Announcement of a new book on evangelicalism

Announcement of a new book on evangelicalism September 4, 2011

It’s just out: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism published by Zondervan.  Edited by Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen in the series Counterpoints edited by Stanley Gundry.  The authors of the four views are: Kevin T. Bauder (Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Minneapolis), R. Albert Mohler, Jr. (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary), John G. Stackhouse, Jr. (Regent College) and Roger E. Olson (Baylor University).  Bauder writes on Fundamentalism; Mohler writes on Confessional Evangelicalism; Stackhouse writes on Generic Evangelicalism; Olson writes on Postconservative Evangelicalism.  Each author responds to the others.


After participating in this project for the past two years and now reading the entire book (including all the responses) I can only say that this book proves there is no one “evangelicalism.”  The continental divide is between Bauder and Mohler, on the one hand, and Stackhouse and Olson, on the other hand.  Yes, of course, there are differences between Bauder (who represents separatistic fundamentalism) and Mohler (who does not push “biblical separationism” as strongly as Bauder).  But overall and in general, Bauder and Mohler represent a narrow, exclusivistic brand of evangelicalism that highlights correct doctrine as the essence of what it means to be evangelical.

Stackhouse and I find it difficult to locate our differences.  I’m sure we have them, but like Bauder and Mohler, it’s somewhat difficult to see how our visions of evangelicalism are very different.  I’m sure John thinks of himself as more conservative than I, but I don’t really think so.  I’m pretty conservative; I just don’t think you have to be as conservative as I am (e.g., premillennial) to be an evangelical.  John’s evangelical “tent” is just as broad as mine, so far as I can tell.

My biggest complaint is that Mohler just doesn’t get it.  And I can’t for the life of me figure out why.  He continues to insist that evangelicalism has boundaries.  Really?  Who sets them?  Oh, of course, he does!  (Excuse the sarcasm.)  He refuses to acknowledge the obvious fact that evangelicalism is a movement and movements CANNOT have boundaries.  Yes, of course, we can talk about who’s “in” and who’s “out,” but not in terms of firm, recognizable boundaries.  Without a magisterium there cannot be boundaries.  All we can do is appeal to the historical center of common conviction and experience and ask whether a person is moving away from it or towards it.  I fear if Mohler has his way evangelicalism will be narrowed down to people who believe in a literal six day creation (twenty-four hour days) about six thousand years ago.  (Oh, and of course, people who don’t practice yoga in any form!)

This book demonstrates quite conclusively that there are now at least two evangelicalisms (in terms of theology).  They are separated by 1) whether or not biblical inerrancy is necessary for authentic evangelical faith (which even Carl Henry denied!), 2) whether a foundationalist epistemology is necessary for authentic evangelical theology (there would go Calvin!), 3) whether theology’s constructive task is ever ongoing until Christ returns (I might mention here an excellent article by Mohler’s associate dean Bruce Ware in JETS some years ago arguing for a revision of the traditional idea of God’s immutability [but apparently that kind of creative thinking isn’t allowed others]), and 4) whether doctrine or experience (conversional piety) is the sine qua non of authentic evangelical faith and life.

Buy the book.  Read it.  Decide which evangelicalism you belong to.  I don’t think it’s possible to belong to both and I don’t see any middle ground between them.

NOTICE!  I am not arguing that Bauder and Mohler and their ilk are not evangelicals!  I’m arguing that, demonstrably, there are now two evangelicalisms (at least).  Bauder and Mohler and those who agree with them are evangelicals–just of a different kind.  John and I are evangelicals of a different order (I won’t even say “higher”).  All of us (both types) can trace historical, theological and sociological roots back to the Reformation.  But apparently we can’t get along.  How sad.

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