Ok, although they didn’t ask me, I thought I’d answer the seven questions Touchstone asked about evangelicalism anyway.

How do you define “Evangelical” in a way that distinguishes Evangelicals from other believing Christians? And has this definition changed over the last several years?

The nomenclature ‘evangelical’ has taken on a very wide definition today. It encompasses a diversity of theological positions yet there remain traits essential to the position. One of the defining principles of evangelicalism is the acceptance of the Bible as God’s infallible, inerrant word and the sole source of authority in the church and in the Christian’s life. Another central principle is an emphasis on the need for a personal encounter with and saving faith in Jesus Christ. Something that has set evangelicalism apart from Christian fundamentalism from which it came has been a desire to engage the culture rather than separate from it.

Has Evangelicalism matured since the 1950s, and if so in what ways?

In some aspect I suppose it has. We’ve distanced ourselves even more from our fundamentalist and revivalistic roots. In our movement away from fundamentalism we’re even more involved in the engagement with culture than we were before. Carl F. H. Henry and others who were leaders in the evangelical movement in the 1950s were good at that but throughout the movement many of the people and churches were not so good at it. In other words, the real heart of the movement hadn’t trickled down as thoroughly as it should have.

As we outgrow our revivalistic history we’re getting better at seeing evangelism as a process and not an event. The idea of pre-evangelism would have seemed pretty strange back int he ’50s (perhaps because our culture had more of a lingering memory of Christianity than it does today). We’re outgrowing things like the Four Spiritual Laws as a method of evangelism and doing more to engage the whole person with the gospel.

Has Evangelicalism lost anything in the process of maturing (if it did)?

Tragically, yes. The way the leaders engaged culture in the 1950s tended to maintain the distinction between the culture and the church. What we see today in the seeker-sensitive model and part of the reaction to it in the emergent church is, in many ways, capitulation to culture. Where our fundamentalist roots shied away from anything that appeared liberal or that could be confused with a social gospel, the reaction to it in megachurches and emergent churches often seem to blow past the middle ground to blend with the culture.

Are there any fundamental differences within the Evangelical movement today, and do you think they will deepen into permanent divisions, or even have already? How might they be healed?

The term ‘evangelical’ is now applied to a wide variety of people and churches, many who would never have been considered evangelical in the 1950s (I blame the media who cannot keep terms straight. Islamists aren’t fundamentalists, they’re religious extremists.) As the term spreads thinner there will be divisions. The fact that some emergent churches identify themselves as “post-evangelical” (along with many other ‘post’ things) demonstrates that the split is already taking place.

Another portion of the movement that might divide comes from the recent rise of Reformed theology within evangelicalism. I’m a Reformed believer so I see this as a good thing (the rise that is) but I know that with strong theological convictions (regardless of the stripe) there can also arise pride in the heart and a desire to separate from those we disagree with. I want to stress that this is not restricted to Reformed theology nor is it a necessary component of embracing Reformed theology. At this point the leaders in the new emphasis on Reformed theology within evangelicalism (John Piper, CJ Mahany, Al Mohler, et. al.) have done so in a pretty humble fashion. Still, pride rises too quickly in the human heart and though there are no cracks yet, I fear there could be some here.

Finally, the Open Theism movement might yet develop into its own identity. Theologically, the position stretches and perhaps breaks the boundaries of what evangelicalism is. This could be a bigger threat to the movement than the others, though it is not currently as widespread as, say, emergent church.

How can we heal? That is a tough question because the term ‘evangelical’ has diluted so much. I wonder if we really need to heal with everyone who currently calls themselves evangelical. The reason is because I would like to see us define the name again in a way that helps us understand what is really important to us.

That said, there are some cracks that need to be mended. What we need in order to heal is to restate the center. The heart of evangelicalism isn’t Reformed theology or seeker-sensitive methods or televangelism. It is, as I said at the beginning, a commitment to the inerrancy of the Bible and the need for personal conversion. We need leaders like John Piper who demonstrate what it means to have strong convictions and yet work with others who hold to the central issues. We need to follow men like Wayne Grudem in their generous love for the central truths. We need more leaders in churches who, like Josh Harris, embrace a humble orthodoxy. In short, God needs to give us strong, humble leaders to shepherd us to greener pastures and we need him to grant us humility of heart and a passionate concern for truth.

What does your movement, speaking generally, fail to see that it ought to see?

For this I turn to what I think my own blind spots are. Fundamentalism reacted (rightly) against the social gospel. The result was to largely abandon anything that even remotely looked like the social gospel. What we don’t see (yet) is that true religion consists in serving the poor and widows and orphans. Salvation by faith alone in Christ alone? Yes! But don’t forget that saving faith isn’t alone, it will necessarily produce fruits. We need to be known for our love for the weak and marginalized. The church’s reaction to the devastation of New Orleans by Katrina has been a welcome sign that we might be getting this.

What has Evangelicalism to offer the wider world that it will find nowhere else?

At its best, evangelicalism offers an emphasis on personal conversion to Christ. When you consider other Christian traditions such as Roman Catholicism or some forms of Orthodoxy, there are a lot of people in them. Not all of them have had an encounter with Jesus. Those traditions don’t emphasize it. This might be seen as “sheep stealing” or evangelizing the church but I don’t think it has to be. My personal testimony included conversion to Christ followed by years in the Roman Catholic church.

What else would you like to say?

I have mentioned Fundamentalism a number of times and so it might sound like I’m criticizing that movement. I don’t intend to. Obviously I have differences with Fundamentalism since I am not a Fundamentalist but I would echo John Piper in his appreciation of the movement.

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