Monday, September 04, 2006

"Evangelical" means less and less (Jack Rogers, Randall Balmer, Clark Pinnock)

Sadly, a fine old word is becoming wholly useless. The main perps are people insisting, wrongly, that it apply to them. The collaborators are those who, though otherwise entitled to the word, are gutless and useless in drawing lines.

The word, of course, is evangelical. Was a day when it described someone who affirmed the Gospel of Christ, along with such fundamentals as His deity and virgin conception, along with the full authority of Scripture.

Now? Who knows?

The media never got the word. It could not get straight the distinction between evangelical and evangelist. I always tried to correct folks who misused the word, nicely. Now I'm thinking I won't bother. The term may not be salvageable.

For a rarity, an AP article is well-titled Definition of evangelical in dispute, and pretty much delivers. It cites a poll that has evangelical Protestants outnumbering Roman Catholics in Ameria -- but then notes (correctly) that "the definition of 'evangelical' is open to dispute."

It cites Randall Balmer, who fancies himself an evangelical, yet has written a book bashing socially/politically active Biblical Christians. Abortion is one area where Balmer thinks is "fellow" evangelicals are 'way off, since the choice of whether to have babies killed for being imperfect or inconvenient is “properly left to a woman and her conscience.”

I heard Balmer on Michael Medved's radio show, and he could equally have been James Carville, Barry Lynn, or any other ignorant leftist. In fact Medved, who is a practicing Jew, was defending evangelicals -- against this "evangelical"!

And then there's Jack Rogers, formerly of Fooler... sorry, Fuller Theological Seminary. He wrote a book years ago attacking the fact of Biblical inerrancy. At that time, many of us were warning of the slippery slope onto which one leaps when one abandons a robust affirmation of the inerrancy (i.e. truth) of Scripture. Rogers was among those tut-tutting and assuring everyone that it was a recent invention, and a doctrine we'd all be well rid of.

And now the article mentions that Rogers "advocates full acceptance of same-sex couples and gay clergy."

You who join me in heartily detesting Christianity Today (an "evangelical" magazine) will love this:

Asked whether Balmer and Rogers are evangelicals, Christianity Today editor David Neff (another lay Episcopalian) says they’re “in a very small minority” on issues like gays and abortion. He’d consider them still within the fold “if they employ evangelical discourse and display evangelical piety,” basing conclusions on the Bible rather than on current social science.
Well now; isn't that special?

I'm minded as well of Clark Pinnock. I'm having to labor through Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World. It's a book where guys from four different perspectives on the finality of Jesus and how that works out soteriologically have at it. On the distant left is apostate John Hicks; then barely to his right is Clark Pinnock, then other more conservative writers.

To focus on Pinnock, he keeps insisting that he is an "evangelical" -- over, and over, and over, and over -- while bashing Calvinism, saying God doesn't always get His way through He tries His best, praising Mohammed and the Buddha, saying that God works in other religions as well, and that we should listen and learn from other faiths, and a ton of other billowy blah, blah, blah.

But he's an "evangelical."

And, among his other false teachings, Pinnock is an "evangelical" who denies that God inerrantly knows the future. That's right, he's an open theist. Now, you may or may not know this, but -- and this is classic modern "evangelicalism," the Evangelical Theological Society has given attention to his declension, miserably.

"Miserably"? Well, chart this. In 2001, the ETS "voted ...overwhelmingly to affirm what almost every Christian in the history of the church has always believed -- that God knows everything, including the future decisions of his creatures." In other words, they condemned open theism, and called scholars affirming it to repent.

Repent, or what?

Well, they then took the next step, when those false teachers refused to resign, of entertaining charges against Clark Pinnock and others, which would result in their being ejected from the "Evangelical" organization.

And then, after study and debate, the organization hugely failed to eject the two against whom charges had been made. This, of course, vindicated them and all "open theist" false teachers as real, live, card-carrying "evangelicals."

Then we could add "evangelical" Richard Mouw, of "evangelical" Fuller seminary, apologizing for past Christian attempts to evangelize Mormons. Mouw further said that the true gospel (i.e. evangel) could be found in Mormon teaching, if one picks and chooses correctly.

And then there was Richard Cizik, Vice President for Governmental Affairs with the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), who said "Most evangelicals still regard Mormonism as a cult" (emphases added; i.e. some don't regard Mormonism as a cult, but are still evangelical).

So what does "evangelical" mean, anyway?

More and more, it looks like "whatever" is the best answer. Leaving us with what? "Fundamentalist" has been rendered almost useless, "Reformed" is good but problematic, and doesn't emphasize what I'd most like emphasized. "Biblical Christian," or "Bible-believing Christian" may be better, though all sorts of rabid loons would say the same.

Hm. Back to "Calvidispiebaptogelical" for me, I guess, then just explain it. Or FundaCalvidispiebaptogelical?

Ay, yi yi.


ThirstyDavid said...

Yep, another useless word, like Fundamentalist and Pentecostal - beautiful words that Biblical Christians can't use.

DJP said...

Again I'm thinking: would it be better to take a hard-to-misrepresent sentence or phrase, and make an acronym out of it? (I am thinking similarly in re. "cessationist"; just haven't come up with a good one.)

Like TULIP. Love it, hate it, or merely endure it, it still does a pretty good job of setting a well-defined outline. You say you affirm TULIP, and informed folks have a pretty good idea what you're saying. And the Clark Pinnocks of the world aren't coming around saying, "Oh, yeah -- I'm a TULIP man, too!"

