According to some Christian outlooks we were made for another world. Perhaps, rather, we were made for this world to recreate, reclaim, redeem, and renew unto God's future aspiration by the power of His Spirit. - R.E. Slater
Secularization theory has been massively falsified. We don't live in an age of secularity. We live in an age of explosive, pervasive religiosity... an age of religious pluralism. - Peter L. Berger
Exploring the edge of life and faith in a post-everything world. - Todd Littleton
I don't need another reason to believe, your love is all around for me to see. – anon
Thou art our need; and in giving us more of thyself thou givest us all. - Khalil Gibran, Prayer XXIII
Be careful what you pretend to be. You become what you pretend to be. - Kurt Vonnegut
Religious beliefs, far from being primary, are often shaped and adjusted by our social goals. - Jim Forest
People, even more than things, need to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed, and redeemed; never throw out anyone. – anon
Certainly God's love has made fools of us all. - R.E. Slater
An apocalyptic Christian faith doesn't wait for Jesus to come, but for Jesus to become in our midst. - R.E. Slater
Christian belief in God begins with the cross and resurrection of Jesus, not with rational apologetics. - Eberhard Jüngel, Jürgen Moltmann
Our knowledge of God is through the 'I-Thou' encounter, not in finding God at the end of a syllogism or argument. There is a grave danger in any Christian treatment of God as an object. The God of Jesus Christ and Scripture is irreducibly subject and never made as an object, a force, a power, or a principle that can be manipulated. - Emil Brunner
Ehyeh Asher Ehyeh means "I will be that who I have yet to become." - God (Ex 3.14)
Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. - Thomas Merton
The church is God's world-changing social experiment of bringing unlikes and differents to the Eucharist/Communion table to share life with one another as a new kind of family. When this happens we show to the world what love, justice, peace, reconciliation, and life together is designed by God to be. The church is God's show-and-tell for the world to see how God wants us to live as a blended, global, polypluralistic family united with one will, by one Lord, and baptized by one Spirit. – anon
The cross that is planted at the heart of the history of the world cannot be uprooted. - Jacques Ellul
The Unity in whose loving presence the universe unfolds is inside each person as a call to welcome the stranger, protect animals and the earth, respect the dignity of each person, think new thoughts, and help bring about ecological civilizations. - John Cobb & Farhan A. Shah
If you board the wrong train it is of no use running along the corridors of the train in the other direction. - Dietrich Bonhoeffer
God's justice is restorative rather than punitive; His discipline is merciful rather than punishing; His power is made perfect in weakness; and His grace is sufficient for all. – anon
Our little [biblical] systems have their day; they have their day and cease to be. They are but broken lights of Thee, and Thou, O God art more than they. - Alfred Lord Tennyson
We can’t control God; God is uncontrollable. God can’t control us; God’s love is uncontrolling! - Thomas Jay Oord
Life in perspective but always in process... as we are relational beings in process to one another so life events are in process in relation to each event... as God is to Self, is to world, is to us... like Father, like sons and daughters, like events... life in process yet always in perspective. - R.E. Slater

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Weakness of the Evangelical Ethos in its Present Day Form

Without openness to curiosity, imagination, or theological exploration the Christian faith harms itself. It cannot both be highly suspicious of critical thought in theology, biblical studies, philosophy, etc, and yet pretend to keep its currency in contemporary dialog. The one requires the other else withdraws into its own cloistered communities of the "ins" and the "outs". Evangelical Christianity has become this latter thing which now harms its very foundations.

R.E. Slater
February 13, 2019



The Dark Side of Evangelicalism
by Roger Olson
February 12, 2019
"Suffice it to say that evangelical intellectuals have always found themselves somewhat on the defensive and rarely applauded. By “intellectual” I mean a person given to critical inquiry even about his or her own religious (or other) commitments." - RO

Here, in this essay, by “evangelicalism” I do not mean any particular evangelical movement but what I have described as the “evangelical ethos”—a broad and inclusive spiritual-theological form of Christianity defined by the so-called “Bebbington quadrilateral”: conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism. I have expounded these here much in the past, so I will refrain from doing so again. Anyone interested can simply look up the “Bebbington quadrilateral” and read about evangelical Christianity—not as a particular movement (the ethos is shared by many movements) but as the spiritual-theological ethos that grew especially out of the Pietist movement in Germany and Scandinavia as well as Great Britain and spread throughout the world.

