December 16, 2017

“That Pitch Seems A Bit Up In The Strike Zone”

grifWhat pitch?

This one, from the NAE President Leith Anderson article I’m not responding to.

Everything depends on definitions. My short definition of an evangelical is someone who takes the Bible seriously and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

That pitch. Now excuse me while I take a swing.

By this definition, all Roman Catholics are evangelicals. Francis Beckwith should still be the President of The Evangelical Theological Society. I’m pretty sure the term “evangelical Catholic” was meant to mean exactly this.

Unless you want to get involved in some required confessional theology that will define Jesus, Mormons and several other cults are evangelicals by this definition. Latter Day Saints regularly write me and inform me that’s the case, by the way.

By this definition, all mainline liberal denominations are evangelicals, whether they want to be or not. Bishop Robinson, your phone is ringing.

I would assume that about 70% of the U.S. population would agree that definition describes their religion.

About 40% of Americans- total- make it to any sort of church service on a semi-regular basis. So we have tens of millions of “evangelical” Christians who never show up at any church.

This definition would mean that every evangelical-esque guy who rejects the church entirely is part of evangelicalism because he still identifies with two evangelical beliefs. These are your unbaptized, unchurched, unmembershipped, barely or not-at-all affiliated evangelicals. IOWs, if you aren’t a Muslim, Hindu, Jew or Atheist, this definition pretty much works.

That’s the problem. Today’s evangelicals think we’re all evangelicals now. Conversion is optional, depending on your mood.

And when you’ve turned everyone into an evangelical- baptism or not, church or not, confession or not, membership or not- you’ve pretty much described why I think evangelicalism is headed for a major trip to the ER in the next ten years. It’s turned itself into an audience, a movement, a preference, a consumer niche. It’s deconstructed itself down to almost nothing.

Catholics have a catechism. Evangelicals have Jesus Christ and a mild appreciation for the Bible.

I’m not for requiring every evangelical to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith. But if our faith hasn’t brought us into some sort of formal relationship with a church that actually confesses the evangelical faith in some form, on what basis can we talk about evangelicalism other than self-definition?

NOTE: I don’t agree with Phil Johnson on everything, but we’d all do well to read his talks on What is an Evangelical? and related topics.

Comments

  1. Mmm – I wonder?

    At first glance, sure, us Papists would fit in with that definition, no bother.

    But I’m wondering – could the gentleman possibly have at the back of his mind something like “someone who takes the Bible seriously (but not Catholics, because if Catholics took the Bible seriously they’d stop all their un-Biblical practices, and they’re still doing them, so they don’t take the Bible seriously)”?

    We all have a ton of assumptions about what we mean, especially when we’re talking to the like-minded, that gets us in trouble when we’re taken up to mean something else.

    I’m not accusing the man of singling out Catholics, by the way; just that when he gave his short definition, he was making some assumptions about the kind of people who, as you know Bob, take the Bible seriously and accept Jesus as Saviour and Lord.

  2. I’m sure that’s exactly what he means, but that’s the problem with “short definitions.” They generally are wrong definitions. And in this case, I agree with Pres. Anderson: It DOES come down to definitions, and the refusal of evangelicals to define themselves beyond the misty minimum is the heart of the coming collapse.

  3. “Takes the Bible seriously” = “Reads/interprets the Bible like I do” = “Comes to the same conclusions as I do”

  4. “But if our faith hasn’t brought us into some sort of formal relationship with a church that actually confesses the evangelical faith in some form, on what basis can we talk about evangelicalism other than self-definition?”

    So, it comes down to a real church, a real confession, and a real faith. Hmmmmm. Sounds like what the 19th-21st centuries Germans call Fundamentaltheologie.

  5. Steeeerrrriiiiike!!!! Low fast ball at the knees, straight down the middle with lots of movement. Great pitch Michael.

  6. Tim VanHaitsma says:

    So you no longer have to believe in Trinitarian doctrine to be an evangelical? I am getting closer to being an evangelical than I thought.

  7. “It’s turned itself into an audience, a movement, a preference, a consumer niche. It’s deconstructed itself down to almost nothing.”

    Spot on.

    At least where I live, evangelical churches are primarily “Christian Activity Centers” that seek to maintain the conservative moral status quo.

  8. “Everything depends on definitions. My short definition of an evangelical is someone who takes the Bible seriously and believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.”

    From following Nicea to being Nice.

  9. “someone who takes the Bible seriously”

    That’s strange, one of the reasons why I left Evangelicalism is that I had reached the conclusion that it does not take the Bible more seriously than the liberalism/social gospel I grew up in…

  10. Hi Michael,

    I think the definition that the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada uses would serve as a good starting point in the discussion. I have discussed it here.

    I would like to note that contrary to Phil Johnson’s assertions, Neither the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, nor the Evangelical Manifesto have inerrancy as a pre-requesite.

  11. The insistence on that word would be a difference for me. As most IM readers know, I find the word “inerrancy” less than useful.

  12. Yet both of us would call ourselves Evangelical.

  13. There is the chance that Leith Anderson WANTS a definition that would encompass 70% of the US population, so that when he’s lobbying in Washington, he can tell people that his organization represents the views of that many people. I wouldn’t dismiss that possibility out of hand …

  14. would the solas make a good definition?

