Posts Tagged ‘ evangelicalism ’

Who’s an Evangelical?

How to define “evangelicalism” is a notoriously difficult question to answer. A few weeks ago on an episode of Christ the Center, a podcast of the Reformed Forum (which, incidentally, I would highly recommend), the show’s panelists (all three OPC ministers) addressed the question of whether or not they consider themselves evangelicals. The overall answer was no, primarily because of Darryl Hart’s argument (which I haven’t read) that it is a category too broad to be useful. Well, that answer is fine as far as it goes, but it seems to me that it really depends on whether you’re willing to define your terms (and one of the panelists on the show did briefly gesture in the direction of this line of thought).

If you’re working from a prescriptive definition of evangelical which provides criteria people/groups can be evaluated against, then it seems to me that “evangelical” could be a perfectly useful category. One such definition is the Bebbington Quadrilateral, which lays out four criteria for what it means to be an evangelical:

  1. Biblicism (the Bible is our authoritative rule for life and doctrine)
  2. Crucicentrism (Christ’s atoning work on the cross is the central focus)
  3. Conversionism (the necessity of the new birth)
  4. Activism (the Gospel should change the way you live your life)

So, using these criteria, I’m perfectly happy to call myself an evangelical, as well as a confessionally Reformed member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The problem is when people start using the term in a popular sense, without defining what they mean. In a popular context, “evangelical” could mean:

  • Not Roman Catholic (applies to me)
  • Generally theologically conservative (applies to me)
  • Not a mainline/liberal protestant (applies to me)
  • The group that formerly included Rachel Held Evans (doesn’t apply to me)

And, it’s when the term starts getting as broad as this last point that we run into trouble. When non-RC, non-mainline, generally theologically conservative protestants stop being so theologically conservative while still calling themselves evangelicals, we have a problem. So, I still consider myself an evangelical, and I still think that’s a useful term to use, but I realize that it is as important now as it has ever been to define our terms in this discussion.

 

[As an aside, I was really proud of the Christ the Center guys in this episode, in which they tackled John Piper’s use of the term “New Calvinism” in his recent lecture at WTS. I thought the guys were nuanced in all the right ways as they teased out the difference between the New vs. Old Calvinist distinction and the Confessional Presbyterian/Reformed vs. 4-to-5-points Calvinist distinction. In short, there have always been concentric circles of those who hold to more or less of Calvin’s theology, and that hasn’t changed in the “New Calvinism” movement of the last several years. You’re not an “Old Calvinist” just because you’re a member of a confessional presbyterian church, and you’re not a “New Calvinist” just because you’re a Reformed Baptist.]

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