Am I An Evangelical?

This is a question that has vexed me consistently since attending Wheaton College, and more specifically, since reading Mark Noll’s The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Halden hopes to figure this out in his new series. Stay tuned for more posts. If Karl Barth is considered an evangelical, then I am an evangelical; but if we define evangelical according to, say, Francis Schaeffer or Wayne Grudem, then count me out.

At least I know what kind of evangelical I am not! Check out the recent post by the Friendly Atheist on personal evangelism with the Holman New Testament (Personal Evangelism Edition) and Focus on the Family.


Throw me in the mix as well. The question has its pitfalls, of course. We must be careful not to offer an apologetic for where we stand today, as if all hinged on what the "evangelicals" thought of us today, as if they constituted the Church in its truest form. Nor can we break away from our past, from the community and culture of evangelicalism that brought us where we are today, and from what might possibly be, in some respects, the Church's most faithful form of witness today.
Ultimately, what we will be asking both ourselves today and ourselves yesterday is "Are we in Christ?" in the fullest sense.
I have the same problem. I am an "evangelical" (as with Barth or Yoder), but not an Evangelical with a capital E (e.g. Carl Henry and definitely not Al Mohler). I usually try a variation on Yoder's answers, "When others have placed me in that category, I have not troubled to dispute it." :-)
byron smith said…
Is it important to claim back words that have been capitalised by various movements in order to retain their important theological content? I suggested so in a post a while back. While it helps to have the capital 'E' Evangelical to describe a particular grouping (however fuzzy the borders might be), it is also helpful to have a term that simply means 'of or pertaining to the gospel'. Same for C/charismatic, P/pentecostal, B/baptist, O/orthodox, L/liberal, C/catholic. My post didn't really say more than this (probably less), so don't get excited. It did have a nice picture... :-)

I couldn't agree more. That's a good insight about the capital/lowercase words. There is another way to make the same kind of distinction: between the word with and the word without "-ism." Evangelical is one thing; evangelicalism something quite different. The same goes for all the other words. This is sometimes more helpful in that it allows me to connect evangelicalism with, say, capitalism and militarism and republicanism. The -isms just flow together.
I agree. I am evangelical with some liberal influences; try to be orthodox and catholic; am charismatic & pentecostal (something I have only recently outed myself concerning, though I have semi-fit the categories for years--but found it embarrassing to admit for various reasons). I am both baptist and Baptist, but, though from the U.S. South, I am no longer and shall never be again a Southern Baptist. I am also an enthusiastic democrat and a (less enthusiastic) Democrat. :-)
Halden said…
Another thing I've thought of is that I would have no problem saying that "I am evangelical," while I think I would have a problem saying "I am an evangelical."

I think there's an important distinction there.
byron smith said…
Yes, some nice distinctions: E/evangelical; evangelical(ism); (an) evangelical.

Michael - would you also claim to be republican?
Michael - would you also claim to be republican?

Absolutely--though more in print where the cap could be noticed! :-)
While I am (sometimes) glad to be Democratic as well as democratic, I would not want to be thought Republican as well as republican--at least not until the Grand Ol' Party reclaims its heritage as the party of Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt (first environmental president), Nelson Rockefeller, Harold Stassen, Jeanette Rankin (only member of Congress to vote against U.S. involvement in both World Wars), and Mark Hatfield.

And on many things, I am genuinely conservative, too. I think Christians should conserve the best of the past, be liberally open to the future, and be radicals--always close to the ROOT and center of the evangel.

I really like your political sense. I think we are of one mind on such issues.
Anonymous said…
A friend of mine recommended to me Wayne Grudem's systematic theology. I'm wondering if you can tell me your biggest disagreement with Grudem before I take my friend up on his offer, so I can get an idea of what I'd be getting into? Also, you mentioned Schaffer, can you do the same for him?
Anonymous said…
Why does it matter if you are or aren't an evangelical?

Before I say anything, let me preface my comment by making it clear that I was once someone who would have recommended Grudem's theology, so my critique is not from someone who has always held an opposition to what Grudem and Schaeffer stand for.

The basic flaw with Grudem and Schaeffer, to put it bluntly, is that they 'do' theology in opposition to Karl Barth. That is, what Barth accomplished and stands for, they oppose and counter. Putting it this way is misleading, because Grudem and Schaeffer are not simply the negation of Barth; they do have their own positive theological program (by 'positive' I simply mean constructive, not 'good'). But the point is there is nothing worthwhile in Grudem and Schaeffer that was not already done and done better by those whom they reject.

Here are the main issues. Schaeffer is a product of the 1929 split at Princeton Seminary over theology and biblical studies, which resulted in Westminster Seminary. Schaeffer studied there with the likes of Cornelius Van Til, who has the distinction of ruining the initial American encounter with Barth's theology through his vigorous polemic against Barth. Schaeffer thus has very little to offer that is not directly related to this pivotal split between those who read and engage with Barth, and those who simply toss him out. But I would read Schaeffer before Grudem, who I think is disastrous for evangelical theological thought.

Grudem is a product of the conservative evangelical movement and is more or less the systematic form of the most conservative theological ideas. He is a major supporter of biblical inerrancy, a view that I believe has wreaked havoc upon American churches and is borderline heresy. He basically tows the line of just about every doctrine, e.g., on the atonement, penal substitution, and on election, double predestination. Grudem offers very little if any actual constructive thought. The only engagement with Grudem that I have ever seen is in David Lauber's book on Barth in which he vigorously rejects Grudem's thesis that we should drop the line, "He descended into hell," from the Apostle's Creed. Besides taking Grudem to task, I have yet to see anyone find anything positive in his work from which to draw. He is basically a compilation of the worst theological positions in American evangelicalism.

There are better evangelical theologians. The next step up would be Millard Erickson or Donald Bloesch. Far better is Kevin Vanhoozer. But if you want the best, go with people like John Webster. And for the best introduction to theology, read Faith Seeking Understanding by Daniel Migliore.

The only reason it matters is that those of us asking this question were born and bred to be a card-carrying evangelical. Now that we have moved forward in our life and education, that identity still lurks, but we need to investigate to what extent we are still connected to the person we once were. A lot of it is a matter of familial identity and connection to the past. I also feel a call to speak honestly to the evangelical community, and I need to discern where I stand in relation to them before I do so.