The Evangelical Identity, Part 1 of 4

Cultural fragmentation, pluralization and globalization have raised the issue of evangelical identity in fresh ways. These factors, along with the explosive growth of theologically conservative Protestantism worldwide as well as Trumpgelicalism and evangelical deconstructionism in the United States have prompted many to ask what it means to be “evangelical Christians.”  Western evangelicalism has tended to define itself in terms of the Reformation.  Over the next three weeks we will draw upon the works of Alister McGrath, Kwame Bediako, and Thomas Oden to discuss the strengths and weaknesses of defining evangelicalism in terms of the 16th century Reformation.  The conclusion will discuss the missiological implications of formulating an “evangelical identity” based upon the Reformation. We begin with Alister McGrath.

The future belongs to those who can relate the heritage of the past to the realities of the present.

Alister McGrath

Alister McGrath

In 1995, Alister McGrath published what must now be a classic text entitled Evangelicalism and the Future of Christianity (Intervarsity Press) as a critique of the evangelical movement.  The purpose of the book was to help the evangelical community be aware of strengths and weaknesses in the evangelical movement that has its roots in the Reformation.  Motivated by the conviction that the movement has a continuing role to fulfill, McGrath hoped to open a dialogue in the worldwide community of evangelicalism.

McGrath’s historical overview of the movement defines it in terms of the Reformation.  He believes that it is essential for today’s evangelicals to know their history in order to insure that the same mistakes made in the past will not be repeated.  Hence, through historical awareness evangelicals will have a deeper appreciation for the movement’s distinctives and for the non-evangelicals attraction to it.  Appealing to James I. Packer, he suggests that correct evangelical theology can only be found in the Reformation and consequently, it is this theology that will preserve evangelicalism (1995:116).

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