Why “evangelical” is a label I won’t surrender

Several commenters here have asked why I hold on to the label “evangelical.”  Why not just give it up in light of its contemporary connotations in American society?  (It has become virtually synonymous with fundamentalism or neo-fundamentalism and the so-called Religious Right.)  Well, let me explain again.

The Merriam-Webster on line dictionary defines “evangelical” several ways.  Here are the first three definitions:

1) Of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.

2) Protestant.

3) Emphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual.

Certainly I claim to fit all three of those definitions.  (The fourth definition has to do with the European Protestant churches where “evangelical” simply means Lutheran or Reformed.)

As to the fact that “evangelical” has come to be used by the movers and shakers American society otherwise, well, so has “Christian.”  In many places and from many mouths and pens “Christian” is synonymous with ultra-conservative, mean-spirited people who happen to believe in Jesus Christ.  I’m not going to give up “Christian” just because many people in the media and the academy misuse it for their own ideological purposes (or just out of ignorance).  The same could be said of the label “Baptist.”  There are parts of North America where “Baptist” conjures up images of extremely legalistic, narrow-minded, even uneducated riff-raff to be resisted.  Should I therefore give up calling myself “Baptist” and defending its good name?

I have always been evangelical; I’m not going to let fundamentalists and neo-fundamentalists own it.  I consider them evangelicals, too, but they don’t consider me one and that irritates me (to say the least) BECAUSE they have much influence within today’s evangelical subculture.

In the Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism book one author says my theology is a betrayal of the gospel.  Another one says I am “postevangelical.”  I don’t question their evangelical faith; it is they who question mine.  I strongly disagree with their approaches to it, but I consistently employ a “big tent” model of evangelicalism which they have narrowed down to a very small tent or (better) fortress.

Some of these people are claiming to speak for all evangelicals.  Why simply give up and allow them to do that?

The evangelical subculture in America includes many well-intentioned administrators of evangelical organizations who do not have the time to figure out who is and who isn’t evangelical, so they rely (too much) on influential spokespersons.  If I (and evangelicals like me) simply give up the label and allow neo-fundamentalists to control it, what are the practical results?  Many evangelical organizations will soon be dominated by neo-fundamentalists.

Also, supposed I give up being “evangelical.”  What would I then say to someone who asks about my theological and spiritual orientation?  Anyone who says “just say ‘Christian'” cannot be fully aware of how diverse Christianity is.  Just saying you’re a Christian reveals almost nothing.  Mormons claim to be Christians.  The obvious response I would get is “What kind of Christian?”  So why not just say “Baptist?”  Again, that’s almost a meaningless term when it comes to describing a theological or spiritual orientation.  There are so many kinds of Baptists including very liberal Baptists.  (I realize many people in the South don’t know that, but they should travel more!)  So why not just “Protestant?”  Same problem–far too broad and inclusive to be helpful.  I still find “evangelical” fits me well, but I admit I have to qualify it these days.  For me, “postconservative” works.  I’m NOT “postevangelical.”  I’m as evangelical as I ever was–by the dictionary definition and by historical meanings of the word (before neo-fundamentalists made a concerted effort to redefine it to mean only them!).  I believe in the authority of scripture (inspired and infallible), the deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, the Trinity, salvation by grace through faith alone, the miracles of Jesus and his virgin birth and resurrection, the return of Jesus Christ and an earthly millennium before the new heaven and new earth.  What more do people want?  Oh, silly me, they want: Calvinist soteriology, biblical inerrancy (whatever that means), young earth creationism, classical theism (divine simplicity, absolute immutability, impassibility, etc.), etc., etc.  SOME of them want me to join them in loudly opposing every shred of theological creativity and in narrowing the evangelical “tent” down to them and their Amen Charlies.  And, of course, many of them want me (and others like me) to join them in their crusade to “take back America for God” (meaning–criminalize all behavior they consider sinful and establish conservative Protestant Christianity as the common law of the land).

These are not evangelical hallmarks; historically they just aren’t.  The post-WW2 evangelical movement (to say nothing of the evangelical movement before WW2) was diverse on these issues and I want it to stay that way.

