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Thread: Definition of Evangelical

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikewhitney View Post
    Would most evangelicals hold to the definition that 'evangelicalism' has its foundational meaning as "people who hold to, at minimal, some of the ancient Christian confessions?"

    (I am fine including 'mainstream' Christian groups who also adhere to some of the ancient Christian confessions. I was sort of focused on the term 'evangelical' here. )

    I might moderate the definition by noting that such evangelicals may be consciously aware of the connection of their faith with the confessions. (If someone has an improved definition of evangelical, that would be helpful.)

    If I end up having to define those who are Christians, I would tend to speak of confessional Christianity -- those holding to, at minimal, the Apostles' Creed.

    I suppose we could also ask what makes Christians also evangelical.
    I would say that:


    • an Evangelical with a capital E is a Protestant Christian
    • and Evangelical piety (in the broadest sense) is Christ-centred & Bible-centred


    Other Christians use and venerate the Bible - what distinguishes its place in Evangelicalism, is the functional load it carries. In Evangelicalism, it colours and irradiates everything. The very great veneration of Evangelicals for the Bible has an analogy in Catholic & Orthodox veneration of the BVM, in this sense: the two objects of veneration serve as the supreme created symbols of what is holy, short of God Himself. Both the Bible & the BVM can legitimately be called holy; but some epithets are incommunicable: neither can be called uncreated or eternal, for instance.

    More catholic types of Christianity - much of Anglicanism; Catholicism; Orthodoxy, and others - emphasise the function of the Church. Not that much of Evangelicalism does not - the “magisterial” wing of the Reformation had a very strong sense of the Church; it was most certainly a Churchly movement. But the Church has, in catholic types of Christianity, a very great functional load, that it does not have in Protestantism, and does not have in Evangelicalism. In Catholicism at least, the boundaries of the Church’s life are the boundaries within which the Christian believer lives the life of faith; for Evangelicalism, the boundaries of the life of faith in Christ are the boundaries of the Bible. Both sets of boundaries are rescued from fossilisation and deathliness by the vivifying and enlightening grace of the Spirit of God.

    Furthermore, in Catholicism and Orthodoxy (at least) the Church is the guarantor (under God) of the authenticity of the Christian tradition in that Church. This is one of the reasons that form of Christianity professes to be Apostolic.
    In Evangelicalism OTOH, the Christian tradition, as expressed canonically and for all time to come, in Scripture alone, is the guarantor (under God) of the authenticity of the Church, which is more or less Christianly authentic according as it agrees or disagrees with Scripture.

    Evangelicalism is often reproached as having no care for, and little interest in, the Christian tradition. To a great extent, I think that objection can be met by saying that the dynamic activity of the Holy Spirit speaking to the Churches through the Bible is the tradition of Evangelicalism. Without the dynamism of the Holy Spirit in the Church, the Apostolicity of the catholic Churches would be a deadening and deadly weight; it is the Spirit of God Who makes it live and fruitful in good.
    And while some forms of Evangelical Churchmanship seem to have little interest in the Christian past, that cannot be said of all forms of Evangelicalism.

    Catholic forms of Christianity are sacramental, and emphasise a principle of mediation by creatures. Evangelicalism is not sacrament-minded, and is decidedly opposed to the very principle of mediation by creatures. For Evangelicalism, the totality of mediation is an activity of the Ascended & Glorified Christ alone, so as to be incommunicable to creatures. Less theologically, the notion of mediation by creatures is seen as illegitimate first and foremost because of what Scripture says in 1 Tim. 2.5; and also because mediation by creatures is seen as a sinful human intrusion by man between the believer and his Saviour. This is one of the reasons for Evangelical dislike of what has often been called “priestcraft”.

    I think what defines evangelicalism as a religious form is that it is self-consciously Gospel-centred, Christ-centred, and Bible-centred. It seeks inward Christian authenticity, rather than beautiful externals. Sometimes this comparative disregard for beautiful externals has gone hand in hand with Christian vandalism; more often, it is expressed in a concern for “godly order” in a manner of Christian worship that may be plain, but is decorous and austere and disciplined.

