Why I am still an Evangelical

Evangelist Billy Graham preaches one Sunday to more than 40,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (UCLA
Evangelist Billy Graham preaches one Sunday to more than 40,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (UCLA)
It seems that hardly a month goes by these days without there being another account of a leading evangelical who has fallen. Perhaps someone has deserted a doctrine traditionally held dear by fellow evangelicals. Or maybe they have had to resign their leadership in a storm of controversy about their leadership style, or because of a significant moral failure.

Then, of course, there is an increasingly hostile media and society. Evangelicals are branded as fundamentalists and claimed by some to be not too dissimilar from Islamic terrorists. We are “irrelevant,” “stuck in the past,” “on the wrong side of history,” “haters of gay people,” “anti-choice,” “anti-science,” “bigots,” “backwards,” and, in short, people who should not be tolerated because of our perceived intolerance. Sadly of course, some evangelicals definitely do act in a way that encourages this negative impression. 

There is also a perception that the evangelical church is shrinking, though Stetzer makes the point, quite rightly, that it is the so-called “nominal” church that is shrinking, while evangelicalism is remaining constant. Nonetheless this represents a radically different environment for evangelicals who are used to the size and influence of the broader church in Western culture providing them with “cover.”

It’s all enough to get a man depressed. It’s enough to cause us to doubt. Perhaps it should cause us to re-examine our convictions. But ultimately neither the hostility of the world towards us, nor the failures of some of our own should make us give up our evangelical convictions. I am an evangelical because my reading of the Bible demands me to be. If everyone else falls away, as Luther said, “Here I stand, I can do no other!”

I am an evangelical because in the Bible I perceive an authority that demands to be heard and obeyed. When I read that Jesus sent his disciples out by telling them that as they go they were to make disciples, “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:20), how can I not conclude that I should approach the Bible reverently?

In a previous post I listed six values that define evangelicalism, based on a merger of Bebbington’s quadrilateral and the Solas of the Reformation. That post argues evangelicalism must be seen as a smaller subset of a broader group called Christianity

As I look again at these values, I realize that these very definitions help explain why I am an evangelical. I suspect most of my colleagues who blog over at the Progressive Channel here on Patheos would both broadly agree with the items I elsewhere argue define a Christian, but struggle to accept these Evangelical values:

1. A literal (where appropriate) approach to the whole Bible as the sole source of authority in the believer’s life ( = “Biblicism” or “Sola Sciptura,” which means “Only Scripture”)

In fact the very failures of evangelical teachers remind me that I better not depend on any of them as my sole source of authority in life. They are unreliable, Gods word is unchanging. I am convinced that the Bible is the only reliable place where I can hear God’s direction for my life. As Paul put it:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

.

2. A strong focus on personal response of faith to the gospel ( = Conversionism and Sola Fide, which means “Faith Alone”)

If Paul was right to say, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law” (Rom 3.28), then how can we not believe that it is personal faith that is critical to salvation? For that matter, how can we not seek to promote saving faith in others?

3. Activity to promote the conversion of others. ( = Activism)

As I already referred to earlier, Jesus left a clear parting command: to spread his gospel throughout the world, making disciples of all nations.

Ultimately, as far as I can see more than any other Christian group, evangelicals evangelize. We might struggle, we might get discouraged at times, we might need to find new ways of evangelizing in this hostile world, but how can we fail to share this message? If evangelicals were removed from the earth tomorrow, I would question how much evangelism would remain.

4. A focus on the cross of Jesus as the only means of salvation. ( = Crucicentrism and Sola Christa, which means “Only Christ”)

Essentially this point refers to our belief that Jesus came and lived the perfect life, died an undeserved death, and rose to a victorious new life, all in place of us, and all for our benefit.

It has been very popular lately to criticize notions of Jesus taking the punishment for our sins. As a result many preach an anaemic “gospel” without a real understanding of the seriousness of sin, and a God without wrath.

As I read Isaiah 53, I am forced into the traditional evangelical position that Jesus was led like a lamb to the slaughter for our sake. Without this, and without his glorious physical resurrection, there is no good news.

5. Grace alone ( = Sola Gratia)

On this point, all I need really comment is to quote Paul once more. How can anyone reading these words, not come to the evangelical conclusion that salvation is by grace alone?

