Is there really such a thing as evangelicalism?" I had heard the question posed too many times. This time I heard myself responding, "There had better be! That's my family!" My passionate response surprised both me and my conversation partner.
Evangelical is not just a label for many of us. It is an emotive word that evokes powerful memories and deep-seated feelings of sawdust floors in open-sided tent meetings, moments with God and his people around altars and bonfires, sanctuaries and classrooms with preachers and teachers steeped in Scripture and soaked in the Spirit, and participation in Billy Graham crusades, Youth for Christ, Campus Crusade for Christ, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. This is our story. This is our song. This is our family.
But does it exist? Do I really have such a family, or is it merely a figment of my imagination—like the idealized tv families of 1950s sitcoms? And even if evangelicalism does exist, does it have a future?
I believe that evangelicalism does indeed exist, though what holds it together is sometimes hard to discern (much like the work of the Holy Spirit who animates the movement). I want to argue that evangelicalism is primarily a theological movement that has the following four minimum characteristics:
—It looks to the Bible as the supreme norm of truth for Christian belief and practice—the biblical message enshrined in its narratives and its interpretations of those narratives;
—It holds a supernatural world-view that is centered in a transcendent, personal God who interacts with, and intervenes in, creation;
—It focuses on the forgiving and transforming grace of God through Jesus Christ in the experience called conversion as the center of authentic Christian experience;
—And it believes ...1
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