Editorial Introduction: We have featured the writings of C. Michael Patton before at Patheos (Go ye Therefore into the World Wide Web, On the Certainty of Doubt, and When God Takes What He Gave). Since the following fits so well with our video series on "Why Are You an Evangelical?" (see videos 1, 2, and 3), we are grateful again to make use of an article from Parchment and Pen.
By C. Michael Patton
Evangelicalism is not perfect. No informed person should make such a claim. Evangelicalism has its problems -- big problems. This is nothing new. Yet I believe the strengths outweigh the weaknesses and make Evangelicalism a better option than any other tradition.
While I often write about the weaknesses of Evangelicalism, sometimes complaining about our shames and blind spots, I want to do something different here. I am going to give a short list of what I believe to be the majorstrengths of Evangelicalism and why I believe Evangelicalism is still the best option:
1. Evangelicalism can celebrate diversity: the dictum of Rupertus Meldenius, which is often mistakenly attributed to Augustine, presents Evangelicalism's celebration of unity in diversity: in necessariis unitas, in dubiis libertas, in omnibus caritas. "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity." Evangelicals, I believe, like no other Christian tradition, can appreciate and celebrate diversity while adhering to a unifying center.
Whether in worship style or liturgy, in house churches or mega churches, Evangelicals recognize that all people are not alike and that there is room for subjective preferences. Evangelicalism, as a movement, cannot prescribe or proscribe the way people should be in areas that are based in non-essential personal preferences. We can recognize that God has created people differently -- and this was intentional. If people have personalities that do not respond well to one style of worship, they are free to celebrate their diversity without feeling the obligation of adaptingtheir style to some traditional norm.
Also, when it comes to non-cardinal issues of the Christian faith such as mode of baptism, belief about end times, views of creation, or even one's view of predestination, Evangelicalism is not dogmatic. This does not mean that Evangelicals do not or cannot have strong convictions in these areas: it just means that we recognize their relative importance in comparison to cardinal beliefs such as the person and work of Christ. Therefore, to be Evangelical is to be able to allow for, and in many cases even to celebrate, diversity.
2. Evangelicalism promotes true conviction: Evangelicalism, representative of historic Protestantism, is built upon a distrust of one man's or one institution's ability to infallibly be dogmatic regarding truth to the exclusion of one's personal convictions. In other words, Evangelicals hold to the position that belief cannot be outsourced to any human authority or tradition. Evangelicals believe that truth must be "adduced" by the individual before it can be trulybelieved. It is not that Evangelicals don't recognize or respect authorities other than themselves, but that they understand that belief is ultimatelyan internal act of an individual's will that requires true personalconviction.
Evangelicals recognize the risk of "putting a Bible in everyone's hands." We recognize that in doing so we are allowing for the possibility of error and heresy. But we also recognize that the possibility of true conviction necessitates the possibility of error. In this, it is worth the risk. The personal conviction, however, should be fueled and fed from trusted outside sources, but, in the end, those outside sources cannot make the decisions for us. Therefore, in my opinion, Evangelicalism allows for true conviction more than any other Christian tradition.