Also, my experience has been that SOME (many?) of the leading spokesmen (none of these happen to be women) for neo-fundamentalism use underhanded, dishonest, mean-spirited methods to win for their cause (e.g., in taking over denominations and organizations).  They specialize in fear-mongering among the laity and pastors.  (For example, calling open theists “Socinians” and/or “process theologians,” inventing quotations and attributing them to evangelicals they don’t like, taking things completely out of context and blowing them out of proportion to convince worried lay people and pastors that heresy is lurking in the hallways, classrooms and offices of evangelical institutions of higher education.  Even well-meaning, broadly evangelical administrators find themselves giving in to the pressures these tactics create.

So, no, I won’t hand the good label “evangelical” over to neo-fundamentalists without a fight.  In fact, I never will no matter what.  But I do find it necessary to qualify it with adjectives like postconservative, progressive or moderate.

I hope this explains why I am not willing to stop identifying myself as evangelical even if I must distance myself from the neo-fundamentalists who are coming increasingly to dominate the evangelical movement.

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  • Daniel W

    Roger,

    I was just wondering how you distinguish between scripture being “inspired and infallible” and “biblical inerrancy.” What is the difference between these two positions? You indicated that you adhere to the former, but not the latter.

    Thanks.

    • rogereolson

      There is a long history of literature on the distinction between “infallible” and “inerrant.” To me (and to many others) “inerrant” implies a standard of accuracy foreign to the Bible as ancient literature. “Infallible” simply means Scripture, being inspired by God, does not fail to communicate truth necessary for salvation and living a life pleasing to God.

  • http://www.barrybiblicalnotes.com Barry Applewhite

    Hang in there! The neo-Pharisees are always with us. Just like the Pharisees of old, they say they are the true representatives of God. They attack anything that deviates from their particular views rather than engage in any true theological dialogue. (Even when Jesus worked miracles, they said it was by the power of Satan!)

    The neo-Pharisees threaten anyone who thinks Christian doctrine might need to advance beyond the Westminster Confession with expulsion from any and all groups and even from being able to claim Christ as their savior. The old Pharisees threatened to dump people out of the synagogues.

    As to using fear, in this age of special interest groups, they raise money by making people think the world will end if money isn’t sent in right away.

    Some things have changed since Jesus walked the earth; some things have not. One reason I hope never to see this nation become a Protestant theocracy is that we have the first amendment to protect different religious views. But that does not keep you or me from taking gunfire from people who should be acting like our brothers and sisters in Christ.

    Hang in there!

    -Barry

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek

    WOW! Wow, wow, wow, wow, WOW!

    I couldn’t agree more. There’s been a small trend floating around on line of people who proudly refer to themselves as “Evangelical Rejects”; something many of them claim after reading your book about being Post-conservative. But I didn’t jump on that bandwagon because of its negative connotations. I’m not an Evangelical Reject, I’m not a Fundamentalists or a neo-Fundamentalist, nor am I a Liberal.

    I’m Evangelical. Period. (Post-conservative, but Evangelical!)

  • http://HoxeyvilleNorthofNirvana Eric Snider

    Fifteen years ago some folks were wanting to raise high a banner for Reformed Theology in a city in Ohio where I had lived. They heard I adhered to some Reformed perspectives (having previosuly taught at a Reformed college), and wanted me to join their cause. But to me, they clearly wanted what I thought of as a fundamentalist take on Reformed theology, following the likes of Mohler, Boice, MacArthur, Piper. When I said my adherence to a Reformed perspective had less to do with soteriology and much more to do with a Kuyper and (over the past 40 years) a Mouw, Marsden, Wolterstorff world and life view, they looked clueless. I had no interest in being part of their cause. Their focus was a blend of Calvinist theology read through Enlightenment rationalist and foundationalist epistemology, together with mid-20th century fundamentalist social and political perspectives (including “natural” gender defined roles, courting and not dating, strong patriarchy, home schooling, overt patriotism, and on and on). A focus was to have precise answers to important theological questions for them and their children, and to have precise explanations why their’s was the right view and all the others were wrong. I grew up in a fundamentalist church, and found the Reformed world and life perspective refreshing, energizing. To see Reformed theology turned fundamentalist dampened my enthusiasm to do anything but hold my Reformed cards close to my chest.

