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THE ROAD WE TRAVEL
A Brief History of Evangelicalism
On many occasions in this journey, I have wanted to turn in my Evangelical membership card and call it a day. There have been moments when I still wanted to believe in Jesus, but I didn't want to belong to this crazy family anymore. Maybe you've been there too ... but with all the sincerity that I can muster, I truly believe this dysfunctional and whacked-out family of ours can be healed and find recovery. -Mike Foster, founder of XXXchurch.com
Defining Evangelicalism seems to be the Christian topic of the day. Why is this so? And why should we care? The former question will be addressed in this chapter, while the latter will be discussed in my next chapter. For now, regarding the latter, it is sufficient to say that Mike Foster's quote gives us reason enough to approach this subject, indeed to devote a whole book to it. Though the perceptions of the outside (media, non-Christians) do matter to some extent, more troubling is the malaise that has set in within the Evangelical community.
Two of the mantras I live by are (1) you are the best critic of a group if you are a part of it, and (2) you are the best advocate of a group if you are not a part of it. For example, I can say that my mother sometimes annoys me when she nags. However, if anybody else were to say something against my mother, I would not tolerate the least bit of disrespect toward her. I have a right to say something about her because she is in my family. An example of my second mantra: Imagine a black person speaking up for African American rights. That's fine, but people automatically assume that he or she is defending blacks because of a vested interest. Now imagine a white person who speaks in defense of blacks. A defense is more powerful when someone sticks up for a group that they do not represent. (This is one reason why I, as an Asian American, chose to focus my doctoral studies on Latin America, even though I have absolutely no link to that continent.) The first mantra is why this book exists: We are five young Evangelicals who want to critique Evangelicalism because we are Evangelicals, and we care about its future. It is our family, and we have the right to critique it from within.
A History of Evangelicalism
The Los Angeles Times recently interviewed Richard Mouw, president of Fuller Seminary, on "Evangelicalism" and the history of this loaded word. He pointed out that the word evangel means "good news"-the gospel. So at its root, Evangelicals are "gospel people," however that is defined. The problem is that the word Evangelical has been tainted by the culture wars of the twentieth century. As Mouw explained, "Since about 1980, with the emergence of the Moral Majority and the new religious right, people have seen Evangelicals as a group to be afraid of-that we're trying to do something bad.... Ten years ago Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell may have set the agenda for Evangelicals. But today, I think it's Rick Warren and Bill Hybels who are more visible in setting the agenda for the Evangelicals." And Mouw himself, I might add. He is one of a new breed of Evangelicals who is committed to ending social injustices (such as AIDS, genocide, and poverty) but holds to a pro-life stance. When asked whether Evangelicals need a new label, Mouw responded, "It's an important label. I am not ready to give it up." In the interview, Mouw astutely noted two points: a widespread negative perception of Evangelicalism today, and the fact that Evangelicalism is often tied to certain prominent individuals.
Recently, Time magazine capitalized on the "cult of celebrity" that often surrounds Evangelicals. A cover article recounted the twenty-five most influential Evangelicals in America, such as Rick Warren, James Dobson, Billy Graham, and Bill Hybels. Interestingly, though, the list also included Richard John Neuhaus, a Catholic. This shows that the word Evangelical in America does not even necessarily have to refer to a Protestant, so long as he or she is considered a more "conservative" Christian. Time described America's Evangelicals as defying unity and hierarchy, "yet its members share basic commitments: to the divinity and saving power of Jesus, to personal religious conversion, to the Bible's authority and to the spreading of the Gospel."
Christianity Today's fiftieth-anniversary issue (October 2006) put Evangelicalism on its front cover as well. In the cover article, Mark Noll writes, "Since the movement's beginning in the revivals of the 18th century, Evangelicals have combined traditional religion with cultural adaptability. Evangelicalism has been at its best when continuity with doctrinal tradition has balanced sensitive response to surrounding circumstances." Noll stresses two characteristics of Evangelicals: style and content. Billy Graham had a policy of being willing to cooperate with anyone who would cooperate with him, including liberal Protestants. This was intentionally "a clear distinction between separatistic and intentionally narrow fundamentalism and more open, intentionally outgoing Evangelicalism.... Fundamentalists would seek to protect the gospel by separating from the world. Evangelicals, by contrast, would promote it by engaging the world- and using whatever means modern America made available." Style was ever-changing and adaptable. Content, however, stood firm: "Traditional Evangelical convictions were central-missionary proclamation of the gospel abroad, committed evangelization of the lost at home, passionate fidelity to the Bible, and ... careful exposition of classical Christian teaching alongside principled Christian assessment of current events." Noll sees the ideal Evangelicalism as balancing "traditional faith and cultural relevance."
