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An Evangelical from the Evangelical Church Talks About Evangelicalism

Written by: on January 10, 2018

If Evangelicals are are into conversionism (the belief that lives need to be changed), activism (the expression of the Gospel in effort), biblicism (a particular regard for the Bible), and crucicentrism (a stress on the sacrifice of Christ) [1], then I am one of them!

If Evangelicals hang their hats on justification (the forgiving of our sins through the atoning death of Christ), and new birth (the renewing of our fallen human nature at the time of conversion) [2], then I am one of them!

If Evangelicals give priority to evangelism over everything else (even worship) [3], then I might be one of them. I happen to believe us Evangelicals are so consumed about “conversions” that we completely neglect “discipleship”. We argue repeatedly about “once saved always saved” and brag about who prayed the sinners prayer, or raised their hand during an invitation. Seems to me, God is the only one who can sort out who was saved and who was not saved or IF they were saved. I was commanded to MAKE DISCIPLES, not converts, so that is what I have attempted to answer my call to do.

I would be lying if I told you every person I have led to Christ in the past 15 years is still following Jesus. Don’t get me wrong, I believe angels rejoice in heaven when lost souls are converted. But conversion is only one of the important parts of discipleship. So is baptism, healing, and sanctification (a cleansing of the inside I have experienced more than once–with profanity, victory over an addiction, or a transformed thought life).

[4]

I’m a theological MUTT. Growing up, my next door neighbors on one side were Catholic, on the other side they were Jewish. My parents belonged to, and brought our family to, the Presbyterian Church, but sent us kids to a Dutch Reformed high school. I attended a Nazarene college, but am ordained in the Evangelical Church. I meet regularly with Pastors who are Lutherans, Assembly of God, Congregational, Baptist, etc.

I learned at an early age not to pick sides. I just wanted to be known as a Christian, which I simply learned was a “Christ Follower”–not just a fan of Jesus, nor a scholar of Jesus, but a DISCIPLE of Jesus! I noticed I was a transformed person in real relationship with Jesus, who surrendered my will to His, and actually FOLLOWED Him. So, when the Holy Spirit put up a stop sign, I tried to obey what I was taught the Bible said to do. Childlike in my faith, God allowed me not to be caught up in centuries old arguments. Then I became a Pastor…

My mom taught me Luke 9:23, “Deny yourself, take up your cross (daily), and follow me.” [5] Seemed to me that this one verse didn’t allow for much denominational arguments. It is common ground even John Calvin, John Wesley and Jacob Arminius could agree upon. A life of surrender, submission and sacrifice.

I fully respected the quote by Bebbington from William Wilberforce, “That I myself am no Calvinist, though I am not either an anti-Calvinist.” [6] If the many reviews of the totality of Bebington’s many books are correct, then he is an author to be listened to, even though he may be quite dry. For sure, his books have endured many decades of readership.

 

 

 

 

[7]

 

But, let’s dial this in a notch, use our critical thinking skills like we have been taught, and capture an important lesson from last semester. To do this, I would like to use Bebbington’s comment regarding Scripture where he said, “Yet, in the period up to that date (1816), there was no attempt to elaborate any theory of infallibility or inerrancy.” [8] Whoa! Did he just say the accuracy of Scripture was not questioned until the late 1800’s? Does that mean for about 17 centuries the followers of Jesus didn’t doubt Scripture was God-breathed and Holy Spirit-inspired, without error?

Who do we think we are to question the inerrancy of Scripture, in just the past TWO centuries, compared to the prior SEVENTEEN? Are we that arrogant to think we have some new revelation that the events in Scripture didn’t really happen–that they were just meant to be figurative?

Our college Chaplain at the place I served as Athletic Director and Vice-President stood up in front of the entire student body and proclaimed Noah’s Ark was just a fairy tale, that the flood was never meant to be taken literally, and that Scripture was full of good stories that never happened.  You thought the room in Cape Town huffed when “God is Queer” was mentioned–the collective gasp of our Chaplain’s audience was deafening when she further explained the many supposed errors in God’s Holy Word.

Everyone might be a Theologian [9], but certainly not all Theologies are equal [10], as Grenz and Olson taught us in WHO NEEDS THEOLOGY? AN INVITATION TO THE STUDY OF GOD. Where do we draw the line with inerrancy, inspiration and Biblical accuracy? If the flood didn’t happen, why would we be given the promise of the rainbow? And if we go around spouting the Bible is full of “good stories” then which writings are to be taken literally and which are to be taken metaphorically? BECAUSE THE BIBLE DOESN’T EXPLAIN THAT ONE TO US! Did Daniel survive the lion’s den, did Moses see a burning bush, did Peter escape chains and locks from prison? Or even bigger, did Jesus heal the sick, cast out demons, and the biggest question of them all–did the resurrection happen as it was written? I believe literally, they did!

