Evangelical Manifesto

I don’t know why, but for now I’ve decided to care about the word “evangelical.” “Evangelical” can be a slippery word. Lots of people want to claim it. Lots of people want to disclaim it. I wouldn’t mind leaving it, really, except that right now those to my right are insisting that you have to agree with them about a whole host of things in order to claim that label for yourself.

I posted recently about Al Mohler, who insists that you have to be a complementarian on the gender issue so as to believe in inerrancy so as to be a good evangelical. Recently the Reformed world has distanced itself from the service of Pete Enns, Tremper Longman, and Bruce Waltke because they opened the door to a reading of Genesis 1-3 that was something other than literal. Most recently, a rumor has reached my ears that a certain evangelical college (I won’t mention its name because it’s only a rumor), under the lead of its complementarian president is beginning to institute a commitment to complementarianism by only allowing, for example, men to speak in chapel. May be true, may not, but the verisimilitude is enough to make my sectarian radar go up.

I am concerned about these developments. In particular, I’m concerned because those of us who aren’t interested in helping veer the ship to the right haven’t been as interested in carving out a broad definition of evangelicalism. (Though there are some exceptions.) In our silence, the ship is listing right, and I think that many of the developments, because of that, are or will be tragic for evangelicalism in America.

In pointed (and point-by-point) response to this listing right, I offer an alternative articulation of evangelical theology in some attempt to hold onto a word whose value seems to decline with each passing headline.

Evangelicalism for the 21st Century

Evangelical is an adjective that can describe Christians of various denominations and other substantives. There are evangelical Protestants, evangelical Catholics, and evangelical orthodox. There are evangelical Pentecostals, evangelical Anabaptists, and evangelical mainliners.

To be an evangelical is to be committed to the notion that the message of Jesus is good news about a God who desires all of humanity, each group within humanity, and every individual to be in relationship with God as the God of all.

To be an evangelical is to be committed to scripture as the word of God, a word that always has the power to prophetically confront and challenge what we take for granted–both within the church and as people in diverse cultures.

To be an evangelical is to be committed to telling the gospel story such that it will sound as good news in the ears of those who hear it, even as it summons us to repentance and faith.

In light of these three commitments: that the gospel be genuinely good news, that it comes as an invitation to be received into the family of God, and that we know of the good news as we learn it from scripture, here is an evangelical affirmation for the twenty-first century:

1. You can be an evangelical and not believe in inerrancy.

We believe this because of our commitment to scripture itself. Investigation of scripture will often, to many of us, provide indications that an “inerrant” Bible is not the way that God has chosen to speak to humanity.

This is part of the good news because it means that we do not have to set aside the labors of critical scholarship to affirm that the Bible is the word of God in which the good news is articulated.

Evangelicals embrace many of those who do affirm inerrancy. Many who embrace inerrancy are able to separate issues of inerrancy from issues of hermeneutics. This enables them to free the doctrine of what the Bible is from what the Bible must teach on any given subject. Many who embrace inerrancy do so with a revisionist definition of inerrancy that only intends to signal that the Bible is our ultimate authority. This, too, is an indication that the faithfulness to scripture as the word of God can go in numerous directions of faithful handling.

To be an evangelical who does not embrace inerrancy is to be a Christian who sets aside inerrancy because of what we find in scripture itself. This is not an application of anti-supernatural bias. This is not a presupposition against miracles or historical accuracy. It is a response to the Bible that has shown itself to be something other than inerrant–with a faithful confession that God has chosen just this sort of book through which to reveal himself.

2. Evangelicals can affirm the full inclusion of women in the life of the church.

To be an evangelical affirming women’s ordination is to be someone who is convinced that scripture itself leads the way toward their full inclusion in the body.

God the Father creates humanity male and female to rule the world on God’s behalf. To be an evangelical egalitarian is to confess that shared rule in the church is faithful telling of God’s purpose in creation.

Jesus the Son receives us all into himself, baptized as one into his name, where there is no longer male and female as a primary distinguishing marker. To be an evangelical egalitarian is to confess that shared ministry in the body is faithful living out of our common possession of the identity of the crucified Son.

The Holy Spirit fills all equally so that both sons and daughters will prophesy. To be an evangelical egalitarian is to confess that shared teaching in the church is a faithful expression of the egalitarian distribution of the Spirit.

I am an egalitarian because I believe what the Bible tells me about the Triune God in redemptive relationship to the humanity restored and renewed in Christ by the Spirit.

