Here are a couple of famous ways of trying to put define the center of evangelicalism with both clarity, and generosity. What I mean by that is there is enough clarity as to actually have some definition and now just include everyone, and also some generosity so that it allows for many to call themselves evangelicals if they can at least affirm these central items. This also doesn't mean that other issues don't matter. Certainly - there are lost of theological, biblical, cultural, moral, spiritual, and pragmatic (if not more) issues to wrestle through. But these are attempts to create a kind of definition around our diverse family. First, David Bebbington (British historian) provides the following hallmarks of evangelicalism which are oft-quoted as a reference point for basic evangelicalism [David Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: a history from the 1730’s to the 1980’s, 1989, pp. 1-19]. To my remembrance, Mark Noll affirms these as well in one of his books (but I couldn't find it recently... so if someone can help there, that'd be great):
- Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed
- Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort
- Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible
- Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross
I tend to agree with Allen Yeh when he says, “I think the Lausanne Covenant articulates more fully what David Bebbington was getting at. It holds to Bibliocentrism but defines it. Anyone can say they subscribe to the Bible, and then twist Scripture to suit their agenda. However, the Lausanne Covenant starts with the Bible and shows how social justice, evangelism, and doxology all spring from its pages. It is a holistic theology, it is right theology (orthodoxy) and I think that it is as good a definition of “evangelical” as we have today.” [The Other Journal, “Toward a Fuller Definition of Evangelical,” November 3, 2006.]
John Stackhouse, Jr. offers these 5 characteristics [John G. Stackhouse, Jr., “Evangelical Theology Should be Evangelical” in Evangelical Futures, 2000, pp. 40-43]:
- Evangelicals believe and champion the gospel of God’s work of salvation and particularly as it is focused in the person of Jesus Christ.
- Evangelicals believe and champion the Bible as the uniquely authoritative rendition of God’s word in words to us.
- Evangelicals believe and champion conversion as the correct way to describe God’s work of salvation in each Christian and as a reality to be experienced, not merely affirmed.
- Evangelicals believe and champion mission as the chief goal of Christian life on earth.
- Evangelicals believe and champion these four elements of the generic Christian tradition as primary, central, and nonnegotiable, leaving other convictions as secondary and non-essential.
I would give the following names to Stackhouse's sentences: Christological, Bible-based, Conversional, Missiological (I prefer missional), and Generously Orthodox.
Kenneth Collins gives the following as what he calls the Four Enduring Emphases of Evangelicalism:
- Normative value of Scripture in the Christian Life
- Necessity of conversion
- Cruciality of the atoning work of Christ as the sole mediator between God and humanity
- Imperative of Evangelism
Ok. Note the similarities? Especially note how these fit into the documents I noted earlier. I think these help to approach a center for evangelicalism.
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