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Essentials of Christianity, Evangelicalism, Fundamentalism, Reformed, Reformers

>"Evangelical" – I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

>Many people have been troubled over what the term evangelical means. Beyond that, they wonder whether they can call themselves evangelical in good conscience, considering the movements and leaders the term is associated with today. Before we abandon the label for another, it might be helpful to explore: what does “evangelical” mean and what has it meant?

In reading up on the subject, people have been called evangelical in 3 different historical time periods with 3 different meanings:
1. 1500s – “Evangelical” was almost universally synonymous with Lutherans. As the split appeared between the followers of Calvin and the followers of Luther, most of the former took the label of “Reformed” and most of the latter took the appellation of “Evangelical.” Yet, some Reformed would also refer to themselves as evangelical, as this merely identified themselves with Luther’s recovery of the gospel. [Hence, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America claim the label of evangelical, meaning little of what is meant today]
2. 1700s – “Evangelical” refered to the new religious furvor associated with the Wesleys and Whitefield in the Methodist revival movement in England. The emphasis of the “evangelicals” was on personal conversion and an experiential response to the gospel (John Wesley described it as a “strange warming”). Evangelicals often insulted the Anglican establishment by preaching the need of conversion to baptized church members.

3. 1900s – After the 1920s and 1930s revealed the inadequacies of mere Fundamentalism in its blunt, militant, separatist reaction to theological liberalism, the “neo-evangelicals” adapted some of the revival techniques of the Second Great Awakening attempting to be “nice fundamentalists.” In America, this movement was most commonly associated with Billy Graham and Harold Ockenga, a Baptist and Presbyterian respectively and in England with Martin-Lloyd Jones and John Stott, a separatist Methodist Calvinist and an Anglican minister respectively. Yet after these leaders, evangelicalism began to focus on the same fundamentals that all Christians share, and ignore distinctives.
D.G. Hart recently wrote an entertainingly controversial book where he contends that “evangelical” means little more than “someone who likes Billy Graham.” Some may have an affinity for J.I. Packer, but his Reformed Anglican views offend many separatists, and some like Christianity Today, though it is derided by many a purist. Even the doctrine of “faith alone” is questioned as a necessity by the keepers of the gate. In an increasingly post-Graham world, the loose alliance of people may shatter between those who often like to “take their ball and go home” in regards to denominations. Hart voices the opinion of some Reformed and most Lutheran theologians who like their distinctives and rather not abandon them. Hart claims the term is no longer meaningful or useful in historiography as those called evangelicals will have no common identity after Graham and now that evangelistic revivals have fallen out of favor.
So should we continue to call ourselves evangelical? Some have prefered inventing new terms like historic evangelical, post-evangelical, or classical Christian. I also tend to agree that I am not as comfortable with the neo-evangelicals, and when I use the term, I primarily associate with the first use in the 1500s. So, while I agree with most of Hart’s criticisms of “generic evangelicalism,” and bad theology coming from revival evangelism, I also think he might be a little too harsh on “the e-word.” I am not quite ready to abandon the term “evangelical” as long as it can be an adjective describing a general alliance, rather than noun conveying a lowest common denominator. In other words, you must be able to put a noun in front of the word evangelical.
Why? Because the depths of Christian spirituality are found in its traditions, be they Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican or puritan. These traditions can come together in common cause, for the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But in doing so, they should not lose the depths of the spiritual insights gained by the Reformed focus on the doctrines of grace, or the Lutheran/Anglican sacramental spirituality, or the puritan communion with God through the word. If they lose these distinctions, they run the risk of becoming irrelevant while chasing relevancy and dull while sharpening our gospel message. However, if “salvation by faith alone” is truly not a requirement, I will drop the term, and merely be Reformed, or perhaps just Reformed Catholic just to confuse people.

So check out Hart’s book if you want your assumptions challenged, though everyone will not agree with his solutions, his diagnosis is important to contend with, to figure out if you need to drop the e-word.

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Discussion

27 thoughts on “>"Evangelical" – I don’t think that word means what you think it means.