As an evangelical, I also acknowledge that others committed to scripture might demand a complementarian assessment of humanity’s standing before God. To be an evangelical complementarian is to acknowledge that this is an issue of hermeneutics, of finding primacy in some passages while relegating others to secondary positions. This differs from fundamentalist complementarianism which sees hierarchy in the church as essential to receiving the Bible as the word of God and to our confession of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Evangelical egalitarianism is good news to the world around us because it declares that the restored world into which God is inviting it does not demand subjugation of the weak to the strong, but upends the world’s hierarchical system.

3. Evangelicals can praise the God who created a 4.5 billion year old earth.

To be an evangelical old-earther, to be an evangelical who reads Genesis 1-3 as something other than literal history, is to be a student of scripture attentive to its own indications of genre.

To be an evangelical old-earther is not to reject the stories of Gen 1-3 as out-dated, but listen to them as the Ancient Near Eastern stories of ancient origins that they are. It is to listen to them and attend to the cues that they are not meant to stand as all-encompassing narratives about the beginning of all humanity.

They speak to us truly about the condition of the earth, about God’s intentions for humanity to stand one day over an ordered cosmos, and of a particular people as the means for that glorious future. We are old-earthers because we are attentive to scripture, not because we carry in presuppositions against it.

To be an evangelical is to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with other Christians who, studying Genesis 1-3 and submitting to it as the word of God, cannot but confess that the world is 6,000 years old. To be an evangelical young earther, rather than a fundamentalist young earther, is to recognize that this is a hermeneutical decision that has an important voice in the church’s story, but one that has had a counter-voice to answer to since long before the days of Charles Darwin. It is to affirm that others may make a different hermeneutical decision about Genesis 1-3 without giving up their commitment to either scripture or the God of the Bible.

Evangelical old-earth creationism is good news because it means that students of the natural world do not have to abandon their scientific knowledge to participate in the story of God. It means that they might, in fact, have something to teach the church about what the book of nature is teaching us all about the way in which God created.

4. Evangelicals robustly affirm the social ramifications of the gospel.

To be an evangelical advocate of the social gospel is to affirm the biblical story that the disintegration of the cosmos extends beyond the relationship of God with humanity to encompass also the relationship of people with each other, the created order with systemic powers, and people with the sub-human creation.

To affirm such a robust set of problems is to demand an equally robust set of solutions. If the good news is to be genuinely good news, it must proclaim that God’s anointed king comes to make his blessings flow far as the curse is found.

To be an evangelical advocate of the social gospel is to submit to the stories of the Gospels themselves, in which restored bodies, restored communities, subjection of demonic powers, and forgiveness of sins were all part of the ministry of Jesus.

To be an evangelical is to insist that to reject the social ramifications of the Gospel is to dishonor the extent of God’s care for God’s world, and the sweep of Jesus’ ministry on earth.

UPDATE:

5. Conviction without Sectarianism. (click link for a fifth point added the next day)

Conclusion

To be an evangelical, one does not need to follow the lead of so many in power who are retrenching this movement to the right. As those who are committed to scripture, to its invitation to enter into a rich, life-giving relationship with God, and to its proclamation of a message that is actually good news, we can stand together and proclaim a story that is, in fact, beautiful to those with eyes to see.

43 thoughts on “Evangelical Manifesto”

  1. I am unsure as to the theological point of the Gospel that demands either inerrancy or literalism in Genesis 1-3. Perhaps I am mistaken, or a heretic one, but I find in the Gospel of Jesus Christ the liberty from such dogmatically theological necessities for salvation. In Christ Alone, not in interpretations.

    1. Joel,

      I agree with you. I think that those that do insist on inerrancy and literalism in Gen 1-3 as a gospel necessity do so for several reasons, perhaps the chief of which is Paul’s First Adam – Second Adam construction in Romans. They think that it has to be a complete equation; if one side is literally real (Jesus, the Second Adam) then the other (First Adam) has to be also. Of course, many of us have come to see that Paul’s theological point doesn’t stand or fall on such an equation.

  2. I hate to be a hair splitter here, but are inerrancy and literalism really fungible?

    I have always interpreted the scriptures as inerrant but not literal. Of course, in the context of the post, I understand and appreciate others’ opinions and interpretations. :)

  3. AMEN and AMEN! I like how you acknowledge both sides of evangelicalism in a fair-minded way. It does not and should not be a case of either/or. As for social justice, I would say evangelicals differ sometimes on what it should look like or far it should go, but I think all evangelicals believe in social justice to one degree or another. Not to believe in any kind of social justice would for me question whether someone is truly evangelical. I think some take issue with the term because they’ve associated the term with something with which they do not agree, but more likely their issue is with AN ISSUE versus the larger idea of giving to/helping the poor and disadvantaged among us.