  • http://www.theruthlessmonk.blogspot.com les

    I have been an “evangelical” Christian for 30 years, but only in the last year have I felt like I have to defend my Arminian theology. I heard Al Mohler in a video interview say that “theologically-minded, deeply convictional young evangelicals who were committed to the Gospel” have no other choice than to adhere to Calvinism. He stated firmly that there are no other options if a person wants to authentically follow Jesus.

    I wasn’t raised Arminian; I just prayed, read, and studied, and came to the conclusion that it made more sense. I, too, am not yet willing to give up the name “evangelical,” but after doing a lot of research into the new Calvinist, I realize that I must now become an active member of the “Arminian Defense League.”

    • rogereolson

      Wow. So there Mohler was dismissing at least half of his Southern Baptist colleagues (even in other seminaries) as false Christians? I rarely, if ever, hear this kind of rhetoric from Arminians toward Calvinists. Okay, Jimmy Swaggert, but not educated, thinking Arminians. (I’m not sure Swaggert even counts as Arminian, but somehow his name always comes up in conversations with Calvinists as someone who engaged in bashing Calvinists.)

      • http://www.theruthlessmonk.blogspot.com Les

        Here is the entire quote: He was asked about the resurgence of “New Calvinism:”

        “Where else are they going to go? What options are there? If you’re a theologically-minded, deeply convictional young evangelical, if you’re commited to the Gospel and you want to see the nations rejoice in the name of Christ, if you want to see gospel-built and structured and commited churches, you’re theology is just going to basically end up being reformed, basically being something like this new Calvinism, or you’re just going to have to invent some other label for what is just going to be the same thing. There just are no other options out there.”

        I hesitate to post the link, but let’s just say that it’s on the website of a very well-known, respected (but relatively new) evangelical organization. I can email you the link if you’re interested.

        • rogereolson

          Ah, well…I’ve heard that message (in other words) from many, many of the “new Calvinists” (“young, restless, reformed” and their mentors). It’s becoming the new orthodoxy of evangelicalism, unfortunately. As I’ve said here before, I once worked under a very influential evangelical leader (president of a college and seminary and at one time, for some years, executive editor of the most influential evangelical publication) who called himself a “recovering Arminian.” What these people fail to mention is that there ARE other options that are biblically sound (they would dispute that, of course) and intellectual serious (I supposed they’d dispute that, too) and spiritually fruitful (of course they’d dispute that). What they also fail to mention is that, taken to its logical conclusion, Calvinism turns God into a monster.

  • dave p

    Roger,
    As a pastor of a NE Baptist church, I wrestle with these labels and theological “leanings” that have become so popular and prominent within the evangelical tent. We have so divided, labeled and filed ourselves under categories and classifications that it makes my head swim sometimes as I try to keep all theological “leanings” of my members straight. I hate the Baptist distinctions, the reformed supremacy, the liberal inconsistencies and the so on and so on until I can think straight. Can we not find a common ground to stand on or is that only ever possible in the new heavens and new earth when the ground will become level for all of us? Are we left only to slug it out in a cosmic theological battle for supremacy, rightness and authority? How do we bring the message of peace to a broken world when the club that we are inviting them to join is so fragmented and anything but peace-filled?

    I am sorry to push back so hard on this subject, but this is an area of extreme passion for me and I would hope for many who lead God’s children into freedom and hope. I long to be a partner-with-God as I serve Him in any way as He leads His children into a place of peace and unity.

    Maybe that passion is a distinctive of the shepherd in me, but I rather hope that there are new ways into the future.

    I for one vote for a removal of labels and a return to ‘followers-of-the-way”.

    Thanks for letting me rant.

    I love the way your stuff makes me think.

  • Jon T

    “biblical inerrancy (whatever that means)”… That made me chuckle. Thanks for not surrendering, Dr. Olson.