Chronological factors are important to consider. The label Evangelical cannot properly apply until after John Wesley's conversion, because Wesley is often seen as the first modern theologian to hold to the Bebbington Quadrilateral (see below); nevertheless, before Wesley, there was a general movement toward Evangelicalism. Timothy Larsen explains in his Biographical Dictionary of Evangelicals: "[T]he inclusion of a 'prehistory' of Evangelical forbears was thought to be useful-those by whose work Evangelicals have often been shaped and with whose examples they have been identified. The earliest figure who has been included is John Wyclif. Thus my rule of thumb for the chronological scope of the volume has always been 'from John Wyclif to John Wimber' (and, I suppose one might add, 'via John Wesley'). The Reformers and Puritans are the most obvious examples of individuals included because of their influence on the Evangelical community, even though they were not 'Evangelicals' in a technical sense."
Global Definitions of Evangelicalism
Though this book is primarily concerned with American Evangelicalism, the shift of Christianity's center of gravity to the non-Western world means that global definitions of the word Evangelical need to be taken into account.
Mortimer Arias, Methodist bishop of Uruguay, engaged this topic in his book Announcing the Reign of God: Evangelization and the Subversive Memory of Jesus. He was trying to search for "a holistic evangelization that is authentically biblical and contemporary." Arias defined Evangelical by the word evangelization; these words are derived from the Greek noun euangelion ("good news") and the deponent verb euangelizomai ("to announce good news"), respectively. He also looked at euangelizestai and euangelistes and, based on Kittel and Friedrich's Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, concluded that, pre-Christ, the words referred to bringing "good news about a great event such as a victory in war, the coming of the emperor, or the announcement of the new age to come"; in other words, they were highly politically charged. He has "worked through more than one hundred recent definitions ranging from 'narrow evangelism' to 'holistic evangelism,' with a broad spectrum in between." He did not accept the Western tendency to reduce evangelism to "personal salvation, individual conversion, and incorporation into the church" but rather concluded that politics, ecclesiology, and eschatology are part and parcel of a holistic gospel.
Another prominent Latin American voice was José Míguez Bonino of Argentina. Míguez Bonino asserted, "In Latin America the word evangélico (or 'evangelista,' as 'evangélicos' are sometimes called) covers both 'Protestant' and 'Evangelical.' Some forty years ago our beloved Adam F. Sosa questioned this identification and maintained that our churches were in truth 'Evangelical' and not Protestant. My reaction to this thesis was negative and I attempted to demonstrate a firm Protestant rootage-'heirs of the reformation of Luther and Calvin'-of the Latin American Protestant churches. I still adhere to that thesis but must admit that, with regard to most of our churches, the heritage has been reshaped in other lands and with other molds."
For Míguez Bonino, the word evangélico is a mixed bag, implying both the Protestant Reformation as well as a native Latin American expression of his faith. Philip Jenkins further adds, "Across Latin America, the term evangélico refers indiscriminately to both Protestants and Pentecostals" more than to just the traditional Western notion of adherence to a set of doctrines. Latin Americans do not distinguish between "conservative" and "liberal" Protestants by calling the former Evangelicals; the majority Catholic population is so dominating that Protestants cannot afford to divide themselves up further.
It is not only in Latin America that the definition of Evangelical takes on a specific connotation. In continental Europe, historically Evangelical implied following after Luther, as opposed to Reformed, which was virtually synonymous with Calvinist (and still is, even in the United States today). Derek Tidball observed, "Martin Luther, horrified that his followers were being called by his name but realizing that they needed to be called something more specific than Christians, made use of the term 'Evangelical.' He wrote, in 1522, of 'this common Evangelical cause' ... This usage of the word is still current. Churches of the European Continent still call themselves Evangelical in the sense in which elsewhere we would speak of them as Protestant, or, to be more precise, that branch of Protestantism associated with Luther rather than with the Reformed emphasis of Calvin." German actually has two slightly different words: evangelikal and evangelisch, the former meaning "Evangelical" (a direct transliteration) and the latter meaning "Protestant." There are also two derivative words, evangelisch-lutherisch and evangelisch-reformiert, which mean "Lutheran" and "Reformed," respectively. One might also add Frei Evangelische Gemeinde, which are the Free Churches.
The Bebbington Quadrilateral
Probably the most "classic" definition of Evangelical comes from the British historian David Bebbington. He suggests four characteristics that he deems descriptive of Evangelicals: conversionism (the importance of confession of Christ for salvation); activism (ministry and missions in both the evangelistic and social justice senses); biblicism (taking the Bible as the sole supreme authority of Christian faith and practice); and crucicentrism (emphasis on the sacrificial redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross). This so-called Bebbington Quadrilateral has become the most often quoted definition of Evangelicalism today.
