Friday, December 23, 2011

Book Review: Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism

In Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism, four highly qualified theologians give a take on their corner of the movement/grouping/demographic of christendom that could be called "evangelical." Kevin T. Bauder covers Fundamentalism. R. Albert Mohler Jr. represents Confessional Evangelicalism (think Conservative Evangelicalism, but not in a pejorative way). John G. Stackhouse Jr. writes for Generic Evangelicalism. And Roger E. Olson covers Postconservative Evangelicalism.

The tone is irenic and the history given by the scholars is interesting and helpful. The authors are certainly among the most qualified to be giving this sort of treatment to the spectrum of evangelicalism. Bauder's chapter is different from the others in focusing a lot more on the label "fundamentalist" and the movement "fundamentalism" than "evangelical" and "evangelicalism." The history of evangelicalism offered by Mohler, Stackhouse, and Olson is especially helpful in understanding the movement. They all reference the charateristics of evangelicals identified by the historians Mark Noll and David Bebbington: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism. Olson adds a helpful fifth characteristic: respect for historic, Christian orthodoxy.

Apart from the helpful history, however, the topic of the book and the attempts at defining "evangelical" and "evangelicalism" become a bit tiring, as often happens in debates about labels. The most one can say about any label is that some people will accept it; others will reject it. And with a label as contested as "evangelical," everyone will define it differently and strongly disagree with others' definition.

On a more devotional note: In his response to Roger Olson's chapter on Postconservative Evangelicalism, Kevin Bauder gives probably the best extended definition (or essence) of evangelicalism:

Evangelicals do not deny the gospel. Evangelicals do not tamper with the gospel. Evangelicals do not question the gospel. The moment one detaches oneself from the gospel, whether in principle or in practice, one is no longer entitled to be called an evangelical. [...]
It is not up to us to define the gospel. We are responsible to recognize and receive the gospel. We are further responsible to uphold and defend the gospel. Never are we given the responsibility or even the opportunity to define the gospel.

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