  • Bev Mitchell

    Roger,

    This is your most convincing case yet for not yielding to those who want to politicize and play power games with the gospel. It could be questioned, however, how far one can go in the direction of power games and politics and still be considered evangelical! The OED has a great treatment of the word. One characteristic given for an evangelical person is “imbued with the spirit of the gospel” The OED classifies this definition as ‘rare’. Maybe it should be resuscitated. It certainly is 180 degrees from power games and politics.

    Blessings,
    Bev

  • Tim Reisdorf

    I am happy for you and your book that the premise of the title seems to imply an acceptance of variety within Evangelicalism. I would imagine that some of the others might have preferred something like “Boundries of Truth: The lists that define who’s in and who’s out of Evangelicalism.”

  • JB

    I’m writing a book about believers affinities toward labels and living lost. Most believers unfortunately won’t see God. Christianity for the most part is dead. Reread the article and note all the references to the different denominations or Christian tags we readily absorb. The early church had no name except “The Way”. Read the book of Acts again and tell me if believers today are acting like Jesus. Denomination which flourishes is simply a pure form of division.
    Jesus in no way attempted to influence government and when you hear people talk about Christians it usually has to do with voting and secular government. Long story short read a few of George Barna’s polls. One recent poll had evangelicals more concerned with taxes than poverty by a very very wide margin. The prince of the air (waves) is having his way with the disobedient and many will find out that “few will enter”. Don’t you see that nearly every conversation deals with money? What subject did Jesus speak of most?…money. The problems in the country are from a significant lack of believers connecting in their neighborhoods and spending more time with each other than with non-believers. They’re worried more about birth certificates and if Obama is a muslim or not. I can see Father God and Jesus together and God asks him what is going on down there? Jesus replies, “I don’t know. I only told them to do 2 things…love us and to love their neighbor”. The name evangelical may be significant to you but if it isnt meaningful to your neighbor it doesnt matter what you are called. The only thing that matters in this country is what happens locally by people whose lives look and act like Jesus using their individual God given gifts for the Kingdom to come.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi JB,

      Denominations are simply a way of dealing with the complexity of Christians who have different points of view on trivial and grave matters. As with anything in life, those divisions or differences can be given too much weight, but they are important points of reference.

      “Jesus in no way attempted to influence government” is incorrect. Government is made up of people – people who make decisions for others. Zacceaous was a quasi-government official and Jesus purposefully influenced him. The Centurion was a military leader, Jesus influenced him. The Sanhedrien was a quasi-government group and Jesus sought to influence them. But by far the most important part of Jesus influencing government was the self-government of individuals. How people governed themselves and their affairs is the focus of much of Jesus’ teaching. And largely through the change in people (individuals), Jesus sought to change the world by drawing all to himself – including governors and presidents and despots.

      God laid out some governmental rules in the OT. And while some are specific for the Jewish people, many can be considered basic principles of good government regulation (laws). “Don’t steal”, “don’t murder”, are excellent laws that all good governments ought to have as core to their systems of justice. When governments abridges these, I’d expect Evangelicals to be all about government because those kinds of governments impoverish people. It is the very “looking out for your neighbor” that you find in the Bible.

      • rogereolson

        I think it’s much more likely that Jesus thought of his followers as a countersystem within the systems of this world and did not envision his followers attempting to control governments in any way (which does not exclude persuasion through prophetic speech). Certainly Paul did not attempt to influence governments through structural changes or attempting to pass laws. Nor did the Christians of the first two centuries after Jesus and Paul. Only with Constantine do we see that happening. Why? One explanation is that Christians before C. lacked power. Okay. But a good response, I think, is that power corrupts and Christians are not called to exercise power other than spiritual power (which can include persuasion but not coercion).

  • eric dixon

    Roger, do you think the term “evangelical” needs to be redeemed from the public sphere’s view that it reflects a political position?

    • rogereolson

      Absolutely.

  • Steve

    Roger
    Maybe if you wait long enough they will move on to something else and you will be left alone to use your terminology free of any encumberance. Never fear, if you call yourself Christian then all you need to do is live the way Jesus did. Simple, hey? Oh, by the way (and I am no expert) there is no such thing in the Bible as ‘faith alone’. You won’t find it anywhere although I realise its popular in some quarters as a point of difference (Catholics etc). In fact if you call yourself a Christian then what justification do you have for saying such a thing? The book of James tells me that its by works. So if I say I believe or have faith in Jesus the only way anyone (including yourself) can know this is by what you do (deeds). Sorry to get off the track but this faith alone thing is a bit of a drag and part of an infight.