  15. No. For one thing, some of the solas represent things that evangelicals legitimately disagree about.

    But they are really a kind of “theological melody” that Protestants add their own lyrics to. Not a confession.

    Evangelicals affirm:

    Trinitarian theology
    Salvation by Grace through Faith
    Evangelism and Missions
    Conversion and Transformation
    The Authority of Scripture above all
    The Centrality of the church in God’s plan

  16. If asked if they “take the Bible seriously,” I’m sure that both John MacArthur and Benedict XVI could both honestly answer “yes,” meaning very different things. I course, I think 19th century German liberals could probably answer “yes,” too. They would say that they took the Bible seriously enough to test it with the best linguistic and historical scholarship of the day.

    At least this phrase isn’t as offensive as “Bible believing,” which less than subtly hints that those who interpret the Bible differently than oneself are engaging in a conscious rejection of clearly revealed truth.

  17. “Salvation by Grace through Faith”

    Would this be enough on it’s own, or does it need to be glossed with “alone” to count?

  18. Some evangelicals like an exclusionary definition; the better to make sure we’re working with real Christians, and not just folks who water down the gospel. Others like an inclusionary one; the better to recruit political allies for your common cause. Given that the very existence of the NAE is all about lobbying for evangelical concerns, it’s to be expected that Anderson has an inclusionary one.

    Now, when you say that there’s a coming evangelical collapse, Anderson—because of his perspective—doesn’t look at it in terms of a shift in the way the church ministers. He looks at it in terms of a shift in the political capital of his organization. It’s awfully hard to use that capital when people believe your base is dissolving beneath you. So you’ve got two options:

    (1) Deny your polar caps are melting, so to speak.

    (2) Hedge your bets and shift your base. Recruit the Pentecostals and pomos and Emergents and—yes—mainliners and Catholics, if you have to. Redefine “evangelical.” Then tell everyone, “Why, we’re not shrinking; we’ve actually tripled our numbers!” Heck, you can quadruple them if you can stretch your definition to include Muslims.

  19. Haven’t you hit on the problem: no clear confessions of faith? After years of hyper-individualism, suspicion of creeds, and “freedom and autonomy” run amok in so many evangelical circles, it’s hardly surprising. Churches are defined down into brief three-phrase vision statements.

    I think that the phrase “believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord” is supposed to imply the whole process of making your decision for Jesus and public profession of faith to demonstrate that you’re a real, genuine, obedience-minded Christian who has “submitted to Jesus’ lordship” or whatever.

  20. Madame Xanadra says:

    As a Spiritualist, I am heartened to learn of the Rev. Anderson’s endorsement. As you know we take the Bible very seriously (it proves reincarnation!) and believe in Christ as Savior and Lord (like all the other Masters). Amen and AUM!

  21. Imonk,

    Great definition of what evangelical is.

  22. Is the word perhaps wearing itself out?

  23. I’m not for requiring every evangelical to subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

    Out of curiosity, why not? (Well, aside from the fact that it’s not quite as compact as the Apostles/Nicene Creed.)

    @Ray A: Call me jaded, but sadly, I think you’re spot on in your analysis. Reminds me of iMonk’s discussion of the SBC’s discussion of how many “members” it’s had.

  24. See, http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/U/US_REL_FAITH_IN_FLUX?SITE=ILROR&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT

    It backs up iMonk rather well. It is the latest Pew research.

  25. @Rampancy: just because you’re jaded doesn’t mean you don’t have good reason to be jaded …

  26. Given (or assuming, if you will) the consistent and comprehensive position of Scripture against ideological definitions and towards incarnational definitions, what must a scriptural ecclesiology look like to be consistent?

    Is a coherent Evangelical ecclesiology possible given its ideological nature?

  27. If it’s about taking the Bible seriously, that would exclude everyone that treats it like a how-to manual for getting what you want in life, or everywhere where the service has been reduced to entertainment.

  28. If that is how Leith Anderson defines evangelical, why did he fire Richard Cizik?
    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/decemberweb-only/150-42.0.html

  29. Personally, I think CMP has the right definition of evangelical

    http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2009/02/twenty-ways-you-might-be-and-evangelical/#more-1840

  30. http://web.me.com/francis.beckwith/Return_to_Rome/home.html
    To Francis Beckwith: I went to your website and clicked the place to read the beginning of your book Return to Rome: Confessions of An Evangelical Catholic. I liked very much the letter you wrote to your nephew. And I appreciated the bits of humor you used in your writings. I hope the book does well. I would have sent this to you privately if I knew how to do that. I don’t know if Michael will approve this comment or not, as I am very off-topic. (I get that way quite often!)

  31. Nick F says:

    Stop me if I’m missing something. Why is it important that we define Evangelical? And why are we afraid of this impending “evangelical collapse”? It almost sounds like we’re trying to protect our gated community before the poor people move their trailers and pink flamingos in.

    Maybe I’m being too idealistic, but it seems like the word “Christian” has been soiled by countless individuals in the past (to the point I don’t even like revealing that part of my life until someone knows the “regular” me), so why the need to protect the term “evangelical”?

    I’ll quote you: “But if our faith hasn’t brought us into some sort of formal relationship with a church that actually confesses the evangelical faith in some form…” Still you’re left with some lack of definition.

    Let me know, thanks!

  32. Nick F says:

    Sorry, I just read the previous post. I did miss something 🙂