    Furthermore, I think evangelicalism is marked by earnestness - the evangelical takes God seriously, not with an attitude of trifling, irreverence, flippancy, or scepticism. This earnestness is what gives the error of legalism its power, and can lead to an unChristian joylessness & dourness, often miscalled Puritanism. The evangelical takes God as being in earnest, as meaning what the Bible shows Him saying. The evangelical attitude is therefore a powerful motive for Christian obedience.

    IMHO, who is a Christian can be defined only by God. There are external “tests”, of course, such as whether someone professes belief in Christ as Saviour & Lord; but such tests are

    (a) external
    (b) not a perfect index of God’s attitude to that person
    (c) emphasise man’s POV instead of God’s
    (d) liable to be mistaken, even by the professor of the belief

    IMO, the answer to the question lies entirely within God’s “Subjectivity”, & is therefore inaccessible to man on Earth. That one belongs to Christ as one of His sheep, is IMO something that can be held only by faith in Him. Our hearts can and do condemn and deceive us, so we cannot trust them. So self-analysis, though not useless, cannot, ISTM, tell us whether we are His sheep.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rushing Jaws View Post
    I would say that:


    • an Evangelical with a capital E is a Protestant Christian
    • and Evangelical piety (in the broadest sense) is Christ-centred & Bible-centred


    Other Christians use and venerate the Bible - what distinguishes its place in Evangelicalism, is the functional load it carries. In Evangelicalism, it colours and irradiates everything. The very great veneration of Evangelicals for the Bible has an analogy in Catholic & Orthodox veneration of the BVM, in this sense: the two objects of veneration serve as the supreme created symbols of what is holy, short of God Himself. Both the Bible & the BVM can legitimately be called holy; but some epithets are incommunicable: neither can be called uncreated or eternal, for instance.
    ...
    IMO, the answer to the question lies entirely within God’s “Subjectivity”, & is therefore inaccessible to man on Earth. That one belongs to Christ as one of His sheep, is IMO something that can be held only by faith in Him. Our hearts can and do condemn and deceive us, so we cannot trust them. So self-analysis, though not useless, cannot, ISTM, tell us whether we are His sheep.
    My shortening of your post is a bit arbitrary. I will have to get back to your post later to see the details of your view.

    For now, I am wondering if you, as an Evangelical, are generally accepting of the points stated in the Apostle's Creed. Let's put it in the negative -- if an 'educated' person (an Evangelical pastor?) disagrees on the (modernized) meaning of the Apostle's Creed, would you be suspicious that he may not be a true Christian ?

    I would ask this of other people who shy away from the Apostle's Creed.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikewhitney View Post
    My shortening of your post is a bit arbitrary. I will have to get back to your post later to see the details of your view.

    For now, I am wondering if you, as an Evangelical, are generally accepting of the points stated in the Apostle's Creed.
    I agree with all of it. Which adds up to a “Yes”.
    Let's put it in the negative -- if an 'educated' person (an Evangelical pastor?) disagrees on the (modernized) meaning of the Apostle's Creed, would you be suspicious that he may not be a true Christian ?
    I would have to see what “modernised meaning” is intended first.
    I think people can be unorthodox in their words, when their intention is entirely orthodox.
    Though OTOH, there is such a thing as being a false teacher.
    OTOH, someone can teach falsely, without any intention to do so.
    STM phrases like “true Christian” are regrettable at best - I strongly dislike any thinking that separates Christian from Christian. And I distrust any tendency that implies that one lot of Christians is more Christian than another - that kind of thinking tends to strain and weaken the brotherly love that should be characteristic of us. And that paves the way for open sectarianism. STM that those who say “Our divisions do not reach up to Heaven” are saying something true and very important.
    On Earth at least, I don’t think any of us is a “true” Christian.
    Sometimes, the kind of suspicion I think you have in mind arises because one set of Christians is more conservative than another, which is more open to what it sees as a need for modernisation. In no way need it follow that either group has unChristian intentions. Not all desire for modernisation arises from a desire to escape from the demands of the Gospel - the desire to be more faithfully Christian may well be what causes the desire for modernisation.
    I would ask this of other people who shy away from the Apostle's Creed.
    OK. I don’t shy away from it, or from confessions of faith generally - but I would not rely on them absolutely, to show whether a man is Christ’s or not. The acceptance of the truths in them is one clue that the accepter is a Christian; but only one, and not the most important.
    Last edited by Rushing Jaws; 09-30-2019 at 08:08 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rushing Jaws View Post
    I agree with all of it. Which adds up to a “Yes”.