    • rogereolson

      In my book, “faith alone” simply means “without meritorious good works,” it doesn’t mean without works that manifest the faith.

    • Tim Reisdorf

      Hi Steve,

      I would second Roger on his response. It is the “meritorious” good works that is the key. If our deeds condemn us (all), how can we be made righteous? The righteousness that Christians have is the righteousness of God that is given when we put our faith in Christ. Rom 3 is as good a reference as any.

      The idea is that we cannot earn what God freely gives us. If we could, then salvation would hardly be a free gift. Paul attacks that notion by mockingly asking “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith.” Rom 3:27.

      The good works must describe and flow from faith, not compete with it. James is against the idea that faith can exist apart from good works. But he does not say that those good works earn salvation.

      • Steve

        Tim
        An interesting comment and it can end up a big topic so I’ll keep it short. Paul is talking in Romans in the context of the Law. Paul always talks with the Jews and the Gentiles in mind. So when he is taliking about works he is talking about the works of the law (Romans 3:28) and the false Jewish notion that Jewish ethnicity was enough to make them righteous before God. Paul never discusses the ‘anatomy’ of faith. James does. The context of James’ discussion is very much that faith and works are the same thing (James 2:21). In fact deeds are more faith than ‘faith’. Good works in James do not ‘flow’ from faith, your works (deeds) ARE your faith. He uses of all people, Abraham, to demonstrate his point. Abraham had NO FAITH until he did something (sacrifice of Isaac). The real clanger here is the idea that you have faith as a cerebral phenomenon is a subtle but destructive conclusion. I think NT Wright is in this direction. Even if we agreed that faith without works in dead (and in the popular sense I don’t) it is still a requirement that to be saved you must have meritorious works. The entire section of scripture in James (2:14 – 2:26) is soteriology. Get this wrong and your salvation is at risk. Why, because you believe that faith is seperate from works when it is not. Paul himself touches on this. So to sperate faith and works is erroneous and dangerous. After all Luther and Calvin got it wrong and we end up with predeterminism etc etc. What do you think?

        • Steve

          Sorry, I meant that NT Wright seems to be down this road of works being definitely a part of the overall summing up.

          • rogereolson

            I have read Justification and I know Wright personally and you are wrong about that IF you mean he is thinking works are meritorious.

        • rogereolson

          You have said that nowhere does scripture say salvation is “by faith alone.” It also nowhere says good works are “meritorious.” In fact, Paul implicitly (if not explicitly) flatly contradicts that notion by forbidding boasting. “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Cor. 4:7)

          • Steve

            Roger
            So you agree that faith alone is nowhere in the Bible? Actually it is but only in one spot and there it is repudiated (James 2:24).
            The merotorious issue is a tricky one. The Bible says we are justified by works. So you say you are a Christian? Prove it. Thats my papraphrase of James 2. Wright knows this is an issue thats why he has been in hot water over it (at least with so called evangelicals). If you say you have faith and prove it by your deeds (I don’t like this proposition necessarily but it will do for this discussion) then ofcourse you deeds have merit. I am under no illusions, this idea cuts to the heart of the major errors evangelicals have pushed over the years and I believe is part of the weakness we see in western churches but nevertheless it appears from scripture that works create merit with God. This opens doors to the discussion around who exactly will be in heaven the one who says they believe in Christ or the one who shows they believe. I could continue but that will do for now. Your turn.

          • Steve

            Try Romans 2:6 and following for meritorious works.

        • Tim Reisdorf

          Hi Steve,

          I think that you are correct in not separating faith from works. Works could conceivably be alone, though not meritorious. But you are correct that faith cannot be without good works (except in the most extreme of thought experiments). Yet, Paul so often talks about faith (not things we do, hence no boasting) being the part that God recognizes as the “outstretched hand” – the asking for (and continuing of) a relationship with God through Christ.

