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Evangelical Re-orientation

Updated: May 28, 2023

Rethinking evangelicalism

Evangelicalism has become so muddled that I, along with many other Christians, have wanted to disassociate ourselves from the term altogether. I am thankful for an evening earlier this year where a group of theologians and myself met to hammer out this issue. Kevin Smith’s, “Principal's Address: Towards Evangelicalism from the Global South”, available here, also offered an insightful presentation. This blog article is my personal reflection.

With rich and colorful history, Evangelicalism emerged from the 18th century religious revivals of Britain and Northeastern America. John and Charles Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, William Wilberforce, and others were prominent figures in the early years of Evangelicalism. The movement was never limited to a single denomination, yet I was interested that High-Church Anglicanism was instrumental in its formation.

Much has changed since then, and at present, one’s understanding of Evangelicalism differs depending upon one’s geographical location and cultural background. In some cases, it has been abused or misrepresented. In America, for example, Evangelical Christianity is perceived negatively and might be associated with prosperity theology; megachurch Christianity; Biblical literalism, for example, Creationism; individualism; the right to keep and bear arms; republicanism; Trumpism, and so on. While some (I dare not say all) of these might be considered acceptable, they ought not to define what Evangelicalism is. Unfortunately, we have media to blame for redefining Evangelicalism for us. It’s not surprising that many of us feel uncomfortable being labeled ‘Evangelical’.

The word ‘evangelical’ originates from the Greek, evangelion, which is usually translated as ‘good news’ or ‘gospel’. The idea comes from the Roman emperors during the time of the New Testament, who would send out heralds proclaiming a message of good news, like a battle victory. The core of the gospel message is, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’ (Matt 3:2).

This kingdom was established through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ and has infiltrated our world. This royal announcement of good news is that Jesus, the Messiah of Israel has now been enthroned as the new ruler. The power of God’s kingdom comes upon us and begins to work in our lives when we put our faith in this good news and trust in Jesus’s work of salvation on the cross and bodily resurrection. At the consummation of all things, God’s reign through Jesus will be made full and complete bringing about his perfect justice and peace upon a renewed earth.

While salvation is not the gospel itself, it is the power for salvation (Rom 1:16-17). Jesus conquered sin by living a righteous life and dying a substitutionary death on our behalf and overcame death in resurrection, therefore, dethroning Satan. In so doing he set himself up as the legitimate new ruler of the world. While our rebellion and sin against God resulted in his wrath against us and alienation from him, those who believe in the gospel and Christ’s work of salvation have no condemnation (Rom 8:1) and may experience everlasting joy and fellowship with God, foregoing eternal punishment.

Some are tempted to throw out the term ‘Evangelical’ altogether, and others have attempted to find new expressions. My solution is a simple one, one that re-orientates us to Bebbington’s 1989 quadrilateral which has traditionally defined Evangelicalism. I wish to offer some changes and additions to deepen and strengthen our convictions on Scripture and early Christianity. I provide the Bebbington quadrilateral with my additions in italics:

1. Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages). Evangelicals endeavor to accurately interpret and apply God’s Word by upholding the authority of Scripture first and above all other sources of divine revelation, but not to the exclusion of tradition and reason. Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation—it is sufficient.

2. Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross. Evangelicals believe that salvation is by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ and the power of his bodily resurrection.

3. Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted. Evangelicals believe in personal conversion to the Christian faith but ought not be the rule as many Christians were brought up in Christian families or have a slow conversion. Instead, I emphasise that Evangelicals have a living personal relationship with Jesus Christ that is also expressed in community.

4. Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort. Evangelicals proclaim and demonstrate the gospel of Jesus Christ. Proclamation and demonstration go hand in hand. Social justice is one of many ways by which the gospel of Christ may be demonstrated.

With an Evangelical quadrilateral like this, I would be proud to call myself an Evangelical! By embodying this expression of Evangelical Christianity, we may find a way to navigate the evangelical muddle and subculture and become authentically Christian. In sharing this definition, we may discover that many Christians share common unity with one another. We have more in common than that which separates us.

Works Cited

Bebbington, David W. 1989. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge.


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