Why Even Call Them Evangelical?

"People were labeled evangelicals for the sake of the survey if they agreed to certain basic statements of evangelical orthodoxy.... But then as they began to answer survey questions, the denials of core doctrines began flowing like a river." - Kevin Schaal

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I think this phenomenon is part lack of education (and habits) in clear thinking. People seem far less aware of logical consistency than they were a century or two ago.

I say this because the affirmations in the working definition of 'evangelical' are incompatible with quite a few of the notions survey respondents also affirmed... views of the Bible for example.

Maybe I'm off on the history, and gospel-affirming people have been blatantly illogical for a lot longer. Hard to tell, but we really have some work to do:

  • We need to teach systematic theology
  • We need to teach on the unity and coherence of truth and why we must prize the "truth about truth" as a feature of God's character.
  • We need to teach clear thinking. I don't recommend calling it "intellectual discipline" in most Sunday schools, but that's what it is.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Bert Perry's picture

Schaal notes that the survey found great agreement on moral issues ("sex outside of marriage is sin"), but not doctrinal ones, and one possible reason for that is I've seen far too many pastors use the text for their sermon more or less as a springboard to go to what they really wanted to talk about, and too many congregations flat out encourage it, to the point that when the next pastor has a different soapbox he stands on, they leave.  And what is that soapbox?  In my experience, it's those social issues.

I don't know exactly how widespread this is, but if you want to emphasize the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, you've got to preach what it actually says.  If you talk around what Scripture says consistently, don't expect your congregation to hold tightly to the First Fundamental or any other theological principle.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Craig Toliver's picture

If one has to call himself something ... a label must be used:

  • "Christian" was at on one time sufficient ( Acts 11:26 ) but that term alone no longer suffices
  • Ditto with "the Way" ( Acts 19:23)  (I've never used this as a self-appellation because of "The Way International" )
  • "Nazarene" is Biblical ( Acts 24:5 ) but has its own issues
  • I'm a Baptist and not ashamed of that but its an awfully broad term. I'm not like a lot of other baptists (many in the IFB movement, the Northern Baptists, et al)
  • "Fundamentalist" has its own label issues (I don't use it! but I am)
  • I generally use the mouthful label of "Conservative Evangelical"
dgszweda's picture

I find this less of a problem with the people and more a problem with Ligonier and others who used very weak qualifications of what is an evangelical.  We could argue that we should teach more theology.  But the respondents to the question don't need theology, more than those in these organizations who put together the survey.  Where on earth did we get to the point that we could classify someone as evangelical without affirming to the deity of Christ or that Scripture was preserved Word of God?  There are obviously other ones that bother me as the author pointed out, but those two to me are must haves to just walk up to the table.

Mark_Smith's picture

If you ask Joe at First Baptist Church if he believes Jesus is God. He says "yes." You then hit him with a poll later and ask if Jesus was God's creation, unless he has been carefully trained (and almost none are today) he will think of the incarnation of Jesus, get confused, and think, well, yes, Jesus was created.... that's how this happens.

 

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Where on earth did we get to the point that we could classify someone as evangelical without affirming to the deity of Christ or that Scripture was preserved Word of God? 

The definition in the survey includes the gospel, and this is what defines "evangelical," if words mean anything (gospel = euangelion)

But I think if we get hung up on the label, we're missing the point...

There's no escaping the fact that at least in the survey a huge number of people are willing to affirm the gospel and then express beliefs profoundly at odds with basic Christian doctrine.

Meanwhile, if my experience is at all typical, churches are more worried about intellectualism than they are about anti-intellectualism. They're not wrong to be concerned about intellectualism, but we're way out of kilter on the other side of that spectrum. It's like worrying about drought during a flood (sure, drought is bad; it's just not where we are right now).

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Perhaps this is several things coming together:

First, the general danger of using labels. They don't mean much in a lot of ways (which is one reason why the oft cited stat of "81% of evangelicals voted for Trump" is not just incorrect; it is useless as an indicator of religion).

