Posted On May 14, 2012

Evangelicals take their name form the koine Greek word euangelion, translated into English as “good news” which is also known as the evangel. It is from the evangel that evangelicals derive their identity. In the past fifty or so years, cracks have appeared over what it means to be an evangelical, which is why The Four Views On The Spectrum of Evangelicalism was written in order to help its readers understand “evangelicalism’s diverse spectrum” (216).

The first contributor, Dr. Kevin Bauder, a fundamentalist who believes that evangelicalism, should be defined by minimal and maximal Christian fellowship. Minimal Christian fellowship is based on the fundamentals of the faith. Maximal Christian fellowship focuses on the fact that while Christians are united by the Word of God and can fellowship with other Christians, on a minimal level, they must “limit their cooperation” on other levels and separate “from Christian leaders who will not separate from apostates” (37,40).

The second contributor, Dr. Albert Mohler argues that evangelicalism should be confessional, because it can only defined by a center-bound set as a “coherent movement only if it is also known for what it is not, because these boundaries help one to be clear about what the gospel is and is not” (95-96). This helps Christians to avoid dividing over issues not related to the Gospel by focusing their energy on issues directly related to the Gospel. The third contributor is Dr. John Stackhouse chapter is on generic evangelicalism and states that evangelicalism cannot be defined, because “the definition of authentic and healthy Christian is inherently contestable” (141). The final contributor Dr. Roger Olson wants to have a big tent evangelicalism, because he sees evangelicalism as having “no definable boundaries” (163).

The remainder of this review will focus not on the strengths and weakness of each view, but set forth the fact that confessional evangelicalism in the words of B.B. Warfield “stands or falls with Calvinism.”[1] By evangelicalism, Warfield was referring to what the German Lutherans meant when they used the term during the Protestant Reformation: a church founded on the gospel, the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. When Warfield spoke of “Calvinism,” he referred to the Protestant Reformation and its insistence on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Evangelicalism stands for the gospel and Calvinism stands for grace. Warfield was pointing out what every Christian should and must believe: the gospel stands or falls by grace. Warfield recognized that the gospel is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace which means, the gospel is only good news if it announces what God has done to save sinners. If that is true, then the gospel of grace stands or falls with the doctrines of grace.

The most helpful way to think through what it means to be an evangelical is to understand the theological categories of catholic, evangelical, and Reformed. In For Calvinism, Dr. Horton points out that “there is only the Christian faith, which is founded on the teachings of the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone.” (page 25). First, “all Christians are catholic—that is, a living expression of Christ’s visible church that affirms the ecumenical creeds on the basis of Scripture” (Horton, 27). Second, evangelicals are those who “believe, confess, and spread the good news of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ” (Horton, 27). Finally the keys of the Reformation are: Scripture alone (sola Scriptura), salvation by grace alone (Sola Gratia) in Christ alone (Solo Christo), through faith alone (Sola Fide). Consequently, all of the glory goes to God alone (Soli Deo Gloria). “Every distinctive feature of Reformed theology or Calvinism is aimed at clarifying and defending this evangelical core of Christianity, with the goal of reconciling sinners to God in Christ for true worship of the triune God” (Horton, 28). “The purest and most consistent expression of evangelicalism resides within the halls of Calvinism” (Nettles, 20).

Regardless of how one views evangelicalism, The Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism will help its readers to think through which version of evangelicalism they fall on, fundamentalists, confessional, generic, or postconservative evangelicals. This debate is not trivial, nor is it merely academic, as all (including evangelicals) will give an account for how we respond to the evangel, which means Christians need to heed to heed Paul’s teaching to the Philippians in Philippians 1:27, “Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ.”

This review appeared in the September/October issue of Modern Reformation magazine (www.modernreformation.org).

Title:  Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)Book Review Four Views On The Spectrum Of Evangelicalism 1

Authors: Andrew David Naselli and Collin Hansen

Publisher:  Zondervan (2011)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Zondervan book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

 


[1] B.B. Warfield, quoted in Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979), 83-84.

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