Theological battles are not alien to evangelicalism. They never have been. We begin with the battle over definitions: What is an evangelical?
When I entered the evangelical community nearly 50 years ago, I knew who was an evangelical: an evangelical was anyone who committed himself or herself to a specific set of doctrines and acted on them. We called these doctrines “the fundamentals” and, hence, we often got ourselves lampooned as fundamentalists. I never accepted the title gladly. It held too many negative overtones with which I did not wish to identify myself (for example, an adherence to traditional pre-Enlightenment thinking, a belligerent attitude toward all who disagreed with them, a literalistic interpretation of Scripture, and extreme separation in social views and ecclesiology). Yet I firmly believed the fundamentals then, gladly defended them as best I could, and today still hold to them enthusiastically. CHRISTIANITY TODAY’s statement of faith represents one listing of those doctrines.
Even then the term evangelical was hotly debated. Many of the best evangelical spokespersons of that day objected to the term. J. Gresham Machen, one of the founders of Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and a major spokesman for conservatives in the fundamentalist-modernist controversies, refused to call himself a fundamentalist and did not choose the title evangelical. He preferred to label himself simply a Christian (hence the title of his most famous book, Christianity and Liberalism). J. Oliver Buswell, a popular author and president of Wheaton College from 1926 to 1940, ridiculed the term evangelical as synonymous with “evan-jellyfish.” Theologian and former president of Fuller Theological ...1
Already a CT subscriber? Log in for full digital access.
Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.
Subscribe to Christianity Today and get access to this article plus 60+ years of archives.
- Home delivery of CT magazine
- Complete access to articles on ChristianityToday.com
- Over 120 years of magazine archives plus full access to all of CT’s online archives
- Learn more