The ethos of which I speak always existed in Christianity but came especially to the fore in and with a series of “awakenings” among (mostly) Protestant Christians beginning in the early 18th century. However, once it was recognized as a distinct form of Christian life people recognized its precursors in the radical Reformation (e.g., the Swiss Brethren) and among some Puritans.

I have described and promoted this evangelical spiritual-theological Christian ethos in my books, articles, and here. For the most part I have attempted to clear up misconceptions about it, especially the one that regards it as political which it is not and never has been. (Although, of course, as with any movement many both inside and outside the movements marked by the ethos have attempted to hijack it for their political causes.)

*Sidebar: The opinions expressed here are my own (or those of the guest writer); I do not speak for any other person, group or organization; nor do I imply that the opinions expressed here reflect those of any other person, group or organization unless I say so specifically. Before commenting read the entire post and the “Note to commenters” at its end.* - RO

I am unapologetically evangelical—so long as I can explain what I mean by that. I do not regard myself as part of any particular evangelical movement as I once did. For many years I identified myself with the American post-World War 2 post-fundamentalist, “neo-evangelical” movement associated especially with the National Association of Evangelicals and the Billy Graham ministries and related organizations. (For more about this particular evangelical movement read Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism by historian Joel A. Carpenter (Oxford University Press, 1997). However, I think that evangelical movement is dead. Remnants and relics of it exist, but as a relatively cohesive movement it is gone.

In case I need to say this—in my opinion (and that of most scholars of evangelicalism—the evangelical spiritual-theological ethos is not tied to any denomination or organization.

As a church historian-historical theologian, what do I regard as the weaknesses of the evangelical ethos? Of course, as a kind of Platonic essence, in its purity, I don’t think it has any weaknesses except certain tendencies it seems to carry along with it that have to be resisted because they automatically “pop up” among people who “catch” the ethos of evangelical Christianity (or are raised in it).

The first weakness I find is a tendency of evangelicals to lean toward anti-intellectualism. Evangelical historian Mark Noll examined and critiqued this so well in his book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Eerdmans, 1999) that I don’t feel the need to repeat that. Suffice it to say that evangelical intellectuals have always found themselves somewhat on the defensive and rarely applauded. By “intellectual” I mean a person given to critical inquiry even about his or her own religious (or other) commitments.

The second weakness I find is a tendency of evangelicals to succumb to hero-worship. By this I mean a tendency to identify men and women among themselves—past or present—who are placed on a pedestal as “especially spiritual” and expected to be immune to the vagaries of fallenness and given spiritual authority beyond that which any human (other than Jesus Christ) deserves.

The third weakness I find is a tendency of evangelicals to eschew organized efforts at social reconstruction to eliminate poverty, hunger and oppression. Oppression is a concept almost totally lacking among evangelicals—except the spiritual oppressions of Satan, sin and “the world.” Many evangelicals have been active in charitable work, community development, etc., but few have been actively involved in anti-poverty and anti-oppression programs of a political nature. Liberation theologies, for example, have been largely rejected by evangelicals as allegedly replacing “spiritual salvation” with “social salvation.”

The fourth weakness I find is a tendency of evangelicals to follow a “Christ against culture” approach (H. Richard Niebuhr) to the arts. By and large, with some exceptions, evangelicals have neglected the arts. Many are highly suspicious of the arts, as they are of critical thought (in theology, biblical studies, philosophy, etc.). This has been a notable tendency among evangelicals historically. There are exceptions, of course. I have written here before also about a seeming aversion to writing literary fiction from an evangelical perspective.

The fifth and final weakness (for now) is a tendency I find among evangelicals toward spiritual elitism—to the point of often believing that non-evangelical Christians are not authentically Christian or even saved. Especially in the past, but still to a very large extent, evangelical Christians have been conditioned to regard Catholics (to say nothing of Eastern Orthodox about which they tend to be ignorant) and “mainline Protestants” as false Christians and unsaved. The language of evangelicals has been that we/they are “Christians” and others are something else. This has hindered ecumenical understanding between evangelicals and other Christians.

Evangelical pastors, organizational leaders, institutional administrators, need to work to correct these tendencies and many do. However, what I have observed is that when they do they get “push back” from the evangelical grassroots. Many among the grassroots of evangelical Christianity have fundamentalist leanings that cause them still, in spite of not being fully fundamentalist, to label all such attempts by pastors, denominational leaders, college and university administrators as “on a liberal trajectory.”

