What I have Listened to Today

Today I listened to a number of audio lectures and programmes. The latest edition of St. Anne’s Pub was superb. The interview with Dr. Chad VanDixhoorn was especially interesting. Jeff Meyers has some good thoughts on it here.

One of the other things that I listened to was the latest issue of the James White’s Dividing Line, something that I usually avoid. James White’s blog is one that I watch out of the corner of my eye and, when I saw that the latest edition discussed the Federal Vision and ‘New Perspectivism’, I thought that it might be interesting to listen to.

A lot of predictable statements were made (e.g. that Wright’s view of justification is ‘unevangelical’ and ‘not at all within the Reformed, or even Protestant, tradition’). These sorts of claims have been addressed on numerous occasions in the past and I have little interest in treating them again here. However, I did feel that it would be worth commenting on some statements that White made concerning the way that British evangelicals view Wright.

White reports that the British evangelicals he knows are ‘absolutely befuddled’ and laugh when he tells them about the way that Wright is lauded in some conservative evangelical circles in the US. White claimed that they said that in the UK Wright is not viewed as a ‘relative conservative’. Wright is supposedly ‘not an evangelical at all; he’s not even particularly conservative’; he’s just a ‘good old Anglican’.

I am well aware that some British evangelicals view Wright this way. However, I know many British evangelicals who regard Wright very favourably. I count myself as one of them. I get the feeling that anyone who appreciates Wright is by definition not evangelical in such people’s eyes, so I don’t put much value on their opinion in this issue.

A lot of the problem here arises from the complex character of British evangelicalism. The word ‘evangelical’ is as much misused in the UK as it is in the US and sometimes it is hard to work out exactly what it means any more. There are those who would insist that I cannot be an evangelical because I believe in the doctrine of baptismal regeneration, for example, which is strange when one considers the fact that Luther and Wesley did too. Such definitions are rather arbitrary and fail to observe the fact that there is significant variety of belief among conservative evangelicals.

An evangelical need not hold to a low view of the Church or the sacraments. Just because evangelicals like Spurgeon never could understand the logic of baptismal regeneration doesn’t mean that it is necessarily unevangelical. Lutherans, many Anglicans, and some Methodists and Presbyterians would strongly disagree with his assessment of the doctrine. Nor does the fact that many evangelicals have avoided them mean that incense, clerical vestments and set prayers are unevangelical either. I am irritated by the fact that certain vocal groups within evangelicals would seek to disenfranchise those who disagree with their chiefly functional ecclesiologies and ‘merely symbolic’ understanding of the sacraments.

There is a tendency for certain quarters of the evangelical church to question the legitimacy of other evangelicals because they have significant differences on certain issues. Many people are just unwilling to see themselves as part of a very broad tradition, containing people who have very different understandings about certain aspects of the faith. Or perhaps they just lack the imagination to appreciate that evangelical convictions can be upheld within radically different ecclesiologies.

Perhaps one of the deepest fault lines in British evangelicalism is the one that runs between non-conformist and Anglican evangelicals. Anglicans can be viewed with deep suspicion and occasionally antipathy by some non-conformist evangelicals, something that may be hinted at in the comments of White’s friends that Wright is just ‘a good old Anglican’.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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3 Responses to What I have Listened to Today

  1. Byron says:

    Thanks for these thoughts Alastair. It would be great if you could state positively what you mean by ‘evangelical’. Sounds like you take it as a mixture of historical continuity with those who have called themselves thus (Luther/Wesley – from two quite different points in history – were they both evangelical in the same way?) as well as doctrinal (though without that being comprehensive (as evidenced by differing ecclesiologies/sacramentologies). I’m quite interested in the use of the term sociologically too, and started a couple of discussions about it a couple of months ago.

  2. Al says:

    Byron,

    The word ‘evangelical’ is pretty hard to define, as you point out. It may not carry the same meaning in different contexts. The sociological meaning is not necessarily the same as the theological meaning, for example.

    If I were to point to some key distinctives that are pretty basic to evangelical identity I would list some of the following:
    1. Believing, teaching and proclaiming the gospel of God’s free grace in Christ.
    2. An emphasis on the need for personal conversion.
    3. A commitment to the truth that good works do not earn our right-standing with God.
    4. A belief in the substitutionary death of Christ, generally understood as penal.
    5. A commitment to the authority of the Scriptures as the final rule for faith and practice.

    That is a very, very loose definition. I believe that there is more ‘give’ on some of these points than on others and that other points could be added.

    I believe that there are many ways in which such convictions can be expressed. I do not believe that Luther and Wesley were evangelical in exactly the same way. However, there was an important measure of historical and doctrinal continuity between the two.

  3. Pingback: alastair.adversaria » Anti-Anglicanism

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