          I could easily accept that good works “are” faith as you describe it, but it needs to be taken as the figure of speech that it is. What I mean is that James never intended the one to substitute for the other. They are merged because they are closely linked (like baptism and confession of sins and being a member of the Church and repentance and faith and salvation are merged because they naturally go together). One cannot have meritorious good works, but good works can be associated with salvation in the presence of faith. Without the presence of faith, no dice. In my opinion, Paul is too strong and clear on that point to admit works without faith.

          • Steve

            Have a look at Romans 2:6 and following for instance if you want an example of meritorious works leading to salvation. Very disturbing I would imagine for Reformed people and rightly so. I have heard all sorts of twists on this one.
            Sorry I can’t see any seperation in James of faith and works. They are ‘sunergei’, the same thing. I could go further and say that the false ‘faith’ (don’t like this terminology but I will stick with it for the purpose of the discussion) James describes is actually not faith at all. As soon as you move to in any way say that there is faith and then works comes from that or similar you have missed it. What you get is the subtle yet destructive underlying belief and action that says that you can believe something without any demonstration at all (deeds). From this you get other bizarre twists down the hyper Calvinist road.

    • JB

      I’ll take the risk of performing works and accept any judgement God feels like handing me. Most believers have more radar fixed on avoiding the conflict and hanging out with only other believers similar to the Amish. People hear about them from time to time but don’t know really what they do.

  • Ivan

    We needn’t worry about “the fundamentalists” gaining the high ground of the Christian faith. Fundamentalism, though still dominant in some circles, is slowly but surely being rejected by Christian believers — not to mention non-believers. The so-called “evangelical” label is inextricably identified with fundamentalism and will inevitably suffer the same rejection because of its exclusionary dogmas and tendency to suffocate alternative inquiry into matters of faith and practice, e.g., Rob Bell’s “LOVE WINS.”

    • rogereolson

      I see this differently. I see neo-fundamentalism, under the guise of “conservative evangelicalism” gaining influence in churches and society. Perhaps living in the South has something to do with how I see things. But Rick Perry and Michele Bachman, both neo-fundamentalists in my book, are gaining strength among likely Republical voters in New England and the upper midwest.

  • Prathab

    You sound so angry and upset….and rightly so! Arminian Defense League (ADL) is certainly in order here. However, the name ADL sounds a little militant-like and may cause unnecessary friction. Maay i humbly suggest Arminian Education Fellowship instead? What say you Dr Olson?

    • rogereolson

      Sure. Whatever. The ADL monker was tongue-in-cheek anyway.

      • http://cartermcneese.wordpress.com Carter McNeese

        Well I don’t agree with everything you are saying, so I call for the formation of the League for the Defense of Arminianism.

        http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gb_qHP7VaZE

        • rogereolson

          Funny! I love Monty Python (except some of the language).

  • John Metz

    Roger,
    As always, your argumentation is excellent and you state your case so well.

    Personally, I am not enamored with labels (however, I admit that I find myself using the word “evangelical” more often although I prefer “Christian” or “a believer”) but I recognize the appropriateness of your indignation. Your assertion that many evangelicals are becoming today’s fundamentalists, shrinking the tent to match their narrowing views and rejecting many of their own brothers and sisters in Christ, is certainly correct. This practice is indeed wrong.

    Yet, these in many cases are also brothers and sisters in Christ — Calvinists, Arminians, Fundamentalists, Baptists, Presbyterians…. That’s what makes the whole situation so frustrating. We all, and I include myself in this, should be warned concerning division (Romans 16:17-18) on the negative side and oneness on the positive side (Romans 15:1-10, Ephesians 4:1-6). It is a serious matter to create divisions among the believers.

    Thanks for your post.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think I’m creating division; I’m acknowledging it. If I were invited to come among the neo-fundamentalist evangelicals for what I was convinced would be fair and honest dialogue I wouldn’t hesitate. I have already agreed to do something like that with regard to my forthcoming book Against Calvinism.

      • John Metz

        Sorry, Roger,
        Not meant as a accusation but as a general comment concerning the situation you have touched on so many times. Nevertheless, both division and unity are serious matters that should concern all of us.