These tendencies seem to be endemic to evangelical Christianity—with many outstanding exceptions. Unfortunately, the exceptions struggle to maintain an evangelical identity among evangelicals. They are often viewed with suspicion.

I struggle with the question of whether these weaknesses are actual endemic to evangelical Christianity or whether they could be overcome with success. I have seen them overcome with success in places, but often those “places” are marginalized by the evangelical constituents.

*Note to commenters: This blog is not a discussion board; please respond with a question or comment only to me. If you do not share my evangelical Christian perspective (very broadly defined), feel free to ask a question for clarification, but know that this is not a space for debating incommensurate perspectives/worldviews. In any case, know that there is no guarantee that your question or comment will be posted by the moderator or answered by the writer. If you hope for your question or comment to appear here and be answered or responded to, make sure it is civil, respectful, and “on topic.” Do not comment if you have not read the entire post and do not misrepresent what it says. Keep any comment (including questions) to minimal length; do not post essays, sermons or testimonies here. Do not post links to internet sites here. This is a space for expressions of the blogger’s (or guest writers’) opinions and constructive dialogue among evangelical Christians (very broadly defined). - RO


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What is an Evangelical?


Evangelicals take the Bible seriously and believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. The term “evangelical” comes from the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news” or the “gospel.” Thus, the evangelical faith focuses on the “good news” of salvation brought to sinners by Jesus Christ.

Evangelicals are a vibrant and diverse group, including believers found in many churches, denominations and nations. Our community brings together Reformed, Holiness, Anabaptist, Pentecostal, Charismatic and other traditions. As noted in the statement “Evangelicals — Shared Faith in Broad Diversity,” our core theological convictions provide unity in the midst of our diversity. 

The NAE Statement of Faith offers a standard for these evangelical convictions.

Historian David Bebbington also provides a helpful summary of evangelical distinctives, identifying four primary characteristics of evangelicalism:

  • Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus
  • Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
  • Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
  • Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity

These distinctives and theological convictions define us — not political, social or cultural trends. In fact, many evangelicals rarely use the term “evangelical” to describe themselves, focusing simply on the core convictions of the triune God, the Bible, faith, Jesus, salvation, evangelism and discipleship.

Defining Evangelicals in Research

Evangelicals are a common subject of research, but often the outcomes of that research vary due to differences in the methods used to identify evangelicals. In response to that challenge the NAE and LifeWay Research developed a tool to provide a consistent standard for identification of evangelical belief.

The NAE/LifeWay Research method includes four statements to which respondents must strongly agree to be categorized as evangelical:

  • The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
  • It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
  • Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
  • Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God’s free gift of eternal salvation.

Researchers are encouraged to use the method, with proper citation to NAE/LifeWay Research.



For Further Study


Charles J. Scalise, “What Does Fuller Mean by ‘Evangelical’?,” Fuller Theological Seminary, February 1, 2015.

David W. Bebbington, Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1930s (London: Unwin Hyman, 1989).

“Evangelical: What’s in a Name?,” Evangelicals Magazine, National Association of Evangelicals, Winter 2017/18.

“Evangelicals — Shared Faith in Broad Diversity,” National Association of Evangelicals, May 22, 2018.

Leith Anderson and Ed Stetzer, “Defining Evangelicals in an Election Year,” Christianity Today, March 2, 2016.

Leith Anderson and Ed Stetzer, “Who are Evangelicals & Where are They Headed?,” Today’s Conversation podcast, January 15, 2016.

Mark A. Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield, and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2003).




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What Is an “Evangelical?”

by Roger Olson
June 21, 2016

To learn quickly and simply what an “evangelical Christian” is you can do no better than peruse the web site of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) at www.nae.net. There, on the web site’s “front page” you will find links to such defining tools as the NAE Statement of Faith and answer to “What Is an Evangelical?”

The NAE does not claim to speak for all evangelical Christians, but it is far and away the most important and historically influential organization for uniting evangelical Christians in the U.S.A. for purposes of cooperation.

The reason I am posting this essay here is that my blog contains the word “evangelical” as part of my own self-definition. Due to the secular media’s ongoing misguided and misleading effort to define “evangelical” as a political posture people are naturally confused when they discover that I am a lifelong, “card carrying” evangelical and politically progressive—especially with regard to economic issues. I strongly believe in government redistribution of wealth such that many people would regard my political-economic posture as “socialism”—in the Northern European sense of the term. (My Scandinavian genes perhaps incline me that way, but I believe faith in Jesus Christ is the real reason for my belief in redistribution of wealth.)

