an evangelical really gets it

John Mark Reynolds, professor at Biola, writes in response to the Evangelical Manifesto on the Washington Post On Faith site I mentioned the other day. His article, Reasonable Evangelicals contains a number of very interesting statements, but this one particularly caught my eye.

An Evangelical is moderate, fundamentally opposed to fundamentalism. They believe in truth and that God has spoken to humankind, but know that understanding that truth is difficult. They are willing to walk the hard road of Socratic persuasion and of cultural engagement. Sometimes they do this badly, but modern American Evangelicals historically came into being through a rejection of any narrow intolerance that refuses to consider competing points of view.

I would describe this as the Canadian approach to self-definition.

I have mentioned before how we in Canada define ourselves in terms of how we are not like Americans. “We’re not loud like Americans.” “We’re not militaristic like Americans.” Etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. We mostly have a sense of smug superiority based on a negative mindset – we are not everything that we think is bad about Americans.

Well, isn’t this how evangelicals … all evangelicals … define their place in the theological spectrum? Isn’t this what the Evangelical Manifesto is all about? Isn’t this what the Togetherness Boys are all about? Yes, some of them are open to learning from fundamentalists, but their essential philosophy remains the same. They may be conservative theologically, but they are moderate philosophically.

Wouldn’t they define themselves, however, in terms of their philosophy as ‘not extreme, not schismatic, not legalistic’ like ‘the fundamentalists’? They still maintain the new evangelical philosophy regardless of how conservative their theology seems to be.

Their moderation is seen in the tolerance of open theism, semi-emergent/emerging types, and cooperation with the grand-daddy of compromise himself. These men at heart are the moderates that most evangelicals really define themselves to be. They are together for lofty talk, for doctrinal proclamations, but when it comes right down to it, they simply aren’t into taking action on their doctrinal rhetoric. Their examples and actions to the contrary simply abound. It is astonishing that anyone thinks they mean what they say about doctrinal purity and loyalty to the gospel.



  1. What happens though when fundamentalists tolerate the tolerators?

  2. That is the $64,000 question. But generally speaking, it is my observation that they don’t merely tolerate but they endorse, promote, and support in one way or another men who are at best moderates.

    What does that make them?

    Not fundamentalists, in my opinion.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  3. Keith says:

    1) What is this “philosophy” of which you speak? Their doctrine is “conservative” but their “philosophy” is “moderate”. What does this mean? Philosophy of what?

    2) Even though I’m not exactly sure what you mean, I think I’m on the right track in inferring that you think fundamentalists should have a philosophy that is the opposite of moderate (radical, extreme, ?). I also don’t think I’m far off in assuming that you think that at some point in the past fundamentalists did, on the whole, have this non-moderate philosophy. So, I’d say the real $64,000 question is — And, what exactly did this non-moderate philosophy accomplish?

    [Edited for ‘phonics’ as per Keith’s subsequent post alerting me! “There”, “Their” and “They’re” … I do it all the time. You’re welcome!]

  4. Hi Keith

    Philosophy is the way we do things. It is the rationale for our policy.

    If you look back to various religious controversies, there have frequently been people who have affirmed orthodox or conservative theology, but philosophically were moderates willing to tolerate varying degrees of error. If you study the Presbyterians and the Baptists involved in the ‘Fundamentalist-Modernist’ controversy, you will find many who ‘stayed in’ even then, unwilling to join the fight and in fact voting against the militants when it came to crunch time.

    You can see this in Spurgeon’s Downgrade Controversy, when many conservative men voted against him. Joseph Parker, for example, and others. Spurgeon’s own brother seconded the motion against Spurgeon, if I recall correctly.

    You can see this in the Southern Baptist ‘Conservative Resurgence’. A few years ago I used to participate on a forum on Compuserve called SBCNet. There were SBs of all stripes there. Some who appeared to be theologically liberal wanted to be called moderates. Others who professed conservativism were quite willing to join in with the more liberal and call for moderation, love, Christian tolerance and attack the conservatives.

    There have always been people who don’t like fights and would rather the controversy would just go away. That is the moderate philosophy.

    Does that help?

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  5. I think the definition you have of evangelicalism comes from asking the question how is evangelicalism different than fundamentalism. You can create a pure positive definition like: A demand for Protestant orthodox theology with a strong emphasis on the great commission, including lapsed Christians.

    The latter clause gets you all your negatives but framed in a positive sense:
    — Evangelizing lapsed Christians requires talking to them, hence a weak doctrine of separation and ecumenicalism
    — By mentioning orthodoxy without orthopraxy you see the tolerance of forms of worship and opposition to legalism

  6. Well, you know, you are right in a classic sense… but about 100 years late. Words change over time. John Mark Reynolds in this article is working with what is today and is responding to a question concerning the “Evangelical Manifesto”.

    The broader and more positive definition of an evangelical belongs in an older time frame, unfortunately. Certainly at least as far back as the earlier part of the 20th century.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

    P.S. I do prefer names, not nicknames, on posts.

  7. Our anonymous poster asks:

    “What part of that definition do you believe is no longer true.”

    I am not approving his comment since he isn’t giving his name, but I’ll address the question. Future interaction will require real names.

    The definition offered:

    A demand for Protestant orthodox theology with a strong emphasis on the great commission, including lapsed Christians.

    … is adequate as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go far enough. It may be sufficient to describe an evangelical philosophy, but it doesn’t describe evangelicalism as a religious political movement. For that, many other facets must be examined and the distinction from fundamentalism is essential. Consider the wikipedia entry on “Evangelicalism“. One can define either movement as a philosophy fairly simply, but all kinds of arguments are made against the simple definitions, so more detailed definitions are necessary.

    Don Johnson
    Jer 33.3

  8. Don,

    I don’t know how I missed this post when I was searching through your archives recently, but I did. It is really very insightful.

    My experience, over the past few years, has been that many who belong to, or participate in fundamentalist ministries are adopting the “conservative theology – moderate philosophy” approach. I am absolutely baffled by this turn of events, and keep asking: “shouldn’t our doctrine affect our methodology?” The mere question has often brought about a smug grin and a gentle accusation of unsophistication or naivety.

    As much as this approach causes me an discomfort, it also leaves me grasping for proof of results. “If we hold to a conservative doctrinal position”, they say, “but moderate our methods, we will reach people by the millions!” Really? I would like to see some examples, please.

    I do not question the motives or commitment level of the “moderate fundamentalist”, but I do disagree. When they espouse the magnificent effectiveness of their endeavors, I usually begin scratching my head and wondering if they can prove it. My typical conclusion: they can’t.