As I've taken a look at some different definitions of "evangelical," there have been some similarities and congruencies. Even as you look at the statements that I have listed in the previous posts which represent a wide set of evangelicals with different theological standings around the globe, there is a remarkable "center," what Stan Grenz referred to in his book "Renewing the Center: evangelical theology in a post-theological era." Several scholars have tried to nail down these "core beliefs" to create a kind of center to the movement. And that's clear... evangelicalism is a movement rather than a static set of beliefs or a certain community body. Evangelicalism certainly has historical roots, contextual grounding, and theological past, but it also has a multi-cultural, global character that defies one single line of history or cultural context. I'd like to list a few of these definitions of the "center" of evangelicalism over the next couple of posts, and I think we'll all see some similarities and congruencies. Let's just start, though, with Robert Webber, who has offered much to bridge the Christian past with the Christian future, particularly in evangelicalism. In his "The Younger Evangelicals" he tries to answer the question, "Who are the Evangelicals?" He says, "...evangelicals stand in continuity with each other throughout the history of the church. Our commonality is expressed in the four uses of the word evangelical: biblical, theological, historical, and culture." He then goes on to explain futher:
- The biblical use of evangelical simply refers to the euangelion, the good news that salvation has arrived in Jesus Christ.
- [The theological use] refers to those who affirm Scripture as the authoritative Word of God and accept the creeds of the early church as accurate reflections of the gospel. (He specifically mentions the Apostles, Nicene, and Chalcedon Creeds.)
- The historical usage of evangelical refers to all those movements in history that have attempted to restore a vital historic Christianity to the church at those momentns when the church has become dead in spirit or has departed from the faith of the fathers. (He calls this evangelical renewal and cites the monastics, the Protestant reformation, pietism, the Oxford movement, and the major evangelical awakenings.)
- A cultural evangelical is defined by the biblical, theological, and historical uses of the term (1-3 above) but is rooted in a particular paradigm of thought. Webber then goes on to talk about evangelicalism's connection in the past to modernism and Cartesian rationalism, and the premise of this particular book is that "a new evangelical paradigm, is emerging." [p. 15] In other words, #4 is changing.
These four desciptions are helpful, but to me they don't say quite enough. They're describe in some ways what an evangelical looks like, but what about what an evangelical believes? Certainly #1 and #2 get at that a bit, but not much. In the next post I'll offer a couple others that I think are helpful.
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