We wrap up the series on evangelical identity by considering the strengths and weaknesses of building an identity on a 16th century theology alone, ostensibly McGrath’s position.
Strengths of an Evangelical Identity Based Upon the Reformation
As might be assumed based on the discussion in Part 1, McGrath sees the strength of evangelicalism in its appeal to non-evangelicals. That appeal is the result of several indicators:
- Failure of liberal Christianity.
- Evangelicalism is historically orthodox Christianity.
- Intellectual attraction to evangelicalism beacause it makes sense.
- The attraction of the gospel.
- Diversity of the evangelical church.
Bediako might suggest that evangelicalism’s missionary zeal is a strength. Granted, it was about 200 years before the missionary fervor of European evangelical Christians ignited. Nonetheless, evangelicalism is so called due to its focus upon the gospel ministry.
The solas (fides, gratia, scriptura) of the Reformation would also be considered strengths. It was these ideas that offered correctives for the Catholic Church and distinguished the reformers from their detractors. The priesthood of the believers, as well, gave the reformers and those who followed the idea of personal obligation to God with personal responsibility in the ministry. In addition, the reformers confronted the culture of the day and challenged the practice of Christianizing pagan rituals.
In regards to the reformers challenge of culture, according to Van Rooy (1985), Calvin saw both a continuity and discontinuity in Christianity relationship to culture. Calvin’s interpretation of Romans 1 suggests that he saw a sense of deity in human minds and natural instinct. At the same time, Calvin believed that there was a gulf between what God revealed in nature and what he revealed in his Word.