Andrew McWilliams-Doty on Medion questions
What the Heck is an Evangelical?
Deriving from euangelion, Greek for “Good News,” and first used in 1531 by William Tynsdale to describe proclamation of the Christian Gospel, identifying when a person can be described as “evangelical” is surprisingly complicated and context-dependent. For the purposes of the questions Dr. Moore raises in his essay, I’ll posit a threefold taxonomy:
The 3 Kinds of Evangelicals:
1. Theological Evangelicals
2. Historical Evangelicals
3. Cultural Evangelicals
While the taxonomy is intended to be all-inclusive, it is not mutually exclusive: there are times when someone or something could be characterized as belonging to any 1, 2, or all 3 types of evangelicalism. To better understand the picture, let’s dig into each of these types and their origins.
In 1989, British historian David Bebbington formulated a quadrilateral characterizing recurrent upswells of Christian faith. Describing these Christian revivals as “evangelical,” Bebbington argued that they are characterized by: Biblicism (i.e., regarding the Bible as uniquely authoritative), Crucicentrism (a focus on Jesus Christ’s atoning work on the cross), Conversionism (personal and emotional experience of God), and Activism (expressing the gospel through verbal proclamation and humanitarian social reform). While Bebbington located theological evangelicalism’s origin in England and the United States during the Great Awakening of the 1730s, I’d argue its antecedents trace back to Jesus’ first disciples (see: Acts of the Apostles). Using the Bebbington quadrilateral as the rubric, theological evangelicals span geography, race, gender, denomination, and chronology. I’d posit those examples include William Wilberforce, Ida B. Wells, St. John Chrysostom, C.S. Lewis, Bakht Singh, Corrie ten Boom, Gil Seon-Ju (of the Pyongyang Revival), and many Christians in the Global South. I suspect this definition is what most evangelical thought leaders have in mind as their lodestar.
After the fundamentalist-modernist controversy within white western Protestantism in the late 1800s through early- to mid-1900s, theologically conservative white American Protestants sought to leave behind fundamentalism’s most rigid dogmas, its anti-intellectualism, and its antagonistic and self-isolating relationship to the broader culture. Catalyzed by the founding of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in 1942 and spread with evangelistic fervor by Billy Graham, this religio-historic movement may be the reason why the term “evangelical” is widely known today. While the founders of historic evangelicalism were generally theological evangelicals, they and their movement were influenced by culturally-specific, extra-Biblical assumptions including political conservatism, strictly delineated gender roles, anti-Black prejudice, cultural individualism, the primacy of capitalism, and the international promotion of democracy. (Note: Most of these things aren’t necessarily bad, they just are not points of orthodox dogma.) Historical evangelicals are distinct from Christian fundamentalists, but their leadership became intertwined with the rise of the Christian right and the boundaries between their membership has always been blurry. Predecessors of historical evangelicalism would include Dwight L. Moody and Charles Spurgeon, while paradigmatic examples include Franklin Graham, Wheaton College, Christianity Today, the Jesus People Movement of the late-60s & 70’s, Bill Hybels, the Lausanne Movement, Rick Warren, the Young Restless and Reformed, Ravi Zacharias, most Christian student ministries (Cru, IV, YL), and Russell Moore himself.
If Bebbington’s evangelicals are defined by their theological commitment and Billy Graham’s evangelicals are defined by their historic pedigree, cultural evangelicals are simply anyone who self-identifies as evangelical. Cultural evangelicals include the stoutly historically evangelical, Pentecostals, fundamentalists, non-churchgoers, and increasingly those of any religion who are merely politically conservative. More than three-quarters believe the heresy that Jesus is created and not co-eternal with God (viz., Arianism). Based on Americans’ greater willingness to identify as “born-again” but not “evangelical,” this category likely excludes some portion of historical evangelicals. It has always excluded large swathes of theological evangelicals. In short, many self-described evangelicals are merely culturally evangelical. Examples of cultural evangelicals include Jimmy Swaggart, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, the creators of the Left Behind series, Glenn Beck, and Donald Trump.
There isn’t now and there never was a single, unified evangelicalism. Instead, evangelicalism has always had different meanings and factions, each with their own faults and glories.
