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Saturday, July 30, 2005

What is an evangelical?

There have been some comments in blogs about evangelicals or by evangelicals or whatever. Although I at least know I am not an evangelical, I'm a bit ignorant on precise definitions of the term 'evangelical'. It seems to me to mean different things to different people. In the UK my impression is that it is mostly used in terms of 'conservative evangelical' to denote someone who believes that what the gospels tell us 'actually happened' or something like that, have a relatively internal view of salvation (i.e. likeminded believers only), and think Bultmann's approach to the gospels is a bit naughty (every time I teach form criticism I get a very negative reaction from some students). Now I know not all those who think of themselves as evangelicals in the UK would not identify themselves with the position I just outlined. There is also what I supposed could loosely be called a more German approach where it is (again correct me if I'm wrong) associated with the Protestant tradition in general and Bultmann would, of course, be perfectly at home here. Reading a couple of the bloggers I suspect that there are a few out there who would be happy to be called evangelicals but would differ over some very key points of theology.

Now, I know I've not mentioned some massive points of theology above but people can say what means what to them.

So, how would you define an evangelical or, perhaps more relevant, an evangelical biblical scholar?


Blogger J. B. Hood said...

I'd rather comment on the draw for CL qualification, but I'm afraid I know more about this question. But that's not to say I know the answer. Evangelicalism in America developed away from Fundamentalism in the mid-twentieth century; the latter term began to denote Christian separatism (and still does).

20 years ago the basics definitions were the authority of Scripture (sola, sometimes solo Scriptura; truth of Scripture (often inerrancy in USA), supernatural origin of Xianity and the Bible, atonement, salvation by grace through faith, exclusivity of Christianity--those latter three constituting the "evangel" of evangelicalism. Hard to get more precise than that, and over the last twenty years there's been some variegation in the species, so I won't go on...

July 30, 2005

Blogger Michael Pahl said...

There was an exchange on this among several bloggers a while ago. You can access much of the exchange on my blog, including links to other resources: evangelicals and evangelicalism. The British scene (and in general terms global evangelicalism) was helpfully outlined by David Bebbington about 15 years ago now (?); his "quadrilateral" describing the essentials of evangelicalism is here: true evangelicals. These will at least provide some informed perspectives on your questions!

July 30, 2005

Blogger Eureka Dejavu said...

I am an award-winning journalist and columnist who recently announced the "Ruminations on America" project. I'm looking for essays from coast to coast on the current state of the union and true American core values. The guidelines are available on my blog, www.ruminationsonamerica.blogspot.com.

July 30, 2005

Blogger Ken said...

Evangelicalism is British/European in origin, not American.

Bebbington's definition, which Michael links to above, and book on this topic are excellent.

July 30, 2005

Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

James, sadly "what is an evangelical?" is a question that even evangelicals disagree over (sigh)! It would take an essay to answer it. The term means different things to different people. For some, evangelical is a synonym for fundamentalist. In Germany evangelische means not-Catholic. In the US, the designation "evangelicals" takes on quasi-political/social connotations. As I see it what is now evangelicalism is a network of Christians who follow something similar to Bebbington's quadrilateral. In terms of historical origins - there is the Reformation heritage; influences of revivalism and pietism from the 18th-19th centuries; holding to the basics of the faith with early 20th century fundamentalism; but it separated from fundamentalism in the 1950s as several intellectuals were dissatisfied with the isolationist tendencies and doctrinal rigor of fundamentalism and instead wanting to engage the wider cultural world of the day. Me personally, I think evangelicalism should de defined theologically but what I regard as the sine qua non of evangelicalism is how one articulates the evangel; not necessarily some particular view of biblical authority. Me thinks I shall blog on this.

July 31, 2005

Blogger Michael F. Bird said...

On your question: For me, as a self-confessed evangelical biblical scholar (perhaps brazenly so!), it means seeing my scholarship as being for the purpose of educating and enriching the Christian church; being a mediator between the Church and the Academy so that I can explain intellectual currents to lay people; and to assist Christians in finding a faith seeking understanding!

July 31, 2005

Blogger Ben Myers said...

I think of myself as an evangelical. For me personally this means both "evangelical" in the broad German sense of the term; and, more narrowly, "evangelical" in the etymological sense, i.e., where theology and faith are centred on the "evangel".

I suppose here in Australia it is much easier to choose my own rough definition of "evangelical" in this way, since we Aussies don't have the same kind of culturally-defined "evangelicalism" as in the US, nor quite the same clear polarisation between "liberal" and "conservative" as in the English Church. So although I use the term quite freely here in Australia, I suppose if I was in a different cultural context I would need to decide whether or not I could continue to use the term at all.

August 01, 2005

Anonymous Anonymous said...

'Party' names such as 'evangelical' contain within themselves a fundamental difficulty. Which is: 'evangelical' as opposed to what? 'Thinking' as opposed to what? 'Reverent' as opposed to what? 'Spirit-filled' as opposed to what? There are certain things, including these four, which are 'sine qua non's of every Christian.
This would be my main question; & a second one regards whether or not party/tribal-identities are or are not (psychologically) a bit adolescent.

August 22, 2005


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