work on the cross (this is often called Zwinglianism). The Roman Catholic Council of Trent (1545-1563) defined Transubstantiation this way:

By the consecration of the bread and wine there takes place a change of the whole substance of the bread into the substance of the body of Christ our Lord and of the whole substance of the wine into the substance of his blood. This change the holy Catholic Church has fittingly and properly called transubstantiation” (Session XIII, chapter IV)

As well, there is an abiding curse (anathema) placed on all Christians who deny this doctrine:

If anyone denies that in the sacrament of the most Holy Eucharist are contained truly, really and substantially the body and blood together with the soul and divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ, and consequently the whole Christ,[42] but says that He is in it only as in a sign, or figure or force, let him be anathema. (Session XII, Canon I)

It is very important to note that Roman Catholics not only believe that taking the Eucharist in the right manner is essential for salvation, but that belief in the doctrine is just as essential.

Here are the five primary reasons why I reject the doctrine of Transubstantiation:

1. It takes Christ too literally

There does not seem to be any reason to take Christ literally when he institutes the Eucharist with the words, “This is my body” and “This is my blood” (Matt. 26:26-28, et al). Christ often used metaphor in order to communicate a point. For example, he says “I am the door,” “I am the vine,” “You are the salt of the earth,” and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13-14) but people know that we don’t take such statement literally. After all, who believes that Christ is literally a door swinging on a hinge? Continue Reading →

Fundamentalists, Liberals, and Evangelicals Charted

Tuesday night, at “Coffee and Theology” at the Credo House, I taught what might very well be the most important lesson I have ever taught for “Coffee and Theology.” It was over the necessity of creating a hierarchy of belief, helping people learn to distinguish between essentials and non-essentials, cardinal beliefs and non-cardinal beliefs, those things that we should be willing to die for and those things that are less important.

My goal during people’s initial exposure to this subject is not to tell them what the essentials and non-essentials are, but to help them understand that these categories exist in Christianity. Beliefs matter very much in our faith, but not all beliefs matter equally. Part of the discipleship process of any Christian is to begin to work through these differences.

Here is the basic “Concentric Circle of Importance” that I often teach from. I have used it here many times on this blog.



The very center circle represents those issue of the faith that are “of first importance.” Paul spoke in such terms in 1 Corinthians 15:1-8. “Of first importance” for Paul was the person and work of Christ. Who Christ is and what he did come before all else.

Instead of filling in this chart with all that I believe fit in each circle (an impossible task to do exhaustively), I want to show this how this chart might look in differing traditions. I hope that the graphs explain themselves without too much controversy. Please understand, I use the words “Fundamentalist” and “Liberal” here more as adjectives than nouns. And it should be obvious that I am using “Evangelical” in an idealize form here. Continue Reading →

Shawn McCraney on the Linear Thinking of His Theological Critics

Shawn McCraney is a former Mormon who became a “born-again” Christian and eventually left Mormonism, received some ministry training through Calvary Chapel, and launched his own ministry in Salt Lake City to evangelize Mormons. In the past few weeks Shawn has gone public on his television show denouncing the term Trinity as “garbage” and explaining his own doctrine of God in ways that have been confused at best. I flew out to Utah to meet with Shawn, had very friendly and enjoyable conversations with him, and appeared on Shawn’s show Heart of the Matter. I also posted a few messages on Facebook regarding the controversy.

On March 12, 2014, Shawn McCraney’s lecture on his TV show was a critical response to his critics, whom he characterized as scholars, theologians, and apologists who impose their exclusively “linear thinking” on the church to rule, control, and dominate. There is a “teachable moment” here because the issues that Shawn’s argument raises have relevance beyond the specific controversy over his teaching. Continue Reading →

Let this Strange Firestorm be a Lesson

Controversy is like a social hemorrhoid that will flare up on a regular basis & need to be cooled and soothed (I almost used the term strange anal fire but I thought better of it).  Some controversies are uglier than others. The worst kind of ugly controversy is the kind that might have been avoided because it wasn’t entirely necessary. Usually the culprit is misunderstanding, failure to define terms, or generally sloppy reactionism. When the internet was set ablaze with the anointing flame of controversy last week over the “Strange Fire” Conference in So-Cal, I had to wonder if this had the makings of one of those misunderstandings and failures to make responsible distinctions.