    I would have to see what “modernised meaning” is intended first.
    I think people can be unorthodox in their words, when their intention is entirely orthodox.
    Though OTOH, there is such a thing as being a false teacher.
    OTOH, someone can teach falsely, without any intention to do so.
    STM phrases like “true Christian” are regrettable at best - I strongly dislike any thinking that separates Christian from Christian. And I distrust any tendency that implies that one lot of Christians is more Christian than another - that kind of thinking tends to strain and weaken the brotherly love that should be characteristic of us. And that paves the way for open sectarianism. STM that those who say “Our divisions do not reach up to Heaven” are saying something true and very important.
    On Earth at least, I don’t think any of us is a “true” Christian.
    OK. I don’t shy away from it, or from confessions of faith generally - but I would not rely on them absolutely, to show whether a man is Christ’s or not. The acceptance of the truths in them is one clue that the accepter is a Christian; but only one, and not the most important.

    Thanks for your answer

    I seemed to have asked too many questions in the original post.

    The basic question was whether the Apostle's Creed would be useful to distinguish Orthodox/Presbytarian/Lutheran/Evangelicalism (maybe also RCC) from liberal views of Christianity. Of the meaning of 'liberal', I mean those groups who don't care about the deity of Jesus or of the truth of resurrection -- things like that.

    The idea of 'modernized meaning' was addressing some possible changes in the interpretation of the Apostle's Creed for modern confession ... contrasted against the original meaning -- mostly focused on the use of 'catholic.'

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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Pig View Post
    Evangelicals tend to disdain creeds as empty formulas, and prefer to rely on scripture alone. Creeds are a "tradition of men" and thus avoided, even if the content of a particular creed is not objectionable.
    I find this view is changing quite a bit now. Most apologists and theologians who come from an Evangelical bent (that I've read) seem to hold both the Apostle's Creed and the Nicene Creed in high regard, and there seems to be a thinking nowadays that acceptance of these early creedal statements help discern those within mainstream Christianity from those without. I think the big difference you'll see between many evangelicals and more liturgical types is that while they hold the creeds in high regard, they don't hold them to be particularly inspired. That is, they help delineate core Christian beliefs in very much the same way as, say, Chicago Statement on Inerrancy helps delineate the doctrine of inerrancy.
    Last edited by Adrift; 09-30-2019 at 09:11 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Cow Poke View Post
    But the root in "Evangelical" would be "to evangelize". It's not so much about what you believe, but what you do.
    I think there may be a technical difference between the "Evangelical" movement, and those who evangelize. While no doubt evangelism plays a big part in the Evangelical movement, it actually had a number of other moving parts. It's similar to how people confuse the early "Fundamentalist" movement with holding to the fundamentals. Yes, Fundamentalists did that, but there was more to it I believe.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikewhitney View Post
    Would most evangelicals hold to the definition that 'evangelicalism' has its foundational meaning as "people who hold to, at minimal, some of the ancient Christian confessions?"

    (I am fine including 'mainstream' Christian groups who also adhere to some of the ancient Christian confessions. I was sort of focused on the term 'evangelical' here. )

    I might moderate the definition by noting that such evangelicals may be consciously aware of the connection of their faith with the confessions. (If someone has an improved definition of evangelical, that would be helpful.)

    If I end up having to define those who are Christians, I would tend to speak of confessional Christianity -- those holding to, at minimal, the Apostles' Creed.

    I suppose we could also ask what makes Christians also evangelical.
    I started a very similar thread to this last year. My focus though was on a podcast by William Lane Craig where he attempted to point out that Evangelical Christianity is not a political movement. It was in reply to an article that Brian McLaren wrote called "Breaking with Evangelicals."

    Here's the bit I quoted in that thread which offers Craig's historical definition,

    An Evangelical is theologically defined. An evangelical is someone who is committed to historic Christian orthodoxy: The deity of Christ, substitutionary atonement, the need for personal conversion, and faith in Christ, salvation by grace. These are the earmarks of Evangelical Christianity, and it would indeed be a matter of deep concern if he [McLaren] decided to walk away from Evangelical Christianity, but that's not what he means by the "Conservative Evangelical Project". As he says earlier in the article he became disenchanted with the political project to which Evangelicalism was giving it's soul.

