What Is Evangelicalism?

There are 12 Comments

Ron Bean's picture

We need a Christian Noah Webster to create a dictionary of consistent definitions of the words we use to describe ourselves and others. 

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

It occurs to me that with the Solas and the Fundamentals, along with numerous other declarations of orthodox or otherwise faith over the centuries, we've been trying hard to do just what Ron proposes for a long, long time.  As we fundamentalists know all too well, message discipline is hard, hard work.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Ron Bean's picture

Fundamentalist: Me but probably not you.

New-Evangelical: Anyone who doesn't agree with me.

Evangelical: What New-Evangelicals call themselves. 

How am I doing?

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

Ron Bean wrote:

Fundamentalist: Me but probably not you.

"It's just you and me brother, but I'm not so sure about you..."

 

Andrew K's picture

Jim wrote:

These terms are not monolithic but somewhat amorphous:

  • "Baptist" (or any denominational label)
  • "Fundamentalist"
  • "Evangelical"

My daughter-in-law is from Kolkata (India). To her "Baptist" means "Pentecostal". She has an uncle who is a Baptist "priest"

 

I just got whiplash trying to make sense of that.

Ron Bean's picture

There was a Baptist church where I lived in Virginia that had open baptisms for anyone at every service. One of my friends who was a member there used to get baptized every week.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Fred Moritz's picture

I was in seminary during the 60s when the New Evangelicalism was gaining great popularity.  The meaning of "Evangelical" was discussed then.  Richard Clearwaters described the term as a "rubber word" - almost incapable of accurate definition.  He would smile at this discussion. 

Walter Kaiser and Carl Henry (with D. A. Carson as a moderator) did a four-part series on Evangelicalism at Trinity Seminary several years ago.  I think the sessions are still on the seminary website.  The title is "Know Your Roots."  I used that series for reference in a Contemporary Theology course at Maranatha.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Andrew K wrote:

Jim wrote:

These terms are not monolithic but somewhat amorphous:

  • "Baptist" (or any denominational label)
  • "Fundamentalist"
  • "Evangelical"

My daughter-in-law is from Kolkata (India). To her "Baptist" means "Pentecostal". She has an uncle who is a Baptist "priest"

I just got whiplash trying to make sense of that.

Well, the "amorphousness" (is that actually a word?) of the term "baptist" just in American Christianity is confusing enough.  What people understand in other cultures is often incomprehensible to us.  My wife, from Germany, ended up at Bob Jones University, because when she and her family were evaluating possible Christian universities in the US, stayed away from any university with "baptist" in the name, because they thought it was equivalent to "cult."

Dave Barnhart

Bert Perry's picture

...with regards to Jim's comment about religion in India, it is not just an issue of differing terms, as Dave Barnhart describes.  It's that religion in India is, even by modern ecumenical standards, tremendously malleable.  There are theories that "Hinduism" has more or less appropriated features from just about every religion with which it came into contact.  That's part of how Indian culture has survived invasions from Alexander to the British, really. 

Side note; Dave, sounds like your in-laws' bias worked out well for you!

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

dcbii's picture

EditorModerator

Bert Perry wrote:

...with regards to Jim's comment about religion in India, it is not just an issue of differing terms, as Dave Barnhart describes.  It's that religion in India is, even by modern ecumenical standards, tremendously malleable.  There are theories that "Hinduism" has more or less appropriated features from just about every religion with which it came into contact.  That's part of how Indian culture has survived invasions from Alexander to the British, really. 

Side note; Dave, sounds like your in-laws' bias worked out well for you!

Yes, I'm sure the issues in a place like India are quite different (and more serious) than in places like Europe.  And I'm sure my wife's family's misunderstandings were likely due to the fact they weren't really theologically "plugged-in" to what was going on with Christianity in America, as I'm sure their view of the term was quite different to what would have been understood by people in/near seminaries in Germany.

Of course, their small church's name/affiliation "Freie Evangelische Gemeinde" would have also been misunderstood by many in the U.S., as they were not at all related to Lutheranism, even though "Lutheran" is usually what an "Evangelische" church in Germany is.  The term "Free" obviously modifies it a great deal.  I'm not sure "Evangelical" would describe it exactly either, though it wouldn't be that different.

All that to say that we have to be clear what terms mean, as we often use them as a shortcut, and that shortcut is not always as unambiguous as we would like to assume.  And outside our narrow groups, they almost never are understood as we mean them.

P.S. Yes, my wife having gone to BJU worked out for me, even though we didn't date while I was there -- I just ended up spending a lot of time in Greenville while I was doing my M.S. at Clemson and visiting friends most weekends in Greenville.
 

Dave Barnhart