I’m an Evangelical, and I’m proud of it. I believe that the Bible is the authoritative guide to truth about God and to the Christian life. I believe, in Roger Olson’s words, that “authentic Christianity requires a conversion experience of regeneration and that faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and repentance for sin are necessarily included in that”. I accept without reservation the Basis of Faith of the Evangelical Alliance here in the UK – although I do have reservations about some American definitions of evangelicalism which define the Bible as inerrant. I’m also a Charismatic, but that’s a separate story.
But my right to call myself an Evangelical seems to be under attack from all sides at the moment.
A few weeks ago I discussed here how Adrian Warnock seems to accept as Evangelicals only those who take the Bible literally. His reasons for not accepting a particular person, Rob Bell, as an Evangelical also include him
speaking with people who had problems understanding what God is like. Hence he looks at what it sees in this world and then formulates a theology … he sees life then tries to interpret Bible.
John Richardson, the Ugley Vicar, wants to put a different kind of restriction on being Evangelical. In a post yesterday Episcopal appointments – from subtle exclusion to overt discrimination he discusses when “the last Evangelical appointment was” of a bishop in the Church of England. The answer he gives, 1997, shows that what he really meant was the last appointment of an Evangelical opposed to the ordination of women – a point clarified in a comment by Beryl Polden.
Dave Warnock, a somewhat liberal Methodist minister unrelated to Adrian, offers an outsider’s perspective on the limits of evangelicalism. Phil Whittall posted about the sad story of Gordon Lynch who lost his Christian faith, largely, it seems, because of abuse by power-hungry Evangelical church leaders. In comments in response to this Dave offer a rant (his word) against Evangelicals, which he repeats in a post on his own blog. Here is part of the rant:
a) The number of Evangelicals willing to engage in critical thinking on these issues is close to vanishingly small.
b) The number of Evangelicals willing to trot out proof texts, anger and aggression on this issues is huge.
c) I know many women who have articulated the response they have got from trying to engage with many Evangelicals on issues of power and gender. Evangelicals do not come out of this well at all. …
In his response to my comment about this, Dave clarifies that he is
addressing the “hard Evangelical position”, in other words the Evangelicals who take a hard line on issues such as gender and sexuality and who eagerly condemn those who disagree with them.
But what he originally wrote makes no such distinction. He seems to be putting about a stereotype of typical Evangelicals characterised by his five negative points, of which I quoted three above. He accepts that there are thoughtful Evangelicals like me but implies that our numbers are “close to vanishingly small”.
Then for a North American view: Joel Watts writes I’m a Evangelical Reject I reckon based on a post by Kurt Willems You Might Be An Evangelical Reject If… It seems that Kurt and Joel both consider themselves to have been put outside the Evangelical pale because of a number of attitudes and positions that they take. I share with them most of these attitudes and positions. But I do not accept that these make me an “Evangelical Reject”. I don’t care too much if others reject me, but I won’t accept their labels. I know that I still stand within the fold of historic evangelicalism, and it is before God, not before men and women, that I stand there.
Roger Olson has written on Why I can’t give up the label “evangelical”. I’m not sure I agree with him that the media are to blame for the distortion of the term, at least here in the UK. I put the blame on other Christians like the ones I have quoted in this post. But I stand with him in this:
All labels have their problems and, to be sure “evangelical” is fraught with them. But I am not giving it up. Instead, I will fight for it.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe that the Bible is an inerrant source of facts which its authors could not have known or understood.
I’m an Evangelical, and I am allowed to let my theology be informed by what I see, and what scientists see, in the world which God made.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe in a worldwide flood within the last 10,000 years.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe that God the Father punished his Son for sins he was not guilty of.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe that nearly everyone in the world, including anyone with homosexual inclinations, is going straight to everlasting torment in hell.
I’m an Evangelical, and I am free from behavioural rules of conservative Christianity such as “no drinking” and “no dancing”.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe that women cannot exercise leadership.
I’m an Evangelical, and I can believe that I should live in the world, as a good Christian, and not separate myself from it.
I’m an Evangelical, and I can believe that God is interested in social justice and in protection of the natural environment.
I’m an Evangelical, and I don’t have to believe that the world is inevitably going to get worse and that all Christians are soon going to be miraculously raptured out of it.
I’m an Evangelical, and I can work towards the Kingdom of God in this world while I wait for Jesus to return and bring in the fullness of that Kingdom.
I applaud the Evangelical Alliance for its largely successful efforts to keep UK Evangelicals together, under a broad umbrella which can include people like myself as well as all but the most extreme fundamentalists. They have weathered storms like the Steve Chalke controversy and emerged stronger. I trust that they will continue to maintain this unity despite efforts to break it from inside and out.
I accept the right of other Evangelicals to disagree with me on some serious issues, as long as they don’t compromise the basic gospel message. Healthy debate, on blogs and elsewhere, is a good thing. But please let’s all be more careful about divisive statements, even in throwaway comments, suggesting that some other person or group is not Evangelical.