Evangelicals take their name from the koine Greek word euangelion, translated into English as "good news" and also known as "the evangel." It is from the evangel or gospel that evangelicals derive their identity. In the past fifty or so years, cracks have appeared in the definition of what it means to be an evangelical, which is why The Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism was written to help its readers understand "evangelicalism's diverse spectrum" (216).
Kevin Bauder, the first contributor, is a "fundamentalist" who believes that evangelicalism should be defined by minimal and maximal Christian