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved -and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:1-9)

6. To God alone belongs glory. ( = Soli deo gloria)

I begun this piece by talking about the negative impact of the fall of a number of significant evangelical figures. Of course we must recognize that God raises individuals up to serve him. But when we further elevate such people, we risk placing them on a pedestal reserved in evangelical tradition for God alone. Christ is the head of his Church, not any earthly figure.

If we give glory to men or women and not God, then we risk encouraging pride in them, and we make any subsequent fall by them only more harmful. Evangelicalism has always rejected the pomp and ceremony seen in some other wings of the church. But we have been guilty often of glorifying our leaders. The present circumstances only make me more convinced of the vital place of that truly evangelical call:

“TO GOD ALONE BE THE GLORY!”

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    What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
    • Theodore A. Jones

      Regarding 2, “justified by works apart from the law.” True no one is justified by the works of righteousness relative to the WRITTEN code. The law written on stones. However that does not mean you are not justified by God by the faith of not obeying a law.
      “For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” Rom. 2:13 The law Paul is referencing is not the law written on stones, but it is mandatory that you have the faith to obey it or not be declared righteous by God.

    • Ron Turner

      1) Why? What makes you think the Bible is a better source of spiritual authority than the Koran, the Book of Mormon, the Talmud, or the vedas? Why does any evangelical write about faith?

      5) See 1) and of course, there are other passages that clearly state that good works are required.

      • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

        1. As I said to the other commentator I dare you to read John’s Gospel and you will see the difference.

        5. ( I guess you meant 2.) much that could be said but perhaps the simplest explanation is that it is faith alone that saves but the faith that saves is never alone.

        • Warren

          As I said to the other commentator I dare you to read John’s Gospel and you will see the difference.

          I’m sorry, but are you implying that anyone who disagrees with you has simply never read the most basic book of your faith? Do you have any idea how insulting that is?

          I have read John’s Gospel. I have also read John’s Apocryphon. I see no reason to assume the former has any more spiritual authority than the latter.

        • Theodore A. Jones

          The soteriological paradigm that has been perfected by the murder of Jesus Christ is not specifically defined in the “Gospel of John”. It was only alluded. The specified procedure for any individual’s salvation is stated in the Acts 2 message. Note Jn. 17:20 “through ‘their message’. But it is not the faith of repenting of sins, for it is by the faith of repenting of a sin that salvation is granted.

    • roberto quintas

      “I am an evangelical because in the Bible I perceive an authority that demands to be heard and obeyed.”
      this is a joke, right?

      • http://adrianwarnock.com/ Adrian Warnock

        No joke. This is the idea that the Bible is self-authenticating. Have you tried reading it? I dare you to read John’s Gospel. Who knows maybe by the end you will have come to trust and follow Jesus too.

        • Brian K

          John was written something like 60 years after the events it supposedly describes. Why would I read it and come away thinking the Jesus he describes was a real person?

          • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

            More like 40-50 years and that is completely irrelevant. The evidence for Jesus Christ is staggering. Deny Jesus Christ and you must also deny massive amounts of history from antiquity if you care about consistency. What you have to explain is why these men were tortured for something they made up. Maybe one or two, but the historical record for persecution during this period is also staggering.

        • roberto quintas

          Yes, I have read and study the Bible. I read 5 times and study by 15 years. It’s funny when christians presume that a critic doesn’t read the Bible. Unfurtunatelly my study and reads leads me to contest and doubt such “authenticity”. It is historicallly incorrect, it is self-contradictory, it was forjed, compilled, rewritten, poorly translated and collected throught questionable sources.

          • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

            Historically incorrect? Wrong! It is self-contradictory? Wrong! Forged? Wrong! Compiled? What? Rewritten? Really?

            • roberto quintas

              yes, really. denial won’t work. many persons, places and cities was quoted in wrong time. it is self-contradictory in many aspects [historical, political, biological, crossing sources, inner text, you can name] yes, compiled since it was brought to a single book around the 3rd century by your Church [it’s enought to a doubt]. yes, rewritten since many words simple doesn’t exist in original and many overlapping text was inputted at the compiled work, as we can see in the history of this Church, with so many doctrines fights between the Fathers of this Church. sorry, I only accept reliable sources.

            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              Thank you for providing me with a very good assessment of your lame excuses. This is enough for me to conclude that you have no idea what you’re talking about.