  4. Hey Daniel… thanks for writing this down. As it stands John Stott could not be part of most of these reformed evangelical clubs… nor Roger Nicole… nor Cornelius Plantinga… and yet they are trying to “save” evangelicalism. As my daughter says, that’s dank (as in reedankaluz).

  5. John,

    It may help if you can explain how you see the terms “inerrancy” and “literalism” as having distinctive meanings. In that absence, I wonder if you mean something more like what some regard as “infallibility.” Fuller Theological Seminary (a self-avowedly “Evangelical” institution that remains committed to the right of women to all forms of church ministry and which distanced itself from “inerrancy” several decades ago–to say nothing of Daniel’s other points) remains committed to infallibility. The Bible, being God’s Word to us, will not fail to achieve God’s purposes.

    1. Fair enough.

      I define inerrant as: without error. So then the question is, “what is error?” It is my belief that the message of the scriptures (God’s plan) was, and is, delivered without error. I am not speaking of historical discrepancies, incongruent witnesses, or anything like that.

      As for literalism, I do not find many people walking around without an eye or hand.

    1. Dannii, this isn’t a statement of faith, but a statement of what makes an evangelical as over against some other adjective one might place before “Christian.” I think those things tend to be more about “Christian” than “evangelical Christian.”

  6. “I am not speaking of historical discrepancies, incongruent witnesses, or anything like that.”

    That’s what most people mean by errors, though. I think it’s best and clearest just to admit the Bible has errors but that God’s message works in spite of them. It’s confusing and leads to pointless debate to say “I believe the Bible is inerrant, so long as these categories of errors don’t count as errors.”

  7. I agree with you that it is pointless to debate inerrancy, so I don’t use the word; I think that trying to determine errant or inerrant is a fool’s task that serve’s no purpose other than demonstrate superior education. ;)

  8. Daniel,

    Points can be made against hard complimentarianism (HC) at several levels, even within an inerrantist context. One of the most telling is that HC puts a weight on I Tim. 2:12 that it won’t bear. It requires that “authentein” = “have authority”, which simply isn’t true. It also ignores the Ephesian context of Artemis worship, which is bad exegesis.

    I don’t know if you’re interested in addressing the issue at that level or not.

    Best,
    John

    1. Great points, John. I think that when I’m saying egalitarianism is a biblical position, I’m pushing in a direction where it could even be a hermeneutical option within inerrancy–so long as inerrancy and hermeneutics are recognized as two separate categories.

      1. Good stuff, Andrew. Thanks for sharing that link. This is a great reminder that not everyone to one’s right on an issue is militant/holding to it in what might be called a “fundamentalist” posture. Thank you for helping knock down the stereotype. Well done.

  9. Re: the avoidance of wheel re-invention,

    Do you know of a useful (almost useful?) attempt at a statement of inerrancy that takes into account the idiomatic and culture-laden language of the writers and their use of phenomenological description? Yes, adding paragraphs of qualification to a doctrine of inerrancy begins to look like mediaeval attempts to maintain a Ptolemaic system of planetary orbits. But 90% or more of the “errancy” of scripture looks to me like it falls into this category. Yes, there’s that nagging 10% that doesn’t, but one problem at a time.

    Yes, “inerrancy” is a false word, misbegotten from asking the wrong questions in irrelevant contexts. “True” and “faithful” are much better.

    1. John,
      What do you think of the Catechism of the Catholic Church’s statement on Scripture? (True, it doesn’t use the term “inerrancy”, but it does affirm that the Scriptures are “without error”…”for the sake of our salvation.”)

      II. INSPIRATION AND TRUTH OF SACRED SCRIPTURE

      105 God is the author of Sacred Scripture. “The divinely revealed realities, which are contained and presented in the text of Sacred Scripture, have been written down under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.”69

      “For Holy Mother Church, relying on the faith of the apostolic age, accepts as sacred and canonical the books of the Old and the New Testaments, whole and entire, with all their parts, on the grounds that, written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, they have God as their author, and have been handed on as such to the Church herself.”70

      106 God inspired the human authors of the sacred books. “To compose the sacred books, God chose certain men who, all the while he employed them in this task, made full use of their own faculties and powers so that, though he acted in them and by them, it was as true authors that they consigned to writing whatever he wanted written, and no more.”71

      107 The inspired books teach the truth. “Since therefore all that the inspired authors or sacred writers affirm should be regarded as affirmed by the Holy Spirit, we must acknowledge that the books of Scripture firmly, faithfully, and without error teach that truth which God, for the sake of our salvation, wished to see confided to the Sacred Scriptures.”72

      108 Still, the Christian faith is not a “religion of the book.” Christianity is the religion of the “Word” of God, a word which is “not a written and mute word, but the Word which is incarnate and living”.73 If the Scriptures are not to remain a dead letter, Christ, the eternal Word of the living God, must, through the Holy Spirit, “open [our] minds to understand the Scriptures.”74

