Now that I have thought about Dr. Jackson’s characterization of evangelicalism a bit more, it has occurred to me that attempting to include a “spiritual ethos” in a description of evangelicalism is to fall prey to a “sociological” interpretation of evangelicalism. Is it possible to be robustly “evangelical” without having the “spiritual ethos” of the Wesleys and their descendants?

I think so.

Perhaps contemporaries should focus on the theological distinctives of the evangelical movement in order to determine our identity in such a way that does not preclude other types of “spiritual ethos.” I am envisioning something like the Catholic Church, who has a robust body of doctrine that permits various spiritualities to all be present within it. If evangelical theology is Trinitarian, then it is distinctly pneumatic. The emphasis on the Holy Spirit begins in Calvin, is developed and preached by Wesley and Edwards, and continues until today. However, there is no need to require an “ethos” of “conversion or renewal” that many theological evangelicals may not have, but rather a robust theology of the Spirit and the Christian life to be thoroughly (and historically!) evangelical. In other words, to be an evangelical does not mean having certain experiences of the Spirit, but rather to affirm certain doctrines about Him and His working.

This does not mean that other theological commitments should be divorced from the evangelical identity. Jackson is right to locate evangelicalism within the Reformation heritage. What it does mean, though, is theology should determine identity, and theology alone. Sola fide, sola scriptura, and what I have outlined above may suffice as the “demarcating lines” of evangelicalism.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

3 Comments

  1. Is anyone else not oppossed to the possibility that there turns out not to BE an “evangelical” identity? What if the group(s) of people we call Evangelical have no unifying or common characteristic? Would that cause chagrine?

    “Evangelical” has something to do, with the “Good News” and with spreading it, if I remember correctly. OK, but “we” evangelicals cannot take the literal meaning of the term from the Roman Catholics, nor the Anglicans, nor the Eastern O. people, can we? They evangelize as well.

    So either the defining name of this group of people does not convey the defining attributes, or we pick a new name, one that does…

    Or there is no one group. If that were true, I for one would not be much bothered. Would some?

    We know for sure there is the church of Christ, the bride of God, the body. What makes them so? Is it a certain set of stated doctrines? Is it the state of their soul after conversion?

    These seem to me to be more fruitful questions with more potentially long-term beneficial answers. Thoughts?

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  2. No one is suggesting in this conversation that Catholics et. al. aren’t “evangelical” in the sense that they evangelize, just like no one is suggesting that only the Orthodox are orthodox. However, there is a “thing” that is evangelical that is broadly recognizable, at the least by negation (not Anglican, not high Reformed, not Catholic or Orthodox) and at best a part of a tradition (Zwinglian, Methodist with adaptations, etc.) Furthermore, there are doctrinal distinctives to the “evangelical” sub-group, even if they are differences in emphases. So I think it important to determine what it is we mean by this ‘sub-group’ and what constitutes “evangelical.” The closest thing to a governing body, the Evangelical Theological Society, has been having this same discussion the last few years. If nothing else, I want to know who is NOT evangelical so I can know who we are disagreeing with (as a vulgar example, those who deny the inerrancy of Scripture might NOT be Evangelical). If I’m going to an evangelical Church, isn’t it important to know what that means?

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  3. […] As discussions about the nature of evangelicalism have been prevalent around Mere Orthodoxy in the last few years (see here, here, and here), I turned to The Community of the Word with more than an academic interest.  As I am continuing to wrestle theologically, culturally, and personally with what it means to be an evangelical, I was excited to hear several theologians address and correct some of the imbalances in the prevailing “thin” evangelical ecclesiology. […]

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