Evangelicals Being Robbed

Evangelicals Being Robbed October 12, 2011

Some evangelicals are fighting back.  While some in that camp (e.g., Al Mohler and Robert Jeffress) think it’s super, super important that everyone know that Mormon are not Christians, other evangelicals are offering a more graceful, inclusive vision of Christianity.  Richard Mouw, president of Fuller, has a piece on CNN about Mormonism, and now Kurt Frederickson* has a post on Fuller’s Burner Blog about evangelicalism as he understands it:

I am an evangelical. It defines the way I think (my orthodoxy), how I act (my orthopraxy), and how I relate to God, to others and my world (my orthopathy). This is a joyful and hopeful way of being a Christian. An evangelical loves God greatly, and seeks to serve others and bless the world. An evangelical is eager to engage in a community of faith that worships and encourages discipleship, and engages in mission around the world and in a neighborhood. This is that faith that is part of my heritage. This is the brand of Christianity that I have chosen. I am proud to be an evangelical.

But a crime has been committed. I am an evangelical, and I have been robbed. [Read the rest at Help, I’ve Been Robbed! « The Burner.]

Kurt’s definition of evangelical: “An evangelical is someone who is transformed by the person and work of Jesus Christ, finds the Bible to be authoritative for life and doctrine and practice, and actively works to make the world better.”  I can fit under that definition.  Can you?

*Full disclosure: Kurt directs the Doctor of Ministry program at Fuller Seminary, and I teach in that program.

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  • To me, there is more generative energy in reclaiming this definition than forging a new moniker (emerging, incarnational, effervescent).

    That said, authoritative can so often be in the eyes of the beholder. The Bible is clearly acknowledged for its accuracy & excellence – it can be commanding. But is it definitive and comprehensive. And how is that authority lived out – in community settings and individually ?

  • Bob Hyatt

    I sure hope there’s a middle ground somewhere that recognizes that concepts like the deity of Christ and salvation by grace through faith still matter, and yet religious differences, especially in the political arena, can be handled with grace. I don’t want litmus tests in politics… but Paul is pretty clear about the litmus test of those two things in particular when it comes to inclusion in the family of the church. They matter, and Mormonism as a whole is pretty clearly sub-orthodox in that regard…

  • Bob Hyatt

    By the way- To actually answer your question- yeah, I fit under that definition of evangelicalism. However, that’s more of his summary. The actual definition is just above:
    crucicentric (the work of Jesus on the cross is key)
    biblicist (the Bible is the Word of God and the central guide for life)
    conversionist (people’s lives are transformed by following Jesus)
    missional (evangelicals actively work in the world, making the world a better place, proclaiming good news, and making disciples), and transdenominational (evangelicals believe and partner together across denominational lines).

    I’d love to get your thoughts there, particularly on the first point ;D

  • Kurt’s description underscores the fact that Mouw’s comments were confused and unhelpful. Would a Mormon find it inclusive and graceful for Mouw to conclude: “I am not prepared to say that their theology falls within the scope of historic Christian teaching.” That means its outside the scope of historic Christian teaching which is another way of saying non-Christian. A Mormon would strongly disagree. Jeffress and Mouw are both saying Mormonism is non-Christian. I suppose it sounds less offensive to refrain from saying “cult” but I’m not sure Mormons would be satisfied with Mouw’s outside-the-scope comments just because he doesn’t make a definitive statement as Jeffress did.

  • Scot Miller

    I am not so sure that saying LDS beliefs do not fall “within the scope of historic Christian teaching” is another way of saying Mormons are non-Christians. I think it’s just making an empirical observation that Mormon beliefs are atypical of “historic Christian teaching.” If Christianity is defined broadly, it’s hard not to count Mormons as Christians, since they are more “Christian” than, say, Scientologists.

    However, it is naive to assume that “historic Christian teaching” is unitary and static, for the understanding of “historic Christian teaching” certainly changes and evolves over time. That’s why it’s a bad idea for believers within a particular part of the broad Christian spectrum to identify all of Christianity with their particular, historically conditioned interpretations. That would be like recognizing that there are multiple colors in the light spectrum, but demanding that only the color blue manifests the genuine light.

  • Curtis

    Let’s not forget the history of the term “Evangelical” as applied to a church. First used by Martin Luther (evangelische in German) in the sense of being a “Bible-based”, “Gospel-based”, or “good-news” based church as a way to distinguish the emerging Protestant churches from the established Catholic church. Luther preferred to refer to the movement as “Evangelical” rather that “Lutheran”.

    Luther believed the Bible should the be source of authority for the church, so “evangelical” was the word he chose to describe a Bible-based church. Kurt’s description of an Evangelical as someone who “finds the Bible to be authoritative for life” sounds like it could have come right from Luther’s pen.

    Many Lutheran denominations today, both progressive as well as traditional, cling to the name “Evangelical”, as coined by Luther, evan though the name was hijacked by fundamentalist Christians in the early 20th century.

  • There’s a lot of history of the term “evangelical” between Luther and 20th Century Fundamentalism. The key distinction is that Evangelical means something entirely different in English than it does in German or French, where it basically means Protestant. Given the Anglo-American context, the word takes on the meaning and usage as had developed in the last couple of centuries in British and American churches. Mark Noll has written a fair amount on this history and this usage of the term.

    Added to this, there’s the fact those Fundamentalists were intentional about turning away from the anti-intellectualism and other negative elements in order to intentionally begin a renewed movement, which they termed “neo-Evangelicalism.” The neo- has been dropped for reasons of convenience over the years. Fuller was started as the flagship seminary of this new expression of Evangelicalism. Which makes Mouw’s and Fredrickson’s comments carry that much more weight. And I’d heartily affirm their definitions.

    The sticking point for me has to do with the relevant texts. Historic Christianity isn’t just a belief in Jesus, it’s a belief in a specific Jesus as told in the Bible. There are a lot of arguments about what certain beliefs mean and what we should focus on and who should be in charge of what to believe and what to focus on, but there’s a shared understanding of the narrative we work with. Whereas Mormon’s add a whole new set of narratives, which Christians, as historically understood, have not and would not accept as being valid.

    It’s like if I said I believe in Tony Jones, especially the work he did while living in Europe and Africa, doing medical missions and evangelism. I might say I believe in Tony Jones if I said that, but I’d be talking about a different Tony Jones than what he or those who have known him would recognize.

    Adding a whole new text changes significant amount of interpretation, even if you use the same names. Belief in Jesus is the same, but it’s not the same Jesus with the same narrative.

    That being said, I think there’s significant areas of discussion as Mormons do seem to want to move closer to historic Christianity and do, certainly, have a strong interest in the Bible. I had a great chat with my eye doctor a few weeks ago. He’s a Mormon elder/bishop who is leading a class for young adults and he sought wisdom in reading through the New Testament to find how to be most helpful for their issues and questions. It was a very Evangelical kind of conversation. But like Mouw said, there are still some significant distinctions.

  • I love a good theological discussion as much as the next person and am an avid home-schooled theologian, devouring every book, article, blog, speaker, etc. on the subject of the human relationship with the divine for over 20 years now. But sometimes, with all due respect, sometimes as I look for the presence of God in these conversations I find myself wistfully thinking of the words from a poem by Sir Edward Dyer, “The firmest faith is in the fewest words;” and “Love is love in beggars and in kings.”