Chris said...

I heard a good definition of "evangelical" one time (along the same lines you gave) from Sproul. However, my experience with how people used the word didn't jive with the definition.

So, I gave up. Lets make up some new ones..


Ok, I'm done.

BTW, Dan, the Mormon cartoon I told you about... apparently, it was produced by "evangelical" Christians to educate people about wacko Mormon theology.

Martin Downes said...


How about the rhetorically provocative "orthodox evangelical"?

C. Stirling Bartholomew said...

...And now the article mentions that Rogers "advocates full acceptance of same-sex couples and gay clergy."

Glad to here that Rogers has "come out".

RE: Fuller
Just a few years ago a lesbian New Testament student was complaining to me that she had to leave Fuller because of her open relationship with her partner.

Libbie said...

I'm an American.

I don't know what all the states are called, I haven't really got a clue how the voting system works and I don't hold American nationality.

But, I really like the scenery, I have conversations with Americans all the time, and we even sort of speak the same language.

So, I've decided, I'm an American, and if you say I'm not, then you're just narrow minded and bigotted.

*wonders if I am starting to sound like an illegal Mexican pleading for amnesty? That wasn't actually the idea.. oh well...

Father Brown said...

"Fooler... sorry, Fuller Theological Seminary"

I got a real kick out of that. I may have to use that sometime (don't worry, I'll use proper citations).

Gavin Brown said...

All that needs to happen now is for Brian McLaren to use "evangelical" in a book title...then it will be worthless!

Thankfully, we can still use "orthodoxy."

Dyspraxic Fundamentalist said...

It no longer means much to be an 'Evangelical' an d even less in the UK.

lee n. field said...

Thankfully, we can still use "orthodoxy."

Uhhh, no. B.M. has absconded with that too.

"Certified Chalcedon Compliant"?

DJP said...

"Certified Chalcedon Compliant"? -- LOL, I like that. But who would certify?

Stan said...

A few really good books on the subject of the "death" of "evangelicalism":
-- Evangelicalism Divided, by Iain H. Murray, gives a record of crucial change in the years 1950 to 2000. Stunning read.

-- No Place for Truth, by David F. Wells, is subtitled "Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology?" It's sequel, God in the Wastelands, is even better.

But, of course, the theft of Christian terminology didn't start with "evangelical". Too many others have been derailed as well. "Saved" was replaced by "born again" because it lost its meaning. "Born again" is no longer a meaningful descriptor. Even terms like "Calvinist" have been side-tracked by hyper-Calvinists and 4-point Arminians. Christianese ... it's such a difficult language sometimes.

DJP said...

I agree, Stan: excellent books. Depressing -- but excellent. (Murray does criticize Wells; interesting interplay.)

Highland Host said...

'Strict Baptist' is however still available, and still means what it's always meant. Thankfully. It's just a tad restictive.


Steve W. Prost said...

I share the frustration, but don't think we should give up the fight for the word "evangelical" having meaning out of despair. Its still the best general one-word description of those who hold to the essentials of the gospel and biblical inerrancy, but as an Army chaplain I will very commonly just say I'm a 'bible believing Christian' when I don't want to get specific.

Do you agree that we should not give up the fight for proper meaningful use of the word?

DJP said...

Bless you for your ministry, Steve.

I'm just not sure that the fight hasn't already happened, and been lost. When Clark Pinnock can be "evangelical," and Fuller can be an "evangelical" seminary... what does it mean anymore, anyway?

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Sigh. The relentless Adversary hollows out words. He's done this for ages. "Did God really say?"

The word "Christian" is just about useless. As Francis Schaeffer wrote in his last book, "The Coming Great Evangelical Disaster" about 25 years ago or so, he couldn't even tell if someone was really a Christian even though they proclaimed themselves to be Christian.

It's the same thing with the word "evangelical". It's been hollowed out and DJP is spot-on in his observation that part of the blame lies with milquetoast Evangelicals for not standing up to pseudo-evangelicals such as Balmer, Pinnock, and Jack Rogers and declaring them as not being evangelical Christians.

At the same time, I can understand and even sympathize that these Evangelical Leaders lacked the courage to defend the boundaries of evangelicalism. I'm not affirming and supporting their spinelessness; I'm only saying that I understand it.

Why do I say that?
(1) To rebuke these theological liberals is to knowingly create the perception of a "Civil War" within Christendom.

(2) Knowing that this is an accurate perception, they know that if there is a "Civil War", then it will be publicized and used to damage the corporate witness of the Gospel.

(3) The Evangelical Leaders who were supposed to stand up to these wolves in pseudo-evangelical sheep's clothing had an awful binary choice:

(a) Combat the theological liberals (which no matter how gentle and private would have escalated to a public war) and have Christians and Christendom being seen as quarrelsome, bickering, and a divided community. Or...

(b) Allow further encroachment of the wolves and allow dilution of the whole gospel.

Either way, it was a lose-lose proposition. Danged if you do, danged if you don't.

Thus my sympathy because it was a lose-lose situation.

Me personally? I favor the John MacArthur approach and the Team Pyro approach. I think it's loving. But I realize that the majority of folks *within* Christendom see it as being divisive, harsh, judgmental, legalistic, pharasaic, etc....

If I'm gonna lose, I'd rather "lose" according to the world.