Last week, Bishop Carter (Florida) wrote a brief post for Huffington Post. Here, he laments the misconstruing of the word evangelical as a synonym for conservative. He is not ready to leave that term behind because, he writes,
I have been nurtured and fed by the stream of Christianity that flows from the deep reservoir of evangelicalism. I praise God for this gift. And so I cannot allow such a beautiful, life-giving word – “evangelical” – to be marginalized, scorned, scapegoated or neglected.
The term first emerged in Reformation Europe by my favorite English Reformer of the time, William Tyndale. It meant those who preached the Gospel of faith alone. Luther picked it up from Tyndale and even the Catholics used it… against the Protestants. While differences emerged among the Reformers, they were all evangelicals because of a few simple things — faith in Christ alone, saved by faith alone, and a view of Scripture as primary.
But something changed.
Evangelical now seems to mean conservative (in theology and politics) and has direct connotations to such theological concepts as inerrancy (as defined by the Chicago Statement). Others send to use it, but I would challenge their use, either in historical or current usage.
And that brings me to a quote recently shared by a friend as a way to spur discussion.
“Evangelicals maintain that as God has enthroned his Son, the living Word, as Lord of the universe, so he has enthroned the Bible, his written word, as the means of Christ’s rule over the consciences of his disciples. The 66-book Protestant canon is held to be divinely inspired, life-imparting and strength-supplying to the human heart, and to be given to the church to be preached, taught, expounded, applied, absorbed, digested and appealed to as arbiter whenever questions of faith and life, belief and behavior, spiritual wisdom and spiritual warfare, break surface among the saints. Of the unifying bonds of evangelicalism, this view and use of Scripture is the strongest of all.”1
I would agree to all of this, except, “so he has enthroned the Bible, his written word, as the means of Christ’s rule over the consciences of his disciples.” One of the big things is that the Holy Spirit is absent (in this statement and view). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Holy Spirit speaks through Scriptures (a rather direct form of inspiration) — and we do not have any such statement about Scripture being the body of Christ (which is the Eucharist).
I would like to see a Trinitarian view of Scripture espoused — and to see it connected to our idea of sacraments. A benefit of looking at Scripture as the “domain” of the Holy Spirit, is that the Scriptures testify of Christ (which provides a second witness) because it is the Holy Spirit that speaks through them (and think of all the times St Paul speaks in this way). How many times is the Spirit connected to Scriptures in Scripture? Even in 2 Timothy 3.16, the Spirit is at play in that particular word.
Just a brief thought here… but Christ is represented by the sacraments of the baptism and the eucharist… Scripture is speaking through Scripture (nothing new, by the way). What does the Father do in this (egalitarian) Trinitarian view?
The issue with Packer’s quote is that he takes the term Evangelical and rather than applying it to the justification by faith, connects it to a particular view of Scripture. In my opinion, to save the term, we have to stop doing that and rather return it evangelical to the days of the Reformation. Then, we can we look at what it means to be a Wesleyan evangelical.
For instance, I think a Wesleyan has to be a functional inerrantist — something I’m comfortable with. After all, the Articles and Confession both have a high view of Scripture and promote inerrancy when it comes to what Scripture teaches about salvation. The Confession correctly notes that we receive Scripture through the Holy Spirit. We have a high view of Scripture not because we are evangelical, but because we are Wesleyan.
Does that make sense? What are you thoughts?
- J.I. Packer, “The Bible in Use: Evangelicals Seeking Truth from Holy Scripture,” in Your Word is Truth (Eerdmans, 2002). ↩