    . . .

    He's not talking theology here, Kevin, he's talking about politics. And what he's describing for us in this article is why he's not politically conservative, but he's politically progressive. Now what I think what's unfortunate about that is that he thereby identifies Evangelical Christianity with a political movement or persuasion, and that's wrong. Evangelical Christianity is a theology and among Evangelicals there are those who are conservatives, others who are moderates, others who are progressives, and in ceasing to be a political conservative, he shouldn't pin the blame on Evangelicalism, or describe it as walking away from Evangelicalism. I think that's falling into the trap of those who see Evangelical Christianity as a kind of political movement, and that is very wrong, and something that we need to repudiate very forcefully. Evangelical Christianity is not a political movement.

    . . .

    The word Evangelical originated during, I think, during the late 1940s or so, when people like Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Harold Ockenga, others, wanted to distinguish themselves from the old line Fundamentalism of people like Carl McIntire for example. And they wanted to disassociate their Christian belief from the anti-intellectualism and cultural isolationism of Fundamentalism, but in terms of theological doctrine Evangelicals have been committed to the same theological fundamentals as Fundamentalism. What's odd about this, is according to what I've read at least, in the popular perception of our culture the word "Evangelical" has now become just as hated a term as "Fundamentalism" was, and maybe perhaps more so, so that in the long run changing terminology doesn't really work, uh, these terms get degraded after several decades of use, and you find yourself branded with the same sort of bigotry and regressive thinking that you wanted to disassociate yourself from.


    The entire transcript in case you're interested: https://www.reasonablefaith.org/medi...-evangelicals/

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    Quote Originally Posted by KingsGambit View Post
    The original meaning when it was written was more along the lines of the big c Catholic, i.e. an actual united church, so I could see it being an issue.
    Is it? I hadn't heard that. Actually, it seems most people I've listened to on the subject assert its "universal" meaning. I suppose by the Creed's inception the church was just beginning to shape into the big "C" as we later understand it, but it wasn't quite there yet.

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    Quote Originally Posted by One Bad Pig View Post
    The issue (Roman) Catholics and Orthodox have with the Protestant interpretation is the idea of the "invisible church" composed of outwardly diverse bodies yet somehow united in the Spirit. The concept was born out of the inability of Luther and Calvin (more or less) to come to agreement on a number of issues. To Orthodox and Catholic Christians, this waters down the idea of church unity to meaninglessness.
    It seems like a lot of Orthodox and Roman Catholics want to be a part of a club that they don't think Protestants can be/should be part of. Historically, I suppose the same was true among many Protestants. It's a shame that so many people on both sides still feel that way.

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    Quote Originally Posted by mikewhitney View Post
    I am reminded of some of the 'weaknesses' of the creeds and confessions. But I hadn't thought of some changes of interpretation that were needed as the visible church had more doctrinal divisions. The Apostle's Creed was defined when there were fewer distinctions of groups. The Apostle's Creed then appears to be inaccurately used in confessions done today. If people still use the confessions, it may help to identify how the meaning of the confession has been adjusted due to changes within Christianity.


    I still have a concern. Seminaries can be aided by requiring confessions. At minimal, the professors who confess these on entry can possibly be removed from their positions if they show themselves disagreeing with the creeds. But there is a problem if the creeds have limitations, as we have just seen in this discussion.

    There also is a problem if some points of the creeds and confessions need revision in light of closer inspection of scripture. It seems difficult to handle a reasonable change in the confessions based on such closer inspection.

    Maybe these issues have played into the decisions of some groups to avoid the creeds and confessions.
    I think you'd be surprised by how diverse both orthodox and heterodox branches of Christianity were by the time things started getting nailed down in the 4th and 5th century, and how diverse it remained some time after that. Also, Christian Universities and Seminaries already have issues with faith statements that are far more exacting than the Apostle's Creed, especially when they tip into things like inerrancy. But the same is true of even many secular universities, where they have certain contracts or statements, some written, some oral, that professors are required to abide by.

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