That is why I finish with another good quote from Bebbington’s book from Edward Bickersteth, “The Bible is altogether TRUE…It is truth without any mixture of error.” [11]

If Evangelicals relate to this higher regard of the Bible (that all Spiritual truth is to be found in its pages) [12], then I am definitely one of them!

 

[1] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2015. Loc. 108.

[2] Ibid., Loc 112.

[3] Ibid., Loc. 144.

[4] Eckhardt, Brian. “Evangelical Church Logo.” Theevangelicalchurch.org. January 01, 2003. Accessed January 08, 2018.

[5] Barker, Kenneth L. Zondervan NIV Study Bible: New International Version. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008. Luke 9:23.

[6] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2015. Loc. 458.

[7] Rupert, Michael. What is an Evangelical? Glasgow, Scotland: Tron Church, 27 June 2011.

[8] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2015. Loc. 376.

[9] Grenz, Stanley J., and Roger E. Olson. Who Needs Theology? an Invitation to the Study of God. Downers Grove, IL, USA: InterVarsity Press, 1996. Loc 48.

[10] Ibid., Loc. 155.

[11] Bebbington, David W. Evangelicalism in Modern Britain: A History from the 1730s to the 1980s. London: Routledge, 2015. Loc. 376.

[12] Ibid., Loc 347.

About the Author

mm

Jay Forseth

Superintendent of the Western Conference of the Evangelical Church. Blessed with 28 years as the husband of my amazing wife who I can't make it without. Now three of four in our family are attending University, but both my children are way smarter than me.

8 responses to “An Evangelical from the Evangelical Church Talks About Evangelicalism”

  1. mm Jennifer Williamson says:

    Hey Jay, thanks for this post. Nice job bringing together elements from past reading.

    As far as the inerrency issue is concerned, I understood it differently than you did. I understood that the question of divine inspiration was not hotly debated until the early 1800s, when controversies arose around the Apocrypha and OT prophecies. But Bebbington writes that when people started trying to take prophecies concerning the Jews literally, this was a departure from the typical Evangelical interpretation. He writes, “Evangelical commentators had customarily argued that the prophecies of the Old Testament should be read spiritually, not literally” (p 168). He goes on to say that “innovations in the field of prophecy and the understanding of scripture went hand in hand” (p 169). The study of eschatlogy wasn’t even a thing until the 19th century, as Evangelicals started to reinterpret OT prophecies and apply them to the Church. Arguments over literal vs. figurative interpretations of scripture led to debates about divine inspiration and inerrency. But my understanding (and I could be wrong!) was that it wasn’t so much that everyone believed the Bible was inerrant and divinely inspired before the 1800s, but rather, that as criticism and rationalism took hold within the greater culture, Fundamentalists pushed back by doubling down on these beliefs.

    I mean, I’m sure the Corinthians thought Paul was a great a guy and everything, but when they got his letter, I doubt they believed it was the inerrant word of God. And even if you look at the messy, non-linear, canonization process, being “the inspired, inerrant word of God” was not one of the critera for the books that were included.

    In other words, I understood Bebbington to be saying that inerrancy just wasn’t a critical question until the 19c. I don’t think that necessarily means that up until then everyone believed that the Bible was inerrant and inspired.

    Please do not hear me saying that I, personally, do not believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God. I believe that the Bible was inspired and even that the canonization process also must have been divinely influenced. But I think that the idea of “inerrancy” was actually a newer idea that was introduced in the 1800s, and something that was not actually an issue before.

    • mm Jay Forseth says:

      Great dialog Jenn! Don’t worry, I did not hear you say anything against the Bible being the inspired word of God.

      My biggest thought issue critically with this whole topic is where do we draw the line? God does not say what should be interpreted literally, and what should be interpreted spiritually, as you put it. That is the rub of the issue for me, so I have decided to err on the side of literal interpretation, because I don’t want to err on the side of taking something figuratively (like hell) that certainly could be meant as really literal.

      Thanks again for talking, I like what you wrote!

  2. mm M Webb says:

    Jay,

    Great opening and good use of ethnographic images to tell your story about how you connect to evangelicalism! Regarding your statement on “neglecting discipleship” I have also noted that in many evangelical churches. That same neglect, not making disciples, bleeds over into my thesis, not equipping the body to defend in spiritual warfare.