            • roberto quintas

              Hahaha! really? still in denial. seems you are the one who have no idea what you are talking about. If you have some honesty you would, at least, agree that your point of view is part of your faith and accept that, since it is a faith, doesn’t have nothing with authenticity, authority, originality or veracity. But thank you to provide me that christians didn’t change too much in 2 thousand years. I have already enought of christians to know a lot that your kin will never make a good debate.

            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              The interesting point in these discussions is that people like you attack a subject of which you have no knowledge. And in every instance, you demonstrate that you do not understand the Christian concept of faith. It never fails. My point of view is certainly based on faith. I begin with God, his authoritative revelation which is His Word. Is that word word revealed in history? Certainly! Are there logical arguments to refute it? Absolutely not. Is there science to refute it? None whatsoever. Are there difficulties in the biblical record? There are difficulties in all records of antiquity. Can those difficulties be resolved? Most of them have been. Do remaining difficulties invalidate biblical authority? Not logically or scientifically speaking in any way.

              Why don’t you try defending your own morality? Was it you that said slavery is objectively immoral? Pick any component of morality from your own system and see if it does not end in reductio ad absurdum. Anything you like.

            • roberto quintas

              you presume that I haven’t knowledge, even after I make myself clear that I read and study throughtfully the Bible. Faith is a concept that belongs to every religion, not only of Christian [and I know a lot of it]. If you agree that your viewpoint comes from faith, so it doesn’t apply as a proof to your claims. You say that you start form God, but let me remeber you that there is a lot of Gods around here, even the abrahamic religions aren’t sure about the One and True God. It is more likely the History being reveled throught this world and human deeds than otherwise. there is logical arguments to refute the Christian version of history. there is a lot of scientific instances that refutes a lot of what is written in Bible. I am not talking about “difficulties” of textual recording, I am talking about intended forgerie, invention, poorly translation and argueable autheticity. In a crossed comparation to many others records, the Bible doesn’t sustain itself [it even sustain against itself]. We are not talking about morality, but the claim of the supposed authority of Bible, but nice try in your strawman fallacy. This is strike three. you’re out.

            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              Wrong Roberto. Christianity has a very narrowly defined definition of what it means when it talks about faith. The Christian kind of faith is a gift from God given only to Christians. Not just anyone has the kind of faith spoken of in Christianity. So thank you for proving my point. You do not in fact, understand what Christianity means when it talks about faith.

            • roberto quintas

              you haven’t even provided enought arguments to sustain that the christian faith is really a gift from God, since there is a lot of Gods around here and even in abrahamic religions there is no agreement about who is the One and True God. you make a pity apologist. But you are funny to presume that your faith and no other else is a gift from the God, without even notice that your God are a Frankenstein builded by your Church. Thanks for your playing. Study hard and maybe you will be prepared to try to debate with me.

            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              I don’t have to provide an argument supporting my claim. Christian theism claims that Christian faith, faith that saves, faith that makes one a Christian is an undeserved gift from God. Read Ephesians 2:8-10. You are clearly not a skilled debater.

            • roberto quintas

              you lost all your points, all your chances. I provided you just a glimpse at a hand and you are still in denial. this is just what I offer to you but this is not all I got. I am not an “internet expertise”, I have really academic degree, but since you dropped all arguments or “don’t need to provide” sustainment to your calims, you have yourself already prooved that your claims doesn’t hold itself, therefore you lost the plead. I would remember that there is no one single true christian for start, but you have already lost it.

            • roberto quintas

              by the way thank you for agree that the christian faith is very narrowed.

            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              As if something is ipso facto wrong because it is narrow? And I am supposed to be the irrational one in the conversation. Narrow in no way equals inferior. After all, we are talking about definitions. I bet you that your definition of “narrow” here is pretty narrow as well.

            • roberto quintas

              you are even given a good point of your argument so how can you adress that I haven’t a good basis to define of what “narrow” is? another strawman fallacy.

            • roberto quintas
            • roberto quintas
            • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

              Is this the basis of your claims? Maybe you should read how Christian historians respond to perverted claims such as this. Another internet educated expert! Pick anything specific you like Roberto but stop dancing around. Pick the strongest historical “evidence” you like or the most obvious “contradiction” you want and we can chat about it.

            • roberto quintas

              this is your argument? read what a christian historians have to say? have you ever know what imparciality means? a christian hsitorians, like yourself, only will accept and endorse whatever pleases his/her faith, not the historical facts. you have already dropped the case since you already said that you don’t need to provide any sustain to your arguments [and that’s happens because you have none]. your denial is just a normal reactin to someone who have no clue what is talking about. thanks for playing, better luck next time.

          • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

            There is enough garbage here to fill the Stanton Island landfill.

          • Realist1234

            Could i suggest you read ‘Can we still believe the Bible’, by Craig L Blomberg. It is quite informative.

            • roberto quintas

              not needed.

        • Realist1234

          Though it should be noted that, as Jesus said, the Pharisees etc searched the Scriptures yet still failed to recognise Him in them.

    • http://kingscriercommissions.blogspot.com/ thekingscrier

      I am an atheist because I dismiss your religion using the same reasons you use to dismiss all other religions.

      • Bacchus

        We’re supposed to care?

      • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

        So you dismiss other religions on the ground that Christianity is the only true religion? Nice!

        • http://kingscriercommissions.blogspot.com/ thekingscrier

          Nice try. What are the reasons you believe Christianity is the one true religion? What are the reasons you believe all other religions are false?

          • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

            You said your reason for dismissing other religions was the same reason Christians dismiss other religions. We dismiss other religions because we know that Christianity as expressly set down in Scripture is true.

            My reason for believing that Christianity is true is bound up in one person: Jesus Christ. That Jesus Christ is a historical figure is beyond reasonable dispute. That He claimed to be God is also beyond reasonable dispute. That He is in fact God is something all Christians know as a result of the work of God on the human heart and mind. That the historical record is filled with the proofs of Christ’s divinity is beyond reasonable dispute. That Christ rose from the dead is a historical fact. That Scripture serves as the epistemic authority for Christianity is a basic tenet of Christianity.

            Now, Christians do not come to know that Christianity is true by testing the evidence or by weighing the arguments. Christians become Christians only by the work of God in their heart and mind. We do not come to Christ based on our own ability to “reason it out.” We come to God by being born into Christ. Christians are the product of a miraculous work of God. Most people who profess to be Christian are in fact not Christian at all. People join the church for all kinds of, well, very bad reasons, most of which reduce to self-righteousness or to satisfy their need for moral order.

            Here is my argument against all other religions then:
            Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father except through Me. In one statement Jesus has said that Christianity is true and every other claim that contradicts it is false. That is a very logical thing for Jesus to say. Jesus rose from the dead to demonstrate that He was God’s chosen Messiah. We see both a Christian faith that is supported rationally and empirically upon its own ground. Arguments and evidence are not the basis of faith, but faith is the ground of argumentation and evidence.

            This faith is not a blind leap in the dark. It is not merely deciding to just believe something. Faith is experienced by the believer. Because we know that Jesus is the Messiah, we also know that all other religions are false. There is only one God, and He is revealed in Christ.

            I realize you want me to put God in the dock and judge Christianity by subjecting it to your criteria. That will not happen. After all, you cannot even begin to provide evidence or rational ground for how you arrived at whatever criteria you use to justify belief to begin with.

    • Dorfl

      […]“anti-science”[…]

      I am a bit curious about this one. As somebody watching the Evangelical community from the outside, I’d say that views which contradict the scientific consensus on fairly basic issues seem to be very common.

      I have to ask: are you aware of the extent to which many Evangelical’s beliefs come in conflict with science – and if so, do you see it as a problem?

    • Brian K

      “A literal (where appropriate) approach to the whole Bible as the sole source of authority in the believer’s life”

      When I read the Bible and see that you are permitted to beat your slaves as long as they don’t die, I’m not convinced I’m reading a particularly moral document.

      • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

        The only way for you to justify that assessment is if you can demonstrate that your morality is objective and superior to all other approaches to morality. Good luck.

        • Brian K

          So a morality that includes beating your slaves is OK, as long as it’s objective. Got it.

          • http://reformedreasons.blogspot.com/ Ed Dingess

            I didn’t say that. What I am saying is that you can offer no alternative that warrants your criticism. Until you can do that, you have nothing to criticize, unless that is, you want to steal from the Christian ethic. Like I said, good luck.

            The text does not say it is okay to beat your slave, just that there is no criminal punishment levied against it so long as the incident was not malicious. Ancient slavery and modern Western slavery are apples and oranges.

