Why Evangelicalism is in a spot of trouble identifying itself
It doesn’t much matter from which angle you view it: Evangelicalism appears to be struggling to hold it’s ahead above water and properly identify itself. From time to time someone offers a ‘litmus test’ to determine evangelicalism. These can be helpful—negatively, if not positively. In other words, they might indicate the missing ingredient rather than identify the real product.
Such a list of identifiers has been offered by Bill Muehlenberg, in his article What is Evangelicalism? He cites a number of prominent authors, then offers a 7-point list of how the National Association of Evangelicals identifies evangelicalism:
1. We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God.
2. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
3. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory.
4. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential.
5. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life.
6. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation.
7. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ.
Read the list carefully. Anything missing? Or more to the point, anything vitally important missing?
Well I think there is something vitally important missing. Hear me out, and see if I have a reasonable argument to present.
THE BEST THAT EVERY MAN KNOWS dies with him; the part of him which he can leave behind in written words conveys but half his meaning even to the generation which lies nearest to him, to the men whose minds are under the same influences with his own. Later ages, when they imagine that they are following the thoughts of their forefathers, are reading their own thoughts in expressions which serve to them but as a mirror. The pale shadow called Evangelical religion clothes itself in the language of Luther and Calvin. Yet what Luther and Calvin meant is not what it means.
The Protestantism of the sixteenth century commanded the allegiance of statesmen, soldiers, philosophers, and men of science. Wherever there was a man of powerful intelligence and noble heart, there was a champion of the Reformation: and the result was a revival, not of internal emotion, but of moral austerity. The passion of Evangelical teachers in every country where the Reformation made its way, was to establish, so far as the world would let them, the discipline of Geneva, to make men virtuous in spite of themselves, and to treat sins as crimes.
The writings of Knox and Latimer are not more distinguished by the emphasis with which they thunder against injustice and profligacy than by their all but total silence on ‘schemes of salvation.’
The Protestantism of the nineteenth century has forsaken practice for opinion. It puts opinion first and practice second; and in doing so it has parted company with intellect and practical force. It has become the property of the hysterical temperament which confounds extravagance with earnestness; and even of those most under its influence, an ever-increasing number are passing back under the shadow of Catholicism, and are taking refuge in the worn-out idolatries from which their fathers set them free. What is the meaning of so singular a phenomenon?
Religion—Protestant as well as Catholic—is ceasing everywhere to control the public life of the State. Government in all countries is becoming sternly secular. The preambles of old Acts of Parliament contained usually in formal words a reference to the will of the Almighty. Legislators looked for instruction not to political economy, but to their Bibles. ‘The will of the Almighty’ is now banished to the conscience or the closet. The statesman keeps rigidly to the experienced facts of the world, and will have neither priest nor minister to interpret them for him. Political economy may contradict the sermon on the mount, but it is none the less the manual of our political leaders.
[From an essay by James Anthony Froude, The Condition and Prospect of Protestantism, 1890.]
If you leave out an important ingredient, your best cooking efforts are doomed.
This article was written while I was in Nova Scotia and had just returned from having supper with a local family.
This part of the world, Clare County, has several municipalities that are Old French culture and language. The schools in these municipalities hold their classes in the old Acadian language, while the municipalities either side are English. In the seventeenth century, the French living in the valley of Nova Scotia were forcibly relocated by the British. Some found their way to the western shores of Nova Scotia while others were settled in Louisiana. The Cajuns and the Acadians are linked culturally — and share an understandable attitude towards the British. In Nova Scotia, the Acadians have been promised an apology from the monarch of England, but it is yet to arrive.
This caused me to reflect on the turmoil of Europe at the time of their dislocation. The Acadians, French in origin, tried to remain neutral in the struggles between Britain and France. They were not permitted to do this.