Friday, 10 September 2010

Defining Evangelicalism

It was asked, and a cut and paste was fairly easy.

My final year project at college examined the evangelical movement in post-WW2 English Anglicanism. I was attempting to assess whether things ‘went wrong’ and if so, how far; hence, a necessary step was to have a go at defining evangelicalism. I’ve never had a problem with self-confidence, and so after surveying all and sundry’s efforts, decided to come up with my own answer. I’m still quite happy with it, and it was really the only thing the marker liked in the whole project, so…


‘From the survey above, it is apparent that a blended approach is best, one that recognises that a definition of evangelicalism must incorporate both methodology and history in its essential features. Even given this, however, it is worth considering what controls the selection of components. The temptation to give this role to the priority of Scripture is strong, but at the very place where Stott might convince one of this, he goes deeper: ‘The hallmark of evangelicals is […] a submissive spirit, namely their a priori resolve to believe and obey whatever the Scripture may be shown to teach. They are committed to Scripture in advance, whatever it may be later found to say. […] They see this humble and obedient stance as an essential implication of Christ’s lordship over them.’[1] Beyond the commitment to Scripture is a recognition of divine sovereignty. Peter Jensen has described this as the key to a sharp definition of evangelicalism.[2] What is common to most of the attempts at definition already mentioned is their foundation in the sovereignty of God. This is literally the quintessence of Bebbington’s quadrilateral. To be even more precise, it is the sovereignty of God in the gospel: biblicism reflects God’s sovereignty in the revelation of the gospel, crucicentrism his sovereignty in its focus, and conversionism and activism in humanity’s response to the gospel. Similarly, Stott’s commitment to Bible and gospel – both tied to divine sovereignty – leads him to the Nottingham theme of obedience to Christ.[3]

Thus, if we accept that being evangelical means holding a Christian faith that responds to God’s sovereignty in the gospel, one more advantage is apparent. As the antithesis of sin, it is clear that nobody can hope to be perfectly evangelical; there must be a grey area that gives ‘room to move […] without resorting to disenfranchising one another.’[4] Evangelicals of different generations can be recognised as such, despite their different emphases, because these emphases consistently arose from their recognition of God’s authority. Different lists of evangelical essentials can be drawn up, as long as they emanate from this central point. Treating God’s sovereignty as it particularly relates to the gospel generates the evangelical method of the primacy of Scripture. And finally, the value of evangelical tradition can be weighed from this same perspective. Accordingly, the standing of the evangelical movement in the Church of England can be measured in terms of its faithfulness to this fundamental conviction.’

[The reference to Nottingham is to a gathering of evangelical Anglicans that’s usually thought to mark the point at which they strayed. I’d argue that they continued down a path already begun.]

[1] Stott, Essentials, 104.

[2] Peter F. Jensen, unpublished address, given at the 75th Anniversary Celebration of the Sydney University Evangelical Union, 8/10/05.

[3] Stott, What is an Evangelical?, 14.

[4] Thompson, ‘Saving the Heart’, The Briefing 151: 4.


So, that’s what I meant by a high view of God’s sovereignty. I think it’s what shapes who we are.


Mister Tim said...

But they didn't like the rest of the project?

Anthony Douglas said...

Not as much as I did, at any rate!

It could have done with a bit more time in the writing of it. But then again, it might have had a little more if my hard drive hadn't imploded three days before it was due. Such is life. I learned heaps, and that truly is more important.

Nice to see your face behind all that apple, Tim ;-)

Mister Tim said...

Like this?

Anthony Douglas said...

Yep, that rates.