And in large measure I fear that this was just the case. As the smoke from the temple clears, I think there is a lesson to learn from this. The controversy was not just a quiet charismatic-cessationist stare-down. It was at times noisy and contentious. Names were dropped, reputations put on the line, and personal feelings bruised. Unfortunately there will likely remain some rifts between prominent persons and between prominent churches over the affair. And it may have been avoidable.

The biblical and theological debate about the gifts aside, wisdom demands something from us when it comes to a big public cyber-spat like this one. In this case I humbly submit that discernment requires distinctions. Some distinctions were not made that should have been made. Going forward, here are three things that must be clarified and made distinct on this subject.


1. The meaning of “charismatic”

Quick word association: I say “charismatic” you say …

Maybe you think of Robert Tilton with eyes shut tightly and hand raised, asking viewers who need a financial miracle to place their hands on their TV screens. Is that what we mean by that word? For some people it’s anyone who ever lifted a hand during worship. Maybe it’s belief in Holy Spirit baptism (aka “Second Blessing”). Or is it merely non-cessationism?

One thing is for sure, you’d better make clear the meaning you have in mind, and if you’re debating someone about it, you’d better agree between the two of you what precisely you both mean when you use the term. It has been painfully obvious to me in the brief eruption of attention on this issue that people are using the term differently. Some of them mean merely those whose theological position is not cessationism. Others seem to mean Todd Bentley, Kenneth Copeland, and people spending hours “Holy Ghost glued” to the floor.

Often usage determines meaning, and common or shared usage of a word can alter how we perceive it. Since this word is biblical, it seems most appropriate to recapture, as best we can, its early etymology as at least a starting place for defining it properly. As first year Greek students learn and as footnotes in your Bible may tell you, the word is essentially the word “grace” (“charis”) used in such a way (charisma or charismata) as to denote gracious acts or gifts. The specific use of the word to describe spiritual gifts (mostly in I Cor. 12 and Eph. 4) – and particularly the more extraordinary and supernatural gifts, like miracles, healings, tongues, prophetic words – is responsible for it being used to describe Christians who emphasize those kinds of supernatural gifts of the Spirit.

So far so good, but this still doesn’t help me know whether or not I should use the word only to describe those who believe that the supernatural gifts did not cease (as opposed to “cessationists” who believe that those gifts were for the messianic and apostolic eras and not normative for the church all-time), or whether I should use the word to include things like the prosperity movement, the strange semi-Eastern doctrines about how your words create spiritual realities (the so-called “Word of Faith” movement), and the outlandish “outpourings” that have people spending hours gyrating, fainting, laughing then growling, freezing and seizing.

Like many people, I have seen both the good and the utterly bizarre under this umbrella of “charismatic.” I have attended churches and have known ministers (even in my own family) who are charismatic by identification, of whom I would never say the sorts of things I say about certain televangelists. I’ve met old-school Southern Baptists overseas serving as missionaries who, though they were raised in a non-charismatic church setting, are convinced of supernatural spiritual activity based upon years of experience.

Then again, I’ve attended a charismatic service where the so-called preacher reads one verse from Isaiah (31:4 in case you need an idea for Sunday) about how God speaks as a “roaring lion” and then proceeds to lead the congregation in 45 minutes of “roaring in the Spirit.” A simplistic approach won’t do. There are charismatic Roman Catholics whose language and church life bears little resemblance to what you would find at the Toronto Airport Vineyard Church (as it used to be called). When debates on cessationism broke out in the seminary classes I attended long ago, the mostly Southern Baptist students were very much split on the issue.

It may well be that we cannot presume to know what another person hears in the word “charismatic”, which means that we have to make the minimal effort of finding out and negotiating a definition that we can all understand. Even if I and an opponent agree to define the word differently, each of us will at least know what the other person is meaning when he or she uses the word.

