To listen to the third podcast in the series on Christian identity, Why I Am Not an Evangelical—or Am I? (32 min), click on the arrow. To download and listen to it later, right click here and then 'save link as' or 'save target as'.

Introduction

  • Protestantism: Although the Reformation brought many benefits, particularly in the areas of access to scripture, freedom of speech, and the undoing of the gross distortions of Christianity that affected the medieval era, its theology leaves much to be desired. (For more on this, Alec Ryrie's 2017 release Protestants: The Faith that Made the Modern World.) Teaching on salvation, the church, the kingdom, and other important biblical considerations fall very wide of the mark.
  • Fundamentalism: Excessively black and white thinking, wooden interpretations of scripture, neglect of church history, and failure to understand science—just 4 of the 10 aspects discussed in the last podcast—drive away most thinking men and women. (For more on this, see J. I. Packer's "Fundamentalism and the Word of God.")
  • Evangelicalism: In my exploration of evangelicalism, I could label myself either way, evangelical or independent. As you listen to my talk, you may want to ask yourself about your own theological identity. (For more, see Mark A. Noll's The Rise of Evangelicalism.)

Evangelical: Clarification

  • Evangelical etymologically means pertaining to the evangel, or gospel. ("Evangel" is a rare English word, from the Greek evangelion, meaning news, good news, or gospel.)
  • "In the English-speaking world, however he modern term usually describes the religious movements and denominations which sprung forth from a series of revivals that swept the North Atlantic Anglo-American world in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries" (Wheaton College’s Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals).
  • Key figures associated with the evangelical revivals:
    • American philosopher and theologian Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
    • Itinerant English evangelist George Whitefield (1715-1770)
    • The founder of Methodism, John Wesley (1703-1791)
  • The Baptists and Methodists grew into America’s two largest Protestant denominational families.
  • "By the 1820s evangelical Protestantism was by far the dominant expression of Christianity in the overwhelmingly Protestant United States. The concept of evangelism—revival-codified, streamlined, and routinized by evangelists like Charles G. Finney (1792-1875)—became “revivalism” as evangelicals set out to convert the nation. By the decades prior to the Civil War, a largely-evangelical “Benevolent Empire” (in historian Martin Marty’s words) was actively attempting to reshape American society through Bible and tract distribution, the establishment of Sunday Schools and through such reforms as temperance, the early women’s movement, various benevolent and betterment societies, and—most controversial of all—the abolition movement.
  • After the war, the changes in American society wrought by such powerful forces as urbanization and industrialization, along with new intellectual and theological developments, began to weaken the power of evangelicalism within American culture. Likewise, evangelical cultural hegemony was diminished in pure numeric terms with the influx of millions of non-Protestant immigrants in the latter 19th and early 20th centuries. Nonetheless, evangelical Protestantism remained a powerful presence within American culture (as evidenced by the success of evangelists like Dwight L. Moody and Billy Sunday). Going into the 20th century evangelicalism still held the status of a pervasive American “folk religion” in many sectors of the United States, particularly the South and certain areas of the Midwest" (Wheaton).

The Evangelical Triad

  • Doctrine (in a time when most Christians no longer hold to the historic faith)
    • Jesus as Son of God – Full divinity and full atonement through the cross
    • Bible as Word of God – Completely trustworthy, not merely a witness to the Word of God, or containing the Word of God, but actually the Word of God.
    • Christians as Born of God – Willing, deciding, committing. Conversion.
  • Practice
    • If Jesus is Son of God, we come to God the Father through Him. This affects our prayer, faith, and very identity.
    • If the Bible is God's Word, this leads us to internalize it -- to read, listen, and go to it for wisdom and guidance.
    • And if only those born of God will be saved, then we need to take the message to the whole world (including those inside the church who are doubting or drifting), helping them towards the new birth (John 3:5; Titus 3:5).
  • Implications
    • Christianity is unique – unbelievers and members of other faiths are lost. They need to convert.
    • Most evangelicals also believe that the Bible is inerrant. Many, in the U.S. especially, claim to take the Bible literally.
    • Since everyone needs to be saved, Christians need to be serious about evangelism.