  1. >”…actually, I like the term “classical-e”- other than that, others simply label me as predominately reformed with sympathetic pentecostal tendencies ;)”Even though I think we could make the case for the term I would avoid using “classical” because it comes across as presumptous. The reason I say this is because this is how one author, Donald Dayton, describes the Arminian, revivalistic evangelicalism of Finney and the Second Great Awakening. It definitely caused me to say “wait a minute” when I saw him using “classical evangelical” in this way. Here’s a section from my senior paper I’m working on right that talks about this further:***excerpt***Dayton’s “Classical Evangelicals”Dayton confirms this perspective on evangelicalism [“Arminian, pietistic revivalism” of Finney, social reform and Christian radicalism as the true heart of American Evangelicalism] in other writings. In a chapter entitled “The Limits of Evangelicalism: The Pentecostal Tradition” in a book he co-edited called The Variety of American Evangelicalism, Dayton on the one hand argues that the concept of evangelicalism is an “essentially contested concept” meaning that its “core concept is in dispute” but then on the other hand argues that non-Arminian/pietistic/revivalistic forms of Evangelicalism only represent a small minority of those who label themselves “evangelical.” Dayton argues that the term “evangelical covers three diverse meanings.” The first meaning, evangelisch, refers to “Reformation themes,” “Augustinian anthropology,” and doctrines such as “divine initiation and sovereignty” and “election.” Dayton immediately dismisses this group of evangelicals by stating that this group “has less relevance to the Anglo-American scene, where the other two meanings predominate.” The second group, referred to as Pietismus, represents “classical evangelicalism” for Dayton. This group encompasses “the roots of ‘conservative piety’ in pietism and Puritanism, its flowering in the evangelical revival and awakening traditions of the eighteenth century and nineteenth century” and “emphasizes conversion, mission and evangelism; social concern; and a cluster of related themes.” This is the group Dayton believes represents the true American evangelicalism, hence his label “classical evangelicalism.” The third group of evangelicals, evangelikal, is the group Dayton reacted against in Discovering an Evangelical Heritage. These evangelicals are the conservatives of the late 19th and early 20th century modernist-fundamentalist controversies. Dayton describes them as “fundamentalists and neo-evangelicals, as represented in the Evangelical Theological Society, for example,” who have found common ground “primarily in a doctrine of Scripture, especially in its inerrancy.” Dayton is very critical of evangelicals such as Bernard Ramm who trace the history of evangelicalism from the Reformation through Protestant orthodoxy and “Old School Calvinism” to fundamentalism and neo-evangelicalism. While he claims that most who claim the title evangelical today fall within this group, Dayton again affirms that the true historical roots of evangelicalism can be traced back to his second group – the revivalistic, Wesleyan/holiness evangelicals. While arguing that evangelicalism is an essentially contested concept, Dayton continues to claim that 19th century revivalistic, Arminian, reform-oriented evangelicalism is the true American evangelicalism in The Variety of American Evangelicalism although with less emphasis on Christian radicalism.***end of excerpt***On a side note, although Dayton mentions the revivals of the 18th century in this quote this is one of the very few times he even refers to the 18th century and the first Great Awakening. He places the origins of American evangelicalism in the 19th century with Finney and the Second Great Awakening which is a major point I am arguing against in my paper. Only by practically ignoring evangelicalism prior to the 19th century is Dayton able to claim that Arminian, revivalistic evangelicalism in the line of Finney is “classical evangelicalism.”Seeing how I dislike the way Dayton uses “classical” to describe his characterization of American evangelicalism I’m going to avoid using “classical” to describe what I see as the heart of evangelicalism which is very different than Dayton’s view.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | March 2, 2008, 3:58 am
  2. >Ye Olde Evangelicsche Christian

    Posted by GUNNY | March 1, 2008, 11:22 pm
  3. >Great post!I retreated back to Machen’s response when asked about his faith: “I’m a Bible-believing Christian.”How do you like my oblique response when I’m in mixed company?I’m an Orthodox Protestant Catholic.I’m catholic because I believe in a universal body of believers.I’m a Protestant Catholic because I believe the Catholic church needs the Protestant reforms.And I’m an “orthodox” Protestant Catholic because I subscribe to many of the historic creeds and confessions. CSBI and a T4TG guy.

