Defining Evangelicalism

Deciding on how to define evangelicalism, or how to meaningfully express that one is an evangelical, is notoriously difficult. Mark Noll has written about the scandal of losing the evangelical mind while other writers, myself included, have warned that the word refers more often than not to a subculture, not a doctrinally based movement of churches. It seems people have as many different definitions of "evangelical" as there are schools, groups and movements. One soon begins to doubt the value of retaining the term. I have chosen, to this point, to keep it. I have no real quarrel with those who decide otherwise.

My reasons for keeping the word evangelical may eventually be outweighed by the political and social baggage attached to it but currently these positive reasons include the following:

1. The word has its roots in the New Testament word evangel, thus reminding us that we are gospel Christians.

2. The word has solid historic roots in the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent evangelical awakenings.

3. The word avoids denominational labels and identities that make our boundaries of cooperation and fellowship too narrow.

4. The word distinguishes me/us from fundamentalism, or at least it did until very recently.

I also see good reasons for dropping the name:

1. It now has political overtones that make it sound like we are simply a wing of the Republican Party.

2. The word is used increasingly by people who deny large portions of the historic faith commonly confessed by classical and catholic Christians.

3. The word is used to describe practices and attitudes more than real beliefs and confessions, thus it is increasingly used as an adjective with little or no meaning.

For now, as I say, I will keep the word. I wonder if I will feel the same in five years. We shall see.

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