Come to read the full article:
It is very funny to see that Donald Trump is mentioned as an example of a cultural evangelical, this man having done so many things which are totally against the teachings of Jesus Christ. Though we recognise in the United States of America there are lots of people who carry this man on two hands and glorify him as a deity.
Steve Waldman editor-in-chief of Beliefnet adds:
People often get confused between the terms evangelical and fundamentalist. They mean two different things. Evangelicals are a very broad group. It’s probably a third or 40 percent of the population of the United States. Fundamentalists are a subset of that. They are very conservative politically. Have a literalist view of the Bible.
Evangelicals have a much wider range of political views. A lot of them are conservatives, but not all of them. About a third of evangelicals voted for Al Gore. So it’s a pretty broad range.
And you tend to think of evangelicals as being fundamentalists because the most well known evangelicals are people like Jerry Falwell who are fundamentalists and are very conservative. But in fact, the evangelicals who are part of Bush’s inner circle are not all fundamentalists. They are often very devout evangelicals. But their approach to politics is much more nuanced than the fundamentalist approach. …
John Green, director of the Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, Ohio and the author of Religion and the Culture Wars coments:
The differences between fundamentalism and evangelicalism are a bit subtle, and oftentimes difficult to understand from the outside. A lot of it is a style. Fundamentalists tend to be very strict. They tend towards intolerance. Notice, I said, “tend towards intolerance.” Many of them are not intolerant. But they tend towards that direction. They tend to be very judgmental. They tend to want to require an awful lot of individuals who would join their communion. And they tend to be very, very critical of other Christians — even other evangelical Christians — who don’t share their very strict approach to religion.
But there are some other things besides style that differentiate fundamentalists from evangelicals. … Evangelicals and fundamentalists both agree that the Bible is inerrant, but fundamentalists tend to read the Bible literally.
Many evangelicals don’t actually read it literally. They’re willing to understand that there’s metaphor and poetry in the Bible, and it’s just that the truth expressed in that metaphor and poetry is without error; whereas fundamentalists would tend to want to read even the metaphor and the poetry literally. That’s a particular way to interpret the Bible.
Likewise, many fundamentalists would see conversion as a sudden event — something where you could actually pick the date and the time when one accepted Jesus; whereas many evangelicals might have a broader understanding of conversion, something that might take place over a longer period of time, and in fact might not even really be understood until long after it happened. Someone might look back and say,
“Yes, it was at that particular time that this transformation occurred in my life.”
Also, when it comes to the question of who Jesus was, fundamentalists tend to have a fairly narrow, specific, very strict view of who Jesus was. Evangelicals have a somewhat broader interpretation of who Jesus was.
Fundamentalists also add some additional doctrines to their beliefs that many evangelicals would not agree with. For instance, many fundamentalists have a dispensational view of the Bible. That is to say, they have a particular understanding of sacred time, where the activity of God and history is divided up into particular eras. Different things happen in the different eras or different dispensations.
Depending on which fundamentalist you talk to, we’re either at the end of the sixth dispensation or the beginning of the seventh dispensation. This, of course, will eventually lead to the return of Jesus to Earth and the end of human history as we know it. Many evangelicals would not accept dispensationalism. They might– They do take the return of Jesus very seriously. They do take sacred time very seriously, but would not necessarily buy into a dispensational approach.
Another difference between fundamentalists and evangelicals is the degree of separatism that they practice. Both fundamentalists and evangelicals believe that conservative Christians should separate themselves from the world in many important ways. But fundamentalists are much stricter in that separation, and they would extend it to religion as well.
Many fundamentalists don’t want to associate even with other Christians who don’t agree with them. They want to separate themselves from people that have fairly similar values. Oftentimes, fundamentalists will even want to separate themselves from people who refuse to separate themselves from people who they don’t agree with. Of course, this can be extended a long way.
Evangelicals are not as separatist. They are perfectly willing to cooperate with people of other religious faiths, with whom they don’t agree on all of the particulars, for the greater cause of evangelizing and bringing people to Christ. So evangelicals, for instance, will often talk about making common cause with Roman Catholics or with mainline Protestants. Fundamentalists are very reluctant to do that, because they see it as being wrong to associate in religious terms with people with whom they don’t have complete agreement. So those differences are sometimes subtle. But in style, belief, and practice, fundamentalists really are different from evangelicals.
Continue to read:
How the term Evangelical has grown to blur theology and ideology