Thursday, 17 March 2016
I am an evangelical Christian.
I also love being a Christian, but I am aware that like music, Christianity comes in all kinds of shapes and sizes from Roman Catholicism to the Society of Friends, known as the Quakers. However if I was to express a preference, I would describe myself as an Evangelical Christian.
The word 'Evangelical' has been going through a hard time in recent years. Some people when they hear the word associate it with narrowness, intolerance, Bible-bashing and, if you live in America, Republicanism! However evangelicalism has a noble pedigree and can trace its roots right back through John and Charles Wesley and into the New Testament. It is not a new or recent innovation. Listen to what John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury from 1560 - and himself an evangelical - in his famous apology:
"It is not our doctrine that we bring you this day; we wrote it not, we found it not out, we are not the inventors of it; we bring you nothing but what the old fathers of the church, what the apostles, what Christ our Saviour himself hath brought before us."
It is not a departure or a deviation from orthodox Christianity either. Evangelical Christians have no problem or difficulty in reciting the Apostles' nor Nicene creed and, as John Stott writes in his book "Evangelical Truth", can do so "without mental reservations, and without needing to cross their fingers while doing it."
Finally the word 'evangelical' is not a synonym for 'fundamental' which has now come to be seen as a derogatory term suggesting a form of narrow-minded anti-intellectualism. In fact fundamentalism has very respectable origins. It arose from a series of twelve paperbacks entitled The Fundamentals, which were distributed between 1909 and 1915 by Lyman and Milton Stewart, brothers from Southern California, and distributed free of charge. They were concerned with basic Christian truths like the authority of Scripture, the deity, incarnation, virgin birth, atoning death, bodily resurrection and personal return of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, sin, salvation and judgement, worship, world mission and evangelism. They were written at a time when historic and orthodox Christianity was coming under sustained attack by liberal theologians. And so the term 'fundamentalist' was coined to describe anybody who believed the central affirmations of the Christian faith.
But what distinguishes an Evangelical Christian from say a Liberal or a Catholic Christian? Here are six fundamentals which describe your typical evangelical according to Rev Dr J.I.Packer, and Anglican evangelical:
1. The supremacy of the Holy Scripture, because of its unique inspiration.
2. The majesty of Jesus Christ the God-man who died as a sacrifice of sin.
3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit who exercises a variety of vital ministries.
4. The necessity of conversion, a direct encounter with God effected by God alone.
5. The priority of evangelism, with witness being an expression of worship.
6. The importance of fellowship, te church being essentially a living community of believers.
A shorter summary was published by Dr David Bebbington in his survey Evangelicalism in Modern Britain and it has fast become acknowledged as a comprehensive list of evangelical characteristics:
Conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed;
Activism, the expression of the gospel in effort;
Biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible;
Crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.
Taking into consideration all of the above therefore, I am proud to call myself an evangelical, and although people may use it as a derogatory term, I believe it accurately describes my faith and the emphases I apply in my preaching, praying and living.