Problems

  • Lack of biblical authority and respect for the scriptures
    • Many self-styled evangelicals reject the historic faith, and fall for modern myths and superstitions.
      • Jesus was enlightened, and we have a chance to become as much divine as he was. There is a lot of truth in, karma, auras, crystals, and other New Age notions.
      • The Bible is a good book, though may do not accept what it says about judgment, morality, and other touchy subjects. Tendency to believe in heaven, but not hell. (Reminiscent of Felix in Acts 24!)
      • Jesus saves, but so does Buddha and Krishna, or just being a good person.
    • “Judge not!” (Matt 7:1) is now the most quoted Bible verse.
    • The majority of evangelicals no longer believe in absolute truth -- 54%, according to the Barna people (Barna Group, "Barna Survey Examines Changes in Worldview Among Christians over the Past 13 Years," Barna.org, March 26, 2009).
  • The Sinner’s Prayer
    • American frontier, 1835
    • Over-reaction to the uncertainty of salvation in a Calvinist context (where one knows he is saved only if he perseveres till the end). See 1 John 5:13. People wanted a more immediate and certain knowledge of redemption.
    • Shallow and unbiblical approach to converting the lost
  • Evangelicals often mirror the world.
    • Materialism and consumerism
    • Hypocritical pronouncements and lifestyles
    • Racism. (A large number of churches are only slightly integrated, if at all.)
    • Worldly entertainment (internet, music, video, pornography, shopping, gambling, etc).
    • Sexual ethics
    • Involvement in politics
      • Sucked into Zionism
      • Tend to be “hawks,” not “doves.”
      • Fall for Islamophobia
  • Cheap Grace (“grace” instead of discipleship)
    • Obedience is encouraged, but seldom followed up on. The watering down of discipleship follows from weak view of grace.
    • Confused doctrine of conversion
      • Calling baptism a "work" and then replacing it with a prayer is not honest, since in either case the sinner has to do something in order to connect with God’s grace. See John 6:29, where believing itself is called a work.
      • In orthodox Christianity, baptism was always the occasion of forgiveness; the evangelicals have redefined the moment into a less sacramental act.
      • But it’s an act either way; no one is arguing that one need do nothing in order to become a Christian, or that salvation is somehow automatic!
      • Insistence on the phrase "faith alone," which verbally contradicts James 2, causes far more confusion than clarity.
      • Luther and Calvin may have been great men, but some of their misunderstandings of the gospel were significant. (Explained in the podcast Why I Am Not a Protestant).
    • Evangelicals seem to be in two minds:
      • "Some sect groups, such as the Churches of Christ and the Christadelphians, are often treated as branches of evangelicalism, and admittedly in their biblical emphasis they reflect one thrust of authentic evangelicalism. Yet when they make salvation contin­gent not only on faith but also on baptism and, they again lose sight of the essence of evangelicalism and indeed of authentic Christianity, namely, the doctrine of sola gratia (salvation by grace alone)" (Stanley J. Grenz "Baptism," Dictionary of Christianity in America, ed. Daniel G. Reid [Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990] 236). But let’s hear another evangelical voice, the respected scholar:
      • "A popular debate today centers on the phrase “Lordship Salvation.” While not everything that has been taught in connection with this concept has merit, its basic premise is proven true by Titus 2-3. Salvation never stops with redemption but always moves to sanctification. There is no salvation apart from discipleship. Paul is not teaching the annulment of grace; he is teaching the full measure of grace and the purpose of God, to cleanse for himself a special people, zealous for good works, so that believers may “learn to be intent on good deeds” (Titus 3:14). Any teaching that removes obedience from the scope of salvation comes under the same condemnation as did the Cretan and Ephesian opponents (William D. Mounce, Word Biblical Commentary, 46, Pastoral Epistles, 434).
      • Greg Morse's thoughts (at John Piper's blog) are also to the point and on target. Many evangelical have a sober estimation of the overall health of the evangelical movement.

Wrap-up

  • Just as most atheists are far better people than what is required by their ideology, many evangelicals are far more devoted to Christ than their theology stipulates—although I suspect the vast majority prefer to have sweet nothings whispered into their ears (Easy Believism, Signs & Wonders, Health & Wealth, and a self-satisfied “judge-not” religion) than to be called to follow Christ as his disciples.
  • So yes, I am evangelical insofar as this means believing in the good news (the evangel) and lifelong commitment to spread the message.
  • But I am not an Evangelical for some of the same reasons I am not a Protestant or a Fundamentalist. These religious streams are still over-reacting to Catholicism and works-righteousness. And occasionally resorting to high-pressure tactics in order to bring the lost to utter the “Sinner’s Prayer” is something alien to the spirit of the New Testament, and exemplified nowhere in Scripture!
  • Enough about me. This series isn’t meant to be the theological ramblings of an old man, much less mere history lessons. This is important stuff. So what about you?
    • Does my life demonstrate a serious engagement with the Word of God?
    • How closely am I following the Lord, who is the Son of God?
    • Or have I bought into the distortions of Protestantism and evangelicalism?
  • If we hold fast to Jesus as the Son of God, Scripture as the Word of God, and to the necessity of the new birth in order to become children of God, we are evangelical in the pure and best sense of the word.
    • But if we mirror the world, with its worldly living, self-centeredness, and cheap grace, we will be no different than the majority of those tho identify as "evangelicals."
    • At the last day, we certainly won't be able to count on church affiliations or nifty theological formulas to save us. We must walk the walk.


Your feedback on this mini-series is welcome:

  • Did you feel I was fair and balanced with the podcast on Protestantism? If not, please explain.
  • Did you feel I was fair and balanced with the podcast on Fundamentalism? If not, please explain.
  • Did you feel I was fair and balanced with the podcast on Evangelicalism? If not, please explain.
  • Has your perspective on your own theological identity changed as a result of this series?
  • Reply by emailing me directly. (Note: This is not the address for Bible questions.)