Second, the inevitable result of churches dumbing things down to "gospel only" or "gospel centric," "non-denominational," "seeker sensitive," "grow at all costs," etc. It is hard to teach these things and still convince people to come to church. These are the kinds of teachings that might shrink the church if we taught them.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

True, there's a certain built in lack of appeal to systematic theology in places where large congregations have been built on the band, or charismatic celebrity pastor who does short motivational talks.

But I think we have to own up to another factor: Often, sound doctrine--with meaty details--has been taught in a boring, info-dump, sort of way, without application, without visuals, etc. I've been guilty of this to a degree, though only while I was seminary. And I think that touches on where part of the problem is. There's a difference between meaty, thorough, high-density teaching content vs. academic teaching content. The latter is interested in different questions, things like what's the history of the study of this question? etc. The former is interested in many of the same things, minus the academic history, which books, which professors, etc.

Then there's delivery. Seminary tends not to emphasize how to shape meaty content for non-academic folks--i.e., 90% of regular people. So teaching tends to cluster at the extremes: very motivational, simple, low-density at one end (a.k.a., fluff) and then academic discourses at the other end. I've seen people teach adult SS in rural churches by reading a footnoted seminary paper. I mean literally reading it. No commentary or summarizing or anything.

The way forward is neither of those extremes.

Views expressed are always my own and not my employer's, my church's, my family's, my neighbors', or my pets'. The house plants have authorized me to speak for them, however, and they always agree with me.

Don Johnson's picture

Aaron Blumer wrote:

Then there's delivery. Seminary tends not to emphasize how to shape meaty content for non-academic folks--i.e., 90% of regular people. So teaching tends to cluster at the extremes: very motivational, simple, low-density at one end (a.k.a., fluff) and then academic discourses at the other end. I've seen people teach adult SS in rural churches by reading a footnoted seminary paper. I mean literally reading it. No commentary or summarizing or anything.

The way forward is neither of those extremes.

This is an important factor. I think we do well to look at our selves while decrying this woeful failing in Christendom in general. How well are we doing in communicating truth? Application, illustration, admonition, all of these things flow from Orthodoxy, and we need to make Orthodoxy real in our communication.

However, one does have to wonder how much the new evangelical shift contributed to this situation. We may need to own up to our own weaknesses in teaching these truths, but what about the deliberate choice of broad evangelicalism to go, well, the broad route in their ministries? Surely that is a huge part of the overall problem.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

Don, I hope and pray that your experience is way different than mine, and I praise God if it is.  That noted, I rarely see sermons seriously address any of the five theological fundamentals in any depth, even the inerrancy of Scripture, and apart from a Sunday School series that I taught about nine years back, I don't think I've ever heard anyone seriously address the five Solas.  I also haven't heard too many sermons seriously addressing the Trinity or other theological "musts" from the Apostles' Creed.

I've been, with a brief pause in 2011 and 2012, in fundamental churches since 1998.   My experience is that the evangelicals actually do a better job on some of these core doctrines than we do in many ways.  Sometimes I wonder if some pastors in our movement really understand them.

I hope I'm wrong, and people will demonstrate this from the pulpit a lot more.  But that's my experience.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Don Johnson's picture

None of us really has a handle on what other churches are doing.  I've been in probably around 100 other independent Baptist churches through my contacts and my deptutation ministry in years gone by. Others have no doubt been in many more than me. My experience argues for a good philosophy of discipleship and training in most of the churches I've been in. But what does that prove? I would tend to self-select like-minded pastors, so my sample is skewed in view of what I would expect to find.

On the other hand, someone like Bert, who mostly has had a regional association with different churches (I'm guessing here), likely based on job transfers and local church searching, has found things somewhat different. Again, what does that prove? Too small a sample size to really draw any conclusions.

I think that is (ahem) a logical fallacy, but I don't know the name for it.

As to the so-called "five fundamentals..." First, there were six, not five. Second, that has to do with a fight in the Presbyterian church in the 1920s and wasn't meant as a definitive list of "fundamentals," as if they were the only ones that are absolutely essential.