    Your rant about Biblical inerrancy is encouraging. I come across the same, “oh that is just metaphorical” thoughts sometimes to critics of the armor of God. Unfortunately, many of those critics are within the pastoral and missionary fields, which is not surprising since those saints are the primary targets Satan will engage to ensure their witness and testimony are faulty and discredits the whole of evangelicalism.

    Stand firm,

    M. Webb

  3. Chris Pritchett says:

    Hey Jay- Thank you very much for your thoughtful and passionate post! You are not only smart, but wise in how you carved through all the muck of evangelicalism and denominationalism and went to the heart of it all- Jesus. Thank you for this. Sometimes I get too hung up on labels and categories when Jesus himself just cuts through all of that. I’m also with you in regards to affirming the core emphases of evangelicalism. Regarding inerrancy and infallibility of scripture, if I had to put my cards on the table, then I would affirm the infallibility of scripture but not its inerrancy. Frankly, somewhat like you, I find the whole conversation about inerrancy to miss the point of scripture’s purpose. I think the conversation about inerrancy is the devil’s playground to distract us from the transforming power of the text by standing over it to judge and analyze. Instead, as in pre-Enlightenment, pre-critical engagement with the text, we are meant to be under it, to be formed and shaped by it, to imagine our lives both bound and free to improvise in the narrative of scripture. I don’t think pre-critical folks were asking the same scientific questions of the Bible as moderns, but they also seemed more clear on the purpose of Scripture- to form a community of Christ-followers to live Christianly in the world with God. It seems that when we’re clear on this purpose, we don’t need to use it to predict the future, nor to tell the science of creation, nor to try to prove the existence of God, but to tell the story of God and humanity and to find our lives in it. I love to tell the story!

  4. Happy new year, Jay.

    This is a great conversation. Thanks for introducing it.

    I was going to say something along the lines of what Chris wrote, but really, he did a better job, so I’ll leave it at that.

    Let’s go back to your quote: My mom taught me Luke 9:23, “Deny yourself, take up your cross (daily), and follow me.” I love that you use this as a core belief that reduces all of the wrangling about theology, inerrancy, and Biblical criticism down to “are you following Jesus”? Thank you for highlighting this key reminder. It aligns in an interesting way with my life verse I quoted in Jason’s blog comments… “Today if you hear His voice, don’t harden your hearts as you did in the desert…” Taking up your cross daily, listening intently every moment to that still, small voice… these are the true marks of a follower of Jesus.

  5. mm Dan Kreiss says:

    Jay,

    I love your openness and honesty. One of my favorite quotes about scripture is by a woman named Barbara Brown Taylor. She is not really discussing biblical inerrancy but makes this statement regarding Jacob wrestling with God during the night; “I knew it was true whether it actually happened or not.” For her the truths of the Scripture is not something to be argued over as if any of us could ultimately determine whether or not any historical events described there or anywhere actually happened as described. But the truth of those events, particularly as it relates to Scripture, that is another matter altogether. Perhaps the energy wasted on biblical inerrancy is akin to that regarding ‘once saved always saved’ etc. Those arguments tend to cloud the real issue of becoming a genuine disciple of Jesus. I would not say that I hold to a ‘liberal’ view of Scripture any more than I would say you could label me an ‘inerrantist’. For me both of those terms confuse the issue and hide the truth that can be found there. What do you think?

  6. mm Trisha Welstad says:

    Jay, thanks for your thoughtful engagement of Bebbington and last semester’s texts. I am glad for your willingness to bring into the conversation the questions of infallibility verses inerrancy, in part for the dialogue in the comments. It is challenging to navigate and in response to your dialogue with Jenn, I wonder if we have to approach the text every time with a mind and heart to hear from the Spirit and do good scholarly work and sometimes we will be guided in a different direction than we expected, while the authority of God and the Bible remains in tact. I know that is not much of a question and more of a comment but I do know that some of the students I have worked with have had the same questions and worry that in questioning one thing we then have to question everything and we end up on a slippery slope and eventually God is just another god. I think there is more critical thinking to do and more maturity over time as we approach the text to not either keep or throw everything out in the way of making all either black/white or straight gray haze.

  7. Greg says:

    Jaye,

    I appreciate that your blog has produced a great discussion. I like that our cohort, with the many backgrounds and views, can have open and honest discussion in love and understanding.

    I will simply say that to those on all sides if we ever feel we have it all figured out, we are not open to the Lord teaching us new and exciting lessons.

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