I read this post from Andy Gill earlier today and enjoyed it a good deal. Go on, read it. Gill employs a little bit of tasteful satire to make a great point. Modern Evangelicalism likes to define itself by what it is not, rather than what it is. As a result, Evangelicals appear to a watching world as a bunch of angry fundamentalists who can’t agree on who’s right, and label anyone who disagrees with them as “liberal.” This perception (not to mention the hundreds of feuding factions within evangelicalism), do more damage to our witness than any so-called “heresy” could ever hope to do.
So what is evangelicalism, then? I think J.I. Packer has a good answer for us. This list is taken from his essay “A Stunted Ecclesiology,” though he has cited it in various other places as well. For Packer, Evangelicalism isn’t guided by a list of doctrinal standards to be used as a test of fellowship. Rather Evangelicalism can be defined by 6 basic values or principles.
1. Enthroning Holy Scripture, the written word of God, as the supreme authority and decisive guide on all matters of faith and practice;
2. Focusing on the glory, majesty, kingdom, and love of Jesus Christ, the God-man who died as a sacrifice for our sins and who rose, reigns, and will return to judge mankind, perfect the church, and renew the cosmos;
3. Acknowledging the lordship of the Holy Spirit in the entire life of grace, which is the life of salvation expressed in worship, work, and witness;
4. Insisting on the necessity of conversion (not of a particular conversion experience, but of a discernibly converted condition, regenerate, repentant, and rejoicing);
5. Prioritizing evangelism and church extension as a life-project at all times and under all circumstances; and
6. Cultivating Christian fellowship, on the basis that the church of God is essentially a living community of believers who must help each other to grow in Christ.
It’s a list I think works very well in giving some definition to the broad stream that is the Evangelical tradition. Notice no “buzz-words” are used. Neither inerrancy, not Penal Substitution, nor Creationism were made a test of orthodoxy. I mean for goodness sakes, if 6-day creationism is the definition of evangelicalism, you might as well dismiss Tim Keller and Alister McGrath right now. No, instead of focusing on buzzwords–the things that divide well meaning, orthodox Christians–Packer asks a different question entirely. What are common themes Evangelicals have historically agreed on. In a phrase: What unites the movement?
It’s a good approach, I think, and one that we’d do well to apply to other areas of Christian thought as well.