    Posted by Truth Unites... and Divides | March 1, 2008, 10:20 pm
  4. >pseudo-evangelical?lolactually, I like the term “classical-e”- other than that, others simply label me as predominately reformed with sympathetic pentecostal tendencies 😉

    Posted by hylander | March 1, 2008, 9:26 pm
  5. >”Watch it beardy. Them’s my peoples you talkin’ bout.”You’re right, I recant. The world would be a better place with more Reformed Baptists. William Gadsby, John Gill, Spurgeon, John Bunyan, William Carey, Judson, and John Piper are all my favorite kinds of people.

    Posted by Jared Nelson | March 1, 2008, 5:43 pm
  6. >”Bad Evangelical”I think I like it … as in …”There goes Nathan P. Gilmour; he’s one Bad Evangelical.”Actually I plagiarized it from the subtitle of Walker Percy’s Love in the Ruins: The Adventures of a Bad Catholic at a Time Near the End of the World . Though I’m not a Catholic (not even a bad one), I resonate enough with the main character that I’ve taken that title on to describe myself. 🙂

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | March 1, 2008, 5:35 pm
  7. >although those are a lot of oxymorons to run together :)Watch it beardy. Them’s my peoples you talkin’ bout.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | March 1, 2008, 4:15 pm
  8. >haha, I had actually meant behind the word evangelical, like evangelical Baptist, or Reformed, or in Gunny’s case “evangelical Reformed Baptist,” although those are a lot of oxymorons to run together 🙂

    Posted by Jared Nelson | March 1, 2008, 3:51 pm
  9. >Almost as bad as back in the day when we had to explain what a “born again” Christian was.

    Posted by GUNNY | March 1, 2008, 6:16 am
  10. >Now THAT is a sad commentary on evangelicalism’s state of affairs. I’m an an evangelical, the Christian kind. Christian evangelical. Not the other kinds. Yikes!

    Posted by Jeff Wright | March 1, 2008, 6:05 am
  11. >Sorry to be pedantic, but Jay’s tenderness better labeled as, “Touchy”?Is that the English Baptist spelling Gun?

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | March 1, 2008, 4:18 am
  12. >So what term would you guys put in front of “evangelical” to describe yourself most accurately?Maybe “Christian” would work.I’m a Christian evangelical, not a pagan one.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | March 1, 2008, 4:15 am
  13. >I’m curious as to what you find out as well.”Bad Evangelical” I think I like it … as in …”There goes Nathan P. Gilmour; he’s one Bad Evangelical.”That might even be better than being a Bad Mama Jama.

    Posted by GUNNY | March 1, 2008, 4:06 am
  14. >Incidentally, the “craedobaptism” spelling fascinates me. I wonder whether that’s just a holdover from the pre-dictionary, freewheeling spelling days, or if the Anglo-Saxons or the Normans transliterated it with an aesch, or what happened. I’ll have to look into that.I do chuckle thinking of the Apostles’ Craed. 🙂

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | March 1, 2008, 3:57 am
  15. >bad.Bad Evangelical. 🙂

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | March 1, 2008, 3:05 am
  16. >So what term would you guys put in front of “evangelical” to describe yourself most accurately?

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 29, 2008, 11:21 pm
  17. >”Early Church, baby.”I tend to like it a little earlier! You know, like fulfilled Judaism!

    Posted by Mark Mathews | February 29, 2008, 9:31 pm
  18. >How naive of me … I also thought the early church’s dramatic growth was due to holiness & persecution.Back to church growth the “old fashioned” way.

    Posted by GUNNY | February 29, 2008, 9:15 pm
  19. >”Is “adult baptism” a baptism in the buff? (i.e., no longer PG-13)”Yup. Early Church, baby. We’re just putting the “historical” in Historical Evangelical.