2. “Charismatic” vs. the Prosperity and/or Word-Faith & Otherwise Whack-job Televangelists

Continue Reading →

The Danger of Theological Novelty

Not long ago, I met with an old friend of mine who is a “swinger.” For those of you who don’t know, swinging is when both partners in a committed relationship agree to have a sexually open relationship. This guy was married and came in to talk to me about – you guessed it – marital problems. The idea behind “swinging” is that things never become mundane. Sexual monogamy, according to swingers, is nothing more than confining yourself to sexual boredom. Being with the same partner becomes cliché and uneventful. Swinging keeps things fresh and novel at all times so the high produced by provocation is always maintained.

As problematic and destructive as marital swinging is, that is not what I am writing about. I want to talk about what I call theological swinging. This is, in my opinion, one of the greatest problems in theology today (and probably of any day). Let me explain.

Before going to seminary, I was given a set of books by my pastor. At the time he was, to me, the smartest person living on planet Earth. I salivated to get a peek of his notes each week. I wanted to record everything he said. And just to get to see his library – the source of the very sun! – was just about too much excitement for me to handle. That is why I was speechless the day he gave me two books, one blue and one red. I knew these were precious books to him due to the amount of notes and stickies that covered the dog-eared pages. What were they? Evidence That Demands a Verdict, Volumes 1 and 2 by Josh McDowell. Upon receipt of these books I read them over and over. The wisdom and knowledge that filled the pages was almost too much excitement for this 20-year-old wannabe apologist to take. It was so provocative to me. The provocation came not from learning the Gospel for the first time, but from seeing with my own eyes, for the first time, an attempt to defend Christianity. “Are you kidding me?!” I said each time I read about a new topic. This guy, Josh McDowell, must be a giant of the faith, demanding respect from everyone. He was my new hero.

It was not until I hit seminary that I found out the “truth.” You see, at seminary, among all the students “in the know,” I came to find out very quickly that these kinds of works are frowned upon. I came to find out that McDowell’s apologetics were called “pop” apologetics. In essence, pop apologetics is cliché defense of the faith performed by cliché apologists. Translation: it was naive. It was not kosher. If and when I quoted someone like McDowell in a conversation with fellow students, there would be some snickering. The idea conveyed was that there were certain works, written by certain authors, that were “little league” and not respectable. Whether is was Lewis Sperry Chafer, Josh McDowell, Wayne Grudem, or R.C. Sproul (all of whom were my self-proclaimed mentors until that point), they were, at best, milk from the breast of my mother; at worst, they were naive teachers who simply parroted the simple and sheltered faith of evangelicalism. If you wanted to run with the “big boys” you had to read yourself some Barth, Multmonn, Hauerwas, or one of the liberation theologians such as Boff or Gutierrez. Why? Because, quite frankly, they did not fit the “stupid” evangelical mold. These were the “cool” people to read. They were the trump cards that, when played, left other students feeling inadequate and inferior. I thought I could read Dwight Pentecost’s Things to Come and be prepared for any discussion on eschatology. Who knew that quoting Theology of Hope by Jürgen Moltmann at Dallas Theological Seminary would be more prestigious than Pentecost? Who knew that saying that you had been reading A Theology of Liberation would score you more points than reading Basic Theology by Charles Ryrie? Who knew that the greatest danger for any Christian leader was to be labeled cliché? Continue Reading →

12 Ways to Guarantee You’ll Never Be Called a “Fundy”

By Carrie Hunter

We Evangelicals have a reputation to uphold. We cannot, under any circumstance, be confused with Them. Them of course being those crazy, unsophisticated, hard-line, uncharitable, literalistic, mean-spirited, dogmatic, absolute-certaintypossessing, Fundamentalists.

So in order to avoid being even remotely confused with Them, here is a helpful checklist you should keep on hand at all times. Seriously, print it out, fold it up and store it safely away in your purse or wallet. Reference it whenever you begin to discuss theology, or the Bible with a fellow believer, or even with the lost.

Using these 12 helpful hints should prevent you from being thought a Fundy.
Continue Reading →