There subsists a lot of frustration in recent years from numerous progressive “Evangelicals” in that the term has either become equivalent to that of Fundamentalism, or Fundamentalists use it so much and frequently that the “progressives” seem “left out”. The “progressives”, in turn, have made an attempt to define precisely what an “Evangelical” is in the sociological sense. What qualifies one as an “Evangelical”? What tenets of faith must they profess before they declare themselves as “Evangelical”? And more importantly, what is the “Evangelical” movement?
The “Evangelical” movement often times allegedly is traced back to John Wesley even there is no evidence that by “Evangelical” in his teachings did he intend or seem to fore-see that there would be a sociological development in the term “Evangelical”. Regardless, the sociological definition commonly referenced is that of the Bebbington model:
Conversionism or the belief that a Christian must have a “born-again” experience and have a life-long process of following Jesus
Activism which is the expression and demonstration of the Gospel through social reform efforts
Biblicism which is a high regard for the Bible as the ultimate authority
Crucicentrism or the high stress of Jesus’s death on the cross for the redemption of mankind (from the National Association of Evangelicals’ official website)
It is a very confusing definition and even though someone such as John Wesley is usually heralded as the champion of the Evangelical movement, Johnathan Edwards isn’t necessarily excluded either. In fact, he is included (Mark A. Knoll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, pages 4, 8, 24). Not to mention, Charles Hodge is included as a key developer of the idea of what precisely Biblicism in and of itself means (97-98) with Briggs taken as a more moderate opponent (103). It was here that this “Evangelical” movement actually becomes a two-faced movement that includes and breaks into liberalism and fundamentalism (100). In other words, the definition that is commonly used by Bebbington for “evangelicalism” doesn’t tell us anything about what an “Evangelical” is. It tells us rather that “Biblicism is the center of ‘Evangelicalism'”. Some might throw stones at me for saying that or state I am not understanding but I would prefer instead thoughtful consideration.
What, other than Biblicism, sets apart a Traditionalist Roman Catholic from a Protestant Anabaptist within this definition. You might say their sacramental theology, their Marian theology, etc. But that is not what is differentiating the two. What is differentiating the two is the category: “Evangelical”. But a Roman Catholic believes strongly in the “born-again” experience which happens through the sacrament of baptism though for the Anabaptist it is different. The Roman Catholic believes strongly in conversion. In the cross. In the active demonstration of the Gospel. Would not St. Francis and St. Dominic be some of the most active evangelists of their day? What the Roman Catholic does not believe in is Biblicism. The Roman Catholic sees the Church and par-taking in the life of the Church as understanding the Bible. And this is so with all of the most ancient churches. What the Bebbington quadrilateral does it insists that “Evangelicalism” was effectively non-existent until Protestantism arrived. What the Bebbington quadrilateral is is an effective undermining of the Gospel itself. Where in the Gospel is it said that the Church is not important? Where in the Gospel is it said that the Scriptures are to be taken as the ultimate authority above the Church?
Such interpretations of “evangelical” miss out on the Greek roots of the word. Evangelion is the root of the word “Evangelical”. It means “Gospel” or “Good news”. The Good news is Christ-crucified. This was proclaimed even before the New Testament needed to be written. An “Evangelical” is not someone who adheres to Biblicism, but someone who adheres to the message of Christ-crucified for all for the redemption of sins. They then spread this message throughout the world. The “Evangelical” movement is not a sociological movement that starts back in the 18th through 19th centuries but is the historic spread of the Christian religion starting with the Apostolic mission received from Christ himself. “Go forth and baptise all nations in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19).
To be Evangelical is to baptise, to proclaim Christ crucified, to eat the body and blood of Christ, to be transformed into his image. There is no Biblicist component in any of this. Where did the Biblicist component come in from? It came in from people who attempt to divorce and manipulate the Scriptures to their advantage.