The NAE adamantly rejects any identification of “evangelical” with a particular political ideology or even posture. Historically and theologically that is correct—even if most people in the United States who identify themselves to pollsters as “evangelical” also identify as conservative Republicans. Here is an analogy. Probably most people in the United States who identify themselves as “Unitarian” also would identify themselves to pollsters, if asked, as liberal Democrats. Historically-theologically, however, there is no necessary link between the two (viz., being Unitarian and being politically liberal).

My point is that if you consider the NAE as the major “voice” of evangelicals in the United States, as it was throughout the 1950s and beyond and still probably is (except for the secular media which has no “credentials” for defining “evangelical” historically-theologically), then there is no necessary connection between being evangelical and being conservative in the sense of supporting the goals and aims of the current Republican Party.

Again, the NAE does not pretend to speak for all evangelicals in the United States or elsewhere, but since its founding in 1942 it has served as the single most important “voice” for evangelicalism in the United States. Nobody in the NAE leadership would claim that a person or organization must belong to it or even agree with every single word or sentence in its Statement of Faith to be authentically evangelical. However, its Statement of Faith was carefully and cautiously crafted by the founders to be as inclusive as possible without being compatible with anything and everything. Denominations as diverse as the Christian Reformed Church and the Church of the Nazarene have been members. (Some evangelical denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention have never officially joined the NAE but have participated in its programs at a non-member level and sent non-voting “observers” to its board meetings.)

One of the NAE’s most important programs is its World Relief Commission that raises funds for suffering people around the world.

The NAE has had its “ups and downs” in recent years. Some of what has happened in it has saddened and even upset me. One president was ousted due to his strong suggestion that the NAE drop its policy that member denominations cannot also belong to the National Council of Churches. Another president was discovered to be secretly living a lifestyle incompatible with evangelical Christian morality (viz., paying a prostitute for sex). Every organization has problems from time to time, but I think the main reason for what many of us perceive as a decline in the influence of the NAE is the media’s constant identification of the concept “evangelical” with relatively extreme political, social and economic conservatism. This has caused many evangelicals in the U.S. to shy away from the very word “evangelical.”

I consider myself “evangelical” in the general sense of the word as defined by the NAE which shaped my early spiritual and theological formation. My uncle, with whom I was very close (and still am), was a member of the national board of the NAE for many years. When I was struggling to settle on a religious self-definition in my late teens and early twenties he and I had numerous conversations. I came to agree and identify with the broad evangelicalism of the NAE. Eventually I studied the history of the NAE. It was founded in 1942* to provide a cooperative “umbrella” for non-fundamentalist, non-liberal, gospel-centered Protestants in the United States. At its founding it included a diverse group of relatively conservative Protestants in the U.S.—ranging from the Presbyterians to Pentecostals. (*I have chosen 1942 for the NAE’s founding because that year falls between its initial exploratory meeting in 1941 and its first official convention in 1943. I believe the actual “birth” of the NAE can best be pegged to 1942.)

Over the years at least 50 distinct denominations have joined the NAE which also includes numerous individual churches and trans-denominational organizations. The current president is highly respected evangelical pastor Leith Anderson, by all descriptions a moderate theologically. (I have met him and heard him speak and we belonged to the same Baptist denomination for some years. He also served on the governing board of the college and seminary where I taught from 1984 to 1999. While I do not agree with everything he has done or said I consider him a good representative spokesperson for contemporary American evangelical Christianity. I wish more media people would turn to him instead of to certain neo-fundamentalists when they seek a resource to explain American evangelicalism.)

There is no single person or organization that speaks for all American evangelicals. In some sense evangelist Billy Graham was viewed by most American evangelicals as the main spokesman for them, even though he was never an “evangelical pope.” With Graham’s retirement many individuals calling themselves “evangelical” have attempted to replace him as the recognized spokesperson for American evangelicalism, but to date no one has achieved that recognition. Most of those wishing to be recognized as the spokesperson for American evangelicalism work out of theological orientations that would have been considered “fundamentalist” by the NAE’s founders.

I will end this blog post by coming around to where it began and its main purpose. If you want to know what “evangelical” means you can do no better than look at and examine the web site of the National Association of Evangelicals at www.nae.net. While I do not commit myself to agreeing to everything you find there, I still consider myself “evangelical” in that broad sense and I do not allow the popular media to define “evangelical” for me.


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