      • Mark Bankston

        Brian, I don’t fault you for bringing up such a point. And there are other questions about the Old Testament that are similar in nature, such as war/bloodshed and other similar things. I do think there are sound explanations for it, but I probably don’t have time to write them out here. But my main point is this: in the New Testament Jesus raises the standard of righteousness in a radical way, and the church followed suit. Jesus called for his followers to love their enemies and to not resist evil, and for 300 years the church responded by not going to war. They also took Jesus’ command not to lay up treasures very seriously, not living in lavish luxury, but instead being generous with their money. Jesus also raised the standard on marriage, even higher than most evangelicals, and the church responded with solid marriages and stable families. They also suffered cruelly under Roman persecution and responded by praying for their oppressors. It’s a much different Christianity that we’ve known, but I believe it is very authentic, pure, and worth following.

        I’d be glad to email you privately if you want to talk more (markbankston1972@gmail.com), but you are also welcome to visit followers-of-the-way.org and find out about how Christianity started. Have an open heart and seek the truth, and open up a New Testmament with no preconceived ideas.

        • Brian K

          I’m not convinced that the New Testament is a perfect moral guide either. I think making people feel sinful for thoughtcrime is obviously problematic (looking at a woman lustfully being tantamount to adultery for example). I don’t think credulity is a virtue, so all those passages about strength of faith don’t sit well either.

          I do want to say that I appreciate the approach in this reply. It’s pretty rare to encounter a Christian online that seems interested in actual respectful dialogue instead of preaching. Thanks.

          • Mark Bankston

            It’s actually one of the reasons I have chosen to believe Kingdom Christianity, is because of it’s call to perfection, even in thought. One might raise the question, how can someone live up to such a standard? Because I’ve certainly failed many times here, and in years past much worse than thought. But along with Christ’s perfect commandment comes perfect and long-lasting mercy for those who from the heart seek to follow Him. That mercy is the fuel which drives someone back to Christ even after he fails. And if a true Christian lives a lifestyle of getting back up after he fails, over time he’ll begin to life more and more a life as Christ would live. It’s a journey, and not an overnight event, but it is life-changing.
            And as for your last statement, I know there’s a lot of really abrasive people that don’t reflect Christ’s gentleness; so don’t let that be a deterrent. Believe that one day God will judge righteously and fairly.

    • JustThink

      The early Christians were also called “haters of the human race.” The old lie just gets repeated over the ages.

    • roberto quintas
    • roberto quintas
    • Robert Conner

      The Roman critics of Christianity had the religion totally nailed 18 centuries ago. Lucian described the first “money for anything” grifter and the Didache warned Christians about scammers. Read about it here:

      https://www.scribd.com/doc/269575794/Christianity-s-Critics-The-Romans-Meet-Jesus-by-Robert-Conner

    • http://jl14-davidmossmann.com/ David Mossmann

      I found this article quite interesting! Keep it up.
      It’s true and sad that you see a lot of evangelicals make mistakes, sometimes huge moral failures that has the potential to discourage you. It’s great to see how you established in those 6 steps how God has called us to still pursue to be an evangelical. It’s biblical. Thank you for your post! Very insightful.

    • http://virginmedia.com/ Peter Charnley

      My confidence in the truth of orthodox Christianity is strengthened by the increasing hostility of a world which is overtly distancing itself from reason and common sense. The contemporary secular world, as everyone is experiencing it (Christian or otherwise), throughout all Western nations, is attempting to tyrannically force people into a corner of obligatory moral feeling defined by the various politically correct codes of, amongst other things, radical feminism and the extremes of the gay rights lobby. Movements whose spiritual and moral epicentres have got nothing to do with love, tolerance and human unity. As the writer David Kupelian accurately observed (to paraphrase), ‘the aegis of our age is increasingly witnessing evil being marketed disguised as freedom’.
      I suggest to my fellow evangelical brothers and sisters, given the nature of the age we are all presently living in, growing hostility towards our faith, and to the way we interpret and practice it, should be received as comforting endorsement, rather than a reason to doubt and critically examine ourselves.
      The whole sweep of Scripture, from Genesis 3 onwards, points us towards that reassuring reality.
      As the great evangelical preacher of the 20th century, Leonard Ravenhill, so poignantly observed – ‘the Word of God was not intended as a tool to scratch itching ears’.

    • Widge Widge

      No one takes the whole Bible literally. We all pick and choose the Bible verses to believe. That is why we have the Holy Spirit to help us pick and choose.