Some critics have taken issue with the second characteristic, activism. Though it is certainly true that Evangelicals emphasize evangelism, there is some disagreement that social justice concern should be included in the definition of Evangelical activism. However, one need only look at a list of prominent Evangelicals across history to verify Bebbington's assertion: Jonathan Edwards (who fought for equal rights for the Mohican and Mohawk Indians in Stockbridge, Massachusetts); Charles Finney (a staunch abolitionist); William Wilberforce (the Member of Parliament who abolished the slave trade in Britain); Martin Luther King Jr. (father of the civil rights movement in America); Billy Graham (who insisted on working alongside King before it was popular to do so); Carl F. H. Henry (systematic theologian who lambasted Evangelicals for disengaging from the world's sufferings); Chuck Colson (founder of Prison Ministries); and Jim Wallis (along with Bono, one of the two most prominent social justice Christians alive today). Perhaps it was the twentieth century, with the rise of fundamentalism, the Religious Right, and the Moral Majority, which gave Evangelicalism its reputation as decidedly unjustice-oriented. This is what prompted Jim Wallis to say, "At heart, I am a 19th-century Evangelical; I was just born in the wrong century. The Evangelical Christians of the 19th century combined revivalism with social reform and helped lead campaigns for women's suffrage and child labor laws, and to abolish slavery. One of the most famous revivalists, Charles Finney, developed the idea of the 'altar call' in order to make sure he signed up all of his converts for the abolition movement. Today, poverty is the new slavery-imprisoning bodies, minds, and souls, destroying hope and ending the future for a generation."
The Bebbington Quadrilateral is a good foundation, but one can believe in those four trademark characteristics and still not be an Evangelical, by virtue of adding the wrong things rather than subtracting the right things (a problem of heterodoxical commission rather than omission). The Evangelical Theological Society has encountered some difficulty with this, because they define Evangelical too sparingly (reducing the issue to inerrancy and Trinity)19 rather than using a more robust definition. Having a more robust definition would help Evangelicals include a broader pool of denominations and theologies under its umbrella while, seemingly ironically, simultaneously helping to define Evangelicalism more. However, this can happen only if the definition were not merely along doctrinal lines ("one must believe such-and-such") but also along missional lines. The former would merely restrict Evangelicalism to only certain segments of Evangelicals, while taking the latter with the former has the power to hold in tension both truth and unity. Both the Bebbington Quadrilateral and ETS's twin criteria could be improved upon by additional points of orthodoxy and orthopraxy.
The Lausanne Covenant and the Evangelical Manifesto
For example, the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization has been trying to define Evangelicalism for the past thirty years-and Lausanne was critical to the genesis of this book, because most of us met at a Lausanne Younger Leaders' Gathering in 2006! To go right back to the very beginning, in 1974, at the first Lausanne Congress in Switzerland (called by many the most comprehensive gathering of worldwide Evangelical Christians ever up to that point), Billy Graham and John Stott were the key architects in drafting the Lausanne Covenant, a five-page, fifteen-point document detailing shared theological and missional beliefs among the participants. Many people, churches, and organizations now take the Lausanne Covenant as a more sophisticated definition of Evangelical than the Bebbington Quadrilateral. Some missions organizations and church staffs even require a candidate to sign the Lausanne Covenant before they are taken on board with their particular ministry. The Lausanne Covenant does not contradict the Bebbington Quadrilateral but expands and defines it further.
To sum up these points, the word Evangelical can imply theology (a set of doctrines such as inerrancy, Trinity, Christocentrism), political leaning (conservative or Republican), starting point (the Bible), action (evangelism, social justice, and conversion), moderation and engagement with the world and culture (as opposed to "fundamentalist" extremism and separation from the world), geography (meaning "Protestant" in Latin America and "Lutheran" in continental Europe), and gospel (the basic root definition, from the Greek euangelion). It is, in short, a word with a multitude of meanings.
Perhaps the Lausanne Covenant is, indeed, the most concise and comprehensive summary of Evangelicalism. The fifteen points it outlines are:
1. The Purpose of God 2. The Authority and Power of the Bible 3. The Uniqueness and Universality of Christ 4. The Nature of Evangelism 5. Christian Social Responsibility 6. The Church and Evangelism 7. Cooperation in Evangelism 8. Churches in Evangelistic Partnership
Excerpted from Routes and Radishes by Mark Russell Allen Yeh Michelle Sanchez Chelle Stearns Dwight Friesen Copyright © 2010 by Mark Russell, Allen Yeh, Michelle Sanchez, Chelle Stearns, and Dwight Friesen. Excerpted by permission.
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