1. An Evangelical is anyone who is sincerely and passionately committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ as it is inspirited in the Bible. (This is the broad definition)
2. Theologian Roger Olson says, “Evangelicals are mostly Protestant Christians who display four characteristics: biblicism (belief in the supreme authority of scripture for faith and life), conversionism (belief that authentic Christianity always includes a radical conversion to Jesus Christ by personal repentance and faith that begins a lifelong personal relationship with him), crucicentrism (piety, devotional life, and worship centered around the cross of Jesus Christ) and activism (concern for the involvement in social transformation through evangelism and social action). [Olson, 2008; p.240]
Both definitions are kosher for me. Obviously the first is broader and may include all Christian’s except perhaps liberals since it is still based on a divinely inspired bible (and I don’t know enough about the mysterious “Orthodox Church” to have an educated opinion). The second definition would – by default – exclude Catholics since by definition it holds the Bible as the “supreme” authority whilst Catholics at the council of Trent, and more recently during the Second Vatican Council, maintain that the Bible and Tradition are equal parts.
Therefore I probably find myself more in line with the second definition since I too believe that tradition – even the Great Tradition of the Church – must be kept in check by something outside itself, and this is where Sola Scriptura comes in. But I want to be clear in saying that I acknowledge the first definition and wholly embrace Catholics who may be Evangelical, they are my brothers and sisters in the Lord. (Ironically, in saying this I alienate from myself both stubborn Catholics and stubborn Protestants who sometimes each think the other is going to hell.)
So what’s the point of embracing the label “Evangelical”? Essentially this label serves to maintain a distinction between “us” and “nominal Christians”. Nominal Christians are those who don’t take their “faith” seriously and fail to allow it to change their lives. It also maintains a distinction between “us” and “liberal Christians” who – frankly – don’t take the scriptures seriously enough (i.e. the Resurrection didn’t really happen, etc). However, many people – it seems – are hiding from the label “Evangelical” because with it comes – sometimes – a certain amount of baggage. That baggage is called “Fundamentalism” and may also be called – as least when considering theology – “conservativism”. But this will be the subject of the next blog. For now it may suffice to emphatically press the point that Evangelicalism is not synonymous with Fundamentalism!
I am Evangelical because I affirm strongly that the Bible is the supreme authority for faith and life, not because it has authority all its own, but because it was inspired by the Spirit of God. Therefore the phrase “Sola Scriptura” (by scripture alone) should be discarded – while its principle should remain intact – in favor of “by scripture supremely” which itself is shorthand for actually saying: “the authority of the triune God as it is exercised through the scriptures” – N.T. Wright.
I have tried to keep this note “lighter” and less controversial, only time will tell if I succeeded.