Evangelicalism Is… Boundaryless?

Derek Ouellette —  August 9, 2010

What are the boundaries of “Evangelicalism”? Who says who’s in and who’s out? Roger Olson believes that Evangelicalism cannot and does not have boundaries because to suggest that it does would make it an organization with established leaders and the whole shabang. But Evangelicalism is not an organization, it is a movement, and by definition movements are not defined by boundaries but by characteristic traits.

The four core characteristics which define the Evangelical movement are 1) Biblicism (belief in the authority of scripture), 2) Conversionism (belief in a born again experience), 3) Crucicentrism (“cross centered piety”) and 4) Activism (active witnessing and evangelism). Olson adds a fifth: Great Tradition of the Church.

But how these core beliefs are defined from group to group and person to person is a rather subjective matter. So the image Olson perposes is not that there is a barrier around a group called “Evangelicals” so that if someone does not land within that barrier theologically, they can be ousted. Rather the image is more like a core with people holding on to those core beliefs to differing degrees and yet still remain within the Evangelical movement.

What are your thoughts on this? Do those core beliefs equal “boundaries”? Is Olson playing with semantics? Is he right?

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://web.me.com/craigadams1/ Craig L. Adams

    This kind of approach allows me to continue to consider myself a evangelical. And, that’s a good thing.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    So Craig, if evangelicalism had boundaries rather then core characteristics as it’s defining function, in what ways do you think you would have crossed those bounds?

  • http://travelah.blogspot.com/ A.M. Mallett

    If we define Evangelical as anything at all other than at it’s core, Christocentric, I believe we perform a disservice to the commission of Christ. The Reformation for that matter is best defined as a Christocentric or Evangelical movement intended to restore the Gospel from the confines of ecclesiastical bondage. We might differ with regard to specific doctrines i.e. the unessentials, but to be evangelical should be to agree on the Gospel truths of salvation by the grace of God through faith and not of merit or works by our hand. Beyond being Christocentric, evangelical is both Protestant and ecumenical.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    A.M. Mattett,

    Have you ever read Beyond the Bounds, edited by John Piper. It was a book written by Calvinists who wish to take a stand and declare that Open Theism is “Beyond the Bounds” of Evangelicalism(i.e. they affirm an Evangelicalism with boundaries)? As an Arminian, I wonder if you accept Open Theism as a viable Evangelical Christian option?

  • http://groansfromwithin.com Kurt Willems

    Love this post! I am with Craig when he says: “This kind of approach allows me to continue to consider myself a evangelical”

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