  10. An interesting article! As an evangelical Orthodox Christian, I’d like to add that we allow women to preach, to teach in Church School and even at the seminary level.
    Regarding the inerrancy of Scripture, that has always been part of Orthodox dogma. But 19th-century fundamentalist Western theology has altered the definition to mean a word-for-word literal inerrancy. All one needs to do is study a harmony of the four Gospels, and he will see that the exact same words of Christ and the apostles aren’t used in parallel narrations of the same events. Yet the Bible is inerrant in what it teaches.
    Concerning creation, we believe that God created the heavens and the earth. We don’t quibble with science as to how or when. The important teaching is that humans are uniquely created in God’s image, but due to sin have marred that image. Yet the image remains, so mankind is capable of doing some good, even though it may be distorted.

    1. Thanks for jumping in. On the Adam/Creation issue, I was struck recently by a call from some Reformed theologians to heed the Orthodox tradition as providing some ways forward on issues of human origins. They suggested that you might have some resources that will help us extricate ourselves from a historical Adam in a way that’s both faithful to Christian tradition and creating space for modern scientific discoveries.

      John Schneider, “Recent Genetic Science and…”

  11. Daniel,

    Well said, I don’t mind various institutions creating a structure with a more conservative statement of beliefs but I do panic when evangelical leaders like Mohler, Piper, et al, begin saying you must agree with this long, long list of secondary issues to be an evangelical. All we can hope is that most moderate evangelicals agree with you in what you have said here.

  12. Evangelical Catholic is looking better with the Anglicanorum Coetibus. I respect the conservative sense of people like Mohler and Piper, etc. But in the end, the gospel is about the “kerygma” of Christ, and too the Pauline kerygma, therefore, is a proclamation of the Judeo-Christian reality of creation to a re-creation in spiritual reality! (2 Cor. 4:6)

  13. ‘but listen to them as the Ancient Near Eastern stories of ancient origins that they are. It is to listen to them and attend to the cues that they are not meant to stand as all-encompassing narratives about the beginning of all humanity.”

    for what values of “meant to stand” is this true?

    1) Meant to be = meant to be for the original hearers, both priests and laymen, but God knew we’d come to realize they weren’t what they seemed (and were) to the original hearers?

    2) Meant to be = for the laymen back then, while the priestly class knew otherwise, and now we know even more otherwise?

  14. I would basically affirm all your numbered points (though you’d classify me as a “revisionist inerrantist” and an “evangelical complementarian”) and would accept you as a brother in Christ, though I wouldn’t necessarily invite you (or your sister) to preach in my church. :-)

    Anyway, I don’t think it’s fair to say that “the Reformed world has distanced itself from the service of … Bruce Waltke.” It was quite unfortunate that Waltke felt pressured to leave RTS-Orlando over his comments on creation and evolution, which seemed quite mild and not out of step with other notables (e.g., Tim Keller, Meredith Kline, Francis Collins) who are still well respected in WTS/RTS/Reformed-type circles. I think he could have clarified and pushed back a little and prevailed (at least in the sense of keeping his job and his views intact), but he understandably didn’t want to get in a scuffle.

    Fortunately, Waltke was almost immediately snatched up by Knox, the seminary associated with Coral Ridge Presbyterian (the late D. James Kennedy’s church, now pastored by Tullian Tchividjian, an RTS-Orlando grad), which I would say was MORE conservative than RTS (that’s where Sproul signed on, after he left RTS-Orlando over Evangelicals and Catholics Together). RTS’s loss is Knox’s great gain.

    I fully appreciate RTS’s desire to be a confessional institution, which is good and right, but I don’t think this particular issue should be a litmus test of orthodoxy, as the present controversy illustrates. OTOH, Enns is over the line, IMHO, since he denies a real Adam, which, despite trying to give a fair hearing to both sides, I don’t see as a plausible approach without abandoning much that is central to the faith. Waltke is still within the traditional bounds of orthodoxy, along side other advocates of theistic evolution like Hodge and Warfield. Interestingly, The Fundamentals, the series of books from the early 1900s which outlined the sine qua nons of Christianity vis-a-vis liberal Christianity and which gave its name to “Fundamentalism” (which has come to mean something different since then), allowed a variety of views on creation, including theistic evolution.

    Likewise, I recently read about the Associate Reformed Presbyterian’s Erskine College and Seminary, which has had some internal battles over two main issues: evolution and a Barthian view of scripture, respectively espoused by two professors. The new president (another RTS-Orlando grad!) has stepped in and said the former is acceptable, while the latter is not in their institution.

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