    Posted by Jeff Wright | February 29, 2008, 9:07 pm
  20. >Sorry to be pedantic, but Jay’s tenderness better labeled as, “Touchy”?But, yes, the Latin is credo, but “craedobaptist” is the English spelling (i.e., not American).Incidentally, that’s how I covered my spelling error tracks at Oxford: “Oh, prof, that’s just the American spelling.”Works every time.For Nathan & Jay, I’m a little leary of the adjective “adult” in our day and age. Is “adult baptism” a baptism in the buff? (i.e., no longer PG-13)

    Posted by GUNNY | February 29, 2008, 8:50 pm
  21. >No, Mark, I’m more of the cranky Anabaptist adult-baptizing sort. 😉

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | February 29, 2008, 8:36 pm
  22. > “As a Presbyterian fellow, I’m a proponent of adult baptism as well. Everyone who enters the covenant in adulthood should indeed receive the covenant sign. :-)” Touché!

    Posted by Mark Mathews | February 29, 2008, 8:31 pm
  23. >For what it’s worth, I’m a proponent of adult baptismAs a Presbyterian fellow, I’m a proponent of adult baptism as well. Everyone who enters the covenant in adulthood should indeed receive the covenant sign. 🙂

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | February 29, 2008, 8:11 pm
  24. >D.G. Hart recently wrote an entertainingly controversial book where he contends that [Photo]“evangelical” means little more than “someone who likes Billy Graham.”I laughed when I read this. It’s akin to the definition of fundamentalist commonly attributed to Jerry Falwell: “an evangelical who’s mad about something.”As I posted some time in the past, I never thought of myself as an evangelical until I came to work at a state university. Then I realized that, despite my tradition’s suspicion of the term, I have more in common in the end with my Baptist and Methodist and Presbyterian colleagues than I do with my Marxist and Freudian and neo-liberal ones, and in my own mind that’s enough reason not to reject the category outright.But then again, I do tend to let other folks put the labels on me rather than self-applying, so that might be a problem in its own right. 🙂

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | February 29, 2008, 7:46 pm
  25. >craedobaptisticSorry to be pedantic, but isn’t the Latin credo spelled with a simple e rather than with an ae? Or is there some other term that I’m missing here?(For what it’s worth, I’m a proponent of adult baptism, with all the pugnacity that such a position necessitates. 😉 )

    Posted by Nathan P. Gilmour | February 29, 2008, 7:40 pm
  26. >”So should we continue to call ourselves evangelical?”I think each generation almost has to (re)define itself.This is not your father’s evangelicalism. The terms change in meaning over time, so even Protestant doesn’t mean what it once did. The labels identify a set of beliefs (in this instance) and they’re handy for knowing who to be friends with and who to shun, but unless you can require some adherence to some requirements prior to using the labels, they’re pretty sloogey.I think ETS has really taught us this. Either define thoroughly who you are or don’t be surprised when you get people you don’t want.As a born-again, trinitarian, Reformed, craedobaptistic, non-Charismatic, NCT-leaning, historic premillenialist who affirms inerrancy, complementarianism, the fundamentals of the faith, a literal 6 day creation, a young earth, and the greatest sports teams (i.e., Cardinals, Cowboys, Lakers, Aggies, Stars, Mavericks), I often wish I had just one term to describe my slooge.But alas … I do not.

    Posted by GUNNY | February 29, 2008, 6:02 pm
  27. >I am not quite ready to abandon the term “evangelical” as long as it can be an adjective describing a general alliance, rather than noun conveying a lowest common denominator. In other words, you must be able to put a noun in front of the word evangelical. Why? Because the depths of Christian spirituality are found in its traditions, be they Reformed, Lutheran, Anglican or puritan. These traditions can come together in common cause, for the gospel of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone. But in doing so, they should not lose the depths of the spiritual insights gained by the Reformed focus on the doctrines of grace, or the Lutheran/Anglican sacramental spirituality, or the puritan communion with God through the word.Excellent statement. I have Hart’s book on my shelf. It’s longing to be read even more now.

    Posted by M. Jay Bennett | February 29, 2008, 5:48 pm

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