  • Dn4sty

    Here is the video where Mohler basically says that unless you are calvinist you aren’t authentic Christians around the 6:30 mark in the video

    http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/videos/15887245

    • rogereolson

      Truly shocking. How can he claim to get along with the non-Calvinists among his neo-fundamentalist Southern Baptist colleagues in the other five SBC seminaries?

  • gingoro

    Roger
    Ah I think I see why you continue to struggle for the term evangelical whereas I have given it up. You demonstrate a generous orthodoxy towards the neo fundamentalists like Mohler whereas 15 years ago my definition of evangelicalism included generous orthodoxy and thus excluded people like Mohler. Your dictionary definition seems to have carried the day which is why I no longer consider myself an evangelical and why the neo fundamentalists are attempting to exclude you and others like you.

    At what point would you give up the struggle for the term evangelical and admit that the neo fundamentalists have won?
    Dave W
    ps I know I said that I would unsubscribe from your blog but you keep on having interesting topics even if I don’t respond often. Tomorrow I will unsubscribe, however tomorrow never seems to come! Thanks

    • rogereolson

      I’m glad you’re still here! At what point would I give up the term evangelical and admit the neo-fundamentalists have won (in the struggle for the term)? Never! I will go on jousting at windmills until I die (apparently). :)

  • http://tfj1943.blogspot.com Tom Johnson

    Maybe you could call your self a “mere Christian” in the sense that Lewis used it.
    Hang in there, friend. I, for one, though somewhat fitting the definition, can no longer call myself an “evangelical,” since what the dictionary means by it is no longer what it is largely understood to mean in my cultural context.

  • JBoyd

    Roger
    While I would easily fit the definition of evangelical you posted, I think I would also fit in the Fundamental camp as well. I believe young earth, and literal interpretation of the bible (sorry, I just do). Oddly enough, I feel no hatred for you or anyone else! I can see a point for labels, but unfortunately they do seem to divide. After reading your post I felt “lumped” into your view of what these labels have represented to you. I’m not doubting that there are hateful people in the world, but just because I believe in a young earth does not make me one.
    I’ve really enjoyed reading your ideas mainly because you seem to be fair when speaking of views different from your own. I love to be challenged and don’t mind hearing different thoughts or ideas….but I don’t like being “lumped”. We need to be careful not to be too quick to judge just because of someone’s label.

    • rogereolson

      Do you believe in the doctrine of “biblical separation” (or especially “secondary separation”)? I tend to view that as the distinctive of fundamentalism (especially post-1925). Believing in young earth creationism by itself doesn’t make one a fundamentalism even though that does seem to be a special doctrine promoted by most in the fundamentalist movement. I did not say fundamentalists hate anyone. But those of us in the progressive evangelical (or postevangelical) wing of evangelicalism have certainly felt the sting of fundamentalist attacks, many of which we think are completely unfair and unjustified.

      • JBoyd

        I haven’t heard of the terms you spoke of and I don’t think I would hold to those doctrines, but based on the following definition, I would probably fit fine.

        Christian fundamentalists teach the literal interpretation of scripture and hold to key Christian doctrines, including Jesus’ birth, death, and resurrection, and salvation from our sins through the grace of God by having faith in Jesus Christ. Besides these doctrines, Christian Fundamentalism is also marked by its conservative social stances, including the refusal to smoke, drink alcohol, or dance. In recent decades, Christian Fundamentalism has also been characterized by its criticism of liberal social and political policies most notably legalized abortion, evolution taught in schools, and gay and lesbian rights.

        I think my point is that self imposed labels aren’t really the problem. It’s the labels others use to decribe us that sting. You see, I don’t have a problem with the definition I gave, but if someone else views that label to mean fundamentalists hate all who disagree or think you can’t be a Christian if you disagree would definately bother me. It’s simply not true. (Just an example. I’m not trying to say you said that.) I also have no doubt that many fundamentalists would not want me in their group because of other beliefs I may hold. I can say that I’ve heard mean comments from people of both sides of the young earth/old earth debete in particular.
        In the end has it been a benefit to me to carry one label or the other? When are we one body of believers in Christ Jesus?