Unsettled Christianity

Gloria Dei homo vivens – St Irenaeus
December 12th, 2014 by Joel Watts

Am I an Evangelical?

evangelical

Image Credit: Ruthless Reviews

Every now and then, I like to examine myself and see where I fall on issues. Am I still a Mainliner? Am I drifting away, towards apostasy, or worse, evangelicalism? Am I committed to remaining open on the non-essentials and charitable in all things?

In a recent conversation, the term “evangelical” was mentioned. Admittedly, I am not a fan of this term even though I know many who claim to hold are not evangelicals in the historic sense of the word. Rather, many who hold it have slid into fundamentalism where biblicalism has become boisterous literalism.

When I asked “what is an ‘evangelical,'” David Bebbington was brought up.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

I want to take these issues one at a time.

  • Coversionism. I do not believe in the “born again” status. I think this passage in St. John’s Gospel is sadly misused and applied to a one time experience much to destruction of the original intent. However, I do believe we are to be engaged in a life-long process of “being saved.” I think St. Paul’s use of different tenses excludes a “conversion experience” but rests on many experiences throughout the life of the Christian. I never say “yes” to the question of, “Are you saved?” Rather, I answer with “I have been saved; I am being saved; and I will be saved.” See here for the Orthodox view.
  • Activism: I agree with this, completely. This is what draws me to United Methodism. I believe we are made disciples to transform the world, through discipleship and social holiness.
  • Biblicalism: I have a high view of Scripture — I do not take it literally. I do not take it as the ultimate authority. It is a primary authority, yet creeds and Tradition preceded Scripture. Scripture is validated through Tradition, the Tradition of the Church universal. Scripture likewise validates Holy Tradition. I am not “obedient to the Bible,” but to Holy Tradition which likewise includes the rule of faith (used to interpret Scripture), the councils, and the voices of the Fathers. Never once are we told the Holy Spirit dwells in the bible, but we are told it dwells in the Church, speaks through Scripture, and calls us today. This means that while eternal truths will not change, our own dogma may. A (narrow?) biblicalism is where I depart most heavily from Bebbington’s “evangelical.”
  • Crucicentrism: There is Christianity without Jesus Christ, no Jesus Christ without the Cross. While we may see the sacrifice, or death of Jesus, on the cross through our respective lens, the atonement is an essential.

In the end, I am 2/4’s evangelical. I do not consider the Christian life a one-time experience, but see prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace as actively transforming the person throughout life. And with Wesley, and numerous others, I too believe in an intermediate state.

What about you? Do you identify as an evangelical, and if so, how come?

Joel Watts
Watts holds a MA in Theological Studies from United Theological Seminary. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians, as well as seeking an MA in Clinical Mental Health at Adams State University. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

Comments

2 Responses to “Am I an Evangelical?”
  1. I usually answer by saying “Not by today’s standards, but I would consider myself an 18th century evangelical.” In other words, I identify with the Wesleyan revival and its social activism tied to conversion…

    James

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