We've asked 114 leaders from 11 ministry spheres about evangelical priorities for the next 50 years. Here's what they said about theology.

Evangelicals by definition tether their theology to revealed Scripture. So the greatest challenge of the next 50 years will not likely emerge from theological innovation. In fact, evangelical leaders answered a question about the greatest challenge to theology by talking about evangelism. The Good News will never change, but evangelicals will face increasing pressure to compromise the exclusive gospel for a pluralistic world.

"The scandal of the Cross has always been there. The pressure of the culture has always been to have diversity," said Darrell Bock, research professor of New Testament studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. "But the scandal comes across now as much more arrogant and elitist in a world that diminishes the role of truth."

Timothy George of Beeson Divinity School added, "The Christology/pluralism issue has become more urgent in the last decade or two within evangelicalism. If Philip Jenkins is right and we're tilting south of the equator with Christian vitality, this is the frontier of the issue."

Indeed, the challenge bridges geography. Muslims argue that we have too many gods. Hindus complain we have too few. Postmodernists don't care as long as we refrain from imposing our beliefs on them. But sometimes they do care, and seek to suppress Jesus' intolerant claims.

The global delegation that produced the Amsterdam Declaration in 2000 recognized this challenge of religious pluralism for missions: "In this global village of competing faiths and many world religions, it is important that our evangelism be marked by faithfulness to the Good News of Christ and humility in our delivery of it."

This is equally true for evangelical theology.

"It is easier to identify [religious pluralism] in the Middle East or in India. But it is very powerful in Europe as well," said Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, professor of systematic theology at Fuller Theological Seminary. "It all springs from the same source, which is the denial of anything that is absolute or that has some authority. I don't think you can be evangelical without recognizing the authority of Scripture and the uniqueness of Christ."

To meet this challenge, evangelicals may need to reevaluate how they mesh theology with church life. "I'm dismayed that theology is so unlivable, so academic," Eugene Peterson said. "I wish all our theologians would take a part-time job as a pastor."

Kevin Vanhoozer believes theologians will need to recapture imaginations, to help evangelicals see the overarching story of God's redemptive work through the connections within Scripture. "Evangelicals have been very good at providing Bible-study helps—word studies, for instance," said Vanhoozer, research professor of systematic theology at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. "But I'm not sure your average evangelical is able to use the Bible as the interpretive framework for his or her daily life."

If evangelicals can't use the Bible as this kind of framework, they will struggle to resist the temptations of Christological compromise.

Collin Hansen | Consulted: Darrell Bock, D. A. Carson, Timothy George, Michael Horton, Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Al Mohler, Roger Olson, J. I. Packer, Eugene Peterson, Kevin Vanhoozer.

Related Elsewhere:

More Christianity Today coverage of theology is available in our full coverage area.

We continue our look at what evangelical leaders think are the priorities for the next 50 years in 11 categories: local church, youth, missions, politics, publishing/broadcasting, culture, evangelism, higher education, international justice and relief and development.

Christianity Today's other articles on its 50th anniversary include:

Where We Are and How We Got Here | 50 years ago, evangelicals were a sideshow of American culture. Since then, it's been a long, strange trip. Here's a look at the influences that shaped the movement. By Mark A. Noll (Sept. 29, 2006)
Sidebar: 'Truth from the Evangelical Viewpoint' | What Christianity Today meant to the movement 50 years ago. (Sept. 29, 2006)

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