I don't want to get side-tracked on that point, but I really wish people would quit throwing around the term as if it is definitive of essential things. It was never meant to be and it really was meant for a specific situation at a specific time. I think it distorts the discussions and is unhelpful to use.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Bert Perry's picture

Don, if I'd applied it all over, the fallacy is "hasty generalization."  In Aristotelian terms, it's confusing a "some" syllogism with an "all" syllogism.

My experience?  A bit beyond just regional.  Since I came to Christ, I've been a consistent part of churches in Michigan, Indiana, Minnesota, Colorado, and California, with periodic visits all over, even into Malaysia & Germany.  The Bible college/seminary orbits include Faith, BJU, Central, Master's, Cornerstone, Western Conservative, TEDS, and more.

I'd also point out that as one looks at the books that people use to complement the Bible, the doctrines I've mentioned (going far beyond the five fundamentals and even the Solas) really aren't mentioned much.  Long and short of it is that I've got significant experience that says "lots of guys out there aren't teaching some of the basics very well."

What are you calling the sixth fundamental, by the way?  I'm guessing "separation", but must confess I'm curious.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

T Howard's picture

As I'm preaching through a book of the Bible, I point out various passages that contribute to our understanding of core theological beliefs. For example, I began preaching through Galatians in September. The first thing we encounter in chapter 1, verse 1 is a statement that affirms the deity of Christ. This led me to spend a few minutes during my sermon affirming that Jesus is fully God and fully man and why that doctrine is important.

In my past, I've also co-taught a 10-week ABF on systematic theology.

I would say that those who self-selected to attend that ABF were not those who questioned the fundamentals of the faith or the five solas. So, in a sense, I was teaching to the choir. Those who needed to attend the class were those who weren't interested in the class.

TylerR's picture

Editor

THoward wrote:

This led me to spend a few minutes during my sermon affirming that Jesus is fully God and fully man and why that doctrine is important

I used to do things like this, but no longer do. For sermons and even in bible study, I tend to only focus on the author's point in the passage, and leave otherwise important points for a passage which addresses that issue. I suspect this makes me very odd. I don't remember making a conscious decision to shift to this method of teaching, but it's a shift I've gradually made over the past five years.

I believe it stems from the way I "see" Scripture. I see it less as a series of books containing facts to be harnessed for systematics (no slur intended, so please forgive my lack of nuance in phraseology), and more a series of letters written in response to specific circumstances--and it's these circumstances and this context which I prefer to have frame my teaching of the book.

So, while teaching Galatians, I largely wouldn't focus on anything but the issues regarding; (1) how the Mosaic law was intended to function, (2) the perverted way it actually functioned in Paul's day, and (3) how the Mosaic law properly intersects with faith in Christ.

This is not to say that THoward is wrong. I just see, in his comment, confirmation about how my own approach has shifted throughout the years. Whether my approach contributes to the theological confusion we see in this survey is anyone's guess.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and works in State government.

T Howard's picture

TylerR wrote:

THoward wrote:

This led me to spend a few minutes during my sermon affirming that Jesus is fully God and fully man and why that doctrine is important

I used to do things like this, but no longer do. For sermons and even in bible study, I tend to only focus on the author's point in the passage, and leave otherwise important points for a passage which addresses that issue. I suspect this makes me very odd. I don't remember making a conscious decision to shift to this method of teaching, but it's a shift I've gradually made over the past five years.

I believe it stems from the way I "see" Scripture. I see it less as a series of books containing facts to be harnessed for systematics (no slur intended, so please forgive my lack of nuance in phraseology), and more a series of letters written in response to specific circumstances--and it's these circumstances and this context which I prefer to have frame my teaching of the book.

So, while teaching Galatians, I largely wouldn't focus on anything but the issues regarding; (1) how the Mosaic law was intended to function, (2) the perverted way it actually functioned in Paul's day, and (3) how the Mosaic law properly intersects with faith in Christ.

This is not to say that THoward is wrong. I just see, in his comment, confirmation about how my own approach has shifted throughout the years. Whether my approach contributes to the theological confusion we see in this survey is anyone's guess.

Tyler, I wouldn't spend more than a few minutes of my sermon on this, but I believe it helps your people to "connect the dots" on major doctrinal issues. But, you're right, the focus of one's sermon should be what the author is focusing on.

That said, when I started my fulltime preaching ministry in March, I began with the book of James and recently transitioned to the book of Galatians. I purposely chose these books because they are the earliest NT books written. When I preach through them, I try to approach them with the lens that no other NT books have been written to explain what the authors are writing. The only context I consider relevant is Jesus's life and ministry and the OT. This approach helps me to not import meaning into the text that comes from, for example, Romans or Ephesians.

Now, do I do this consistently? No. For example, when Paul refers to "him who called you" (v. 6) and "he ... who called me by his grace" (v. 15), I have to look outside of Galatians to explain what Paul means with the term "called." However, I don't spend a sermon hammering on the 'U' and 'I' in TULIP.

Does that make sense?

Don Johnson's picture

On the fundamentals, I stand corrected on the number. Yes, it was five, but it wasn't a universal determination for all believers, or an exhaustive list. They were five points that some Presbyterians tried to make a requirement for all Presbyterian candidates for the ministry to affirm. They had some success, but the whole effort ultimately failed.

There is much more than these five bullet points to the fundamental doctrines. My main point is that we can't sum up that which is essential to five points.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Larry's picture

Moderator

it's these circumstances and this context which I prefer to have frame my teaching of the book.

This works well if the circumstances and context of our congregations match those of the original audience. If the circumstances and context of our congregations do not match, then it would seem wise to address the circumstances and context of our audience based on the truth of the passage.

Virtually the entire Bible is topical. I think we need to take that into account when we are preaching. Expositional preaching is not the opposite of topical preaching. Serial preaching is the opposite of topical preaching. 

As said above, I think it is good to connect the dots for people. It doesn't take long, but sprinkled into enough messages, they began to remember and learn. Failure to do this may contribute to why the recent survey turned out as it did, that people who claim to be Christian hold non-Christian beliefs. 

Don Johnson's picture

Larry wrote:

As said above, I think it is good to connect the dots for people. It doesn't take long, but sprinkled into enough messages, they began to remember and learn. Failure to do this may contribute to why the recent survey turned out as it did, that people who claim to be Christian hold non-Christian beliefs. 

This! Exactly right. Repetition aids learning, and all that.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jay's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

On the fundamentals, I stand corrected on the number. Yes, it was five, but it wasn't a universal determination for all believers, or an exhaustive list. They were five points that some Presbyterians tried to make a requirement for all Presbyterian candidates for the ministry to affirm. They had some success, but the whole effort ultimately failed.

There is much more than these five bullet points to the fundamental doctrines. My main point is that we can't sum up that which is essential to five points.

One of the things that has been helpful to me is to go back and reread some of the creeds and confessions of antiquity - the 2LBC, Athenasian Creed, NHBC, etc.  Doing so has really helped me clear away some of the points and arguments that the modern church spends so much time and energy on (CRT! Masks!) and helped me remember that the fundamental doctrines will outlast a lot of today's talking points.  It also helps me tie my faith into something that is solidly anchored in approx. 2000 years of church history as opposed to the headlines of the last 30 years.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

T Howard's picture

Jay wrote:

One of the things that has been helpful to me is to go back and reread some of the creeds and confessions of antiquity - the 2LBC, Athenasian Creed, NHBC, etc.  Doing so has really helped me clear away some of the points and arguments that the modern church spends so much time and energy on (CRT! Masks!) and helped me remember that the fundamental doctrines will outlast a lot of today's talking points.  It also helps me tie my faith into something that is solidly anchored in approx. 2000 years of church history as opposed to the headlines of the last 30 years.

Earlier this year, I read through Augustine's Confessions and excerpts from his City of God. That accomplished for me the same thing you describe above.

Reading through Michael Holmes' The Apostolic Fathers a couple years ago was also helpful in this regard. You're right, we often forget that our faith didn't originate in America in the 1950's. It seems that fundamentalists think it did and that church history is irrelevant. In fact, I attended an IFB church where the pastor would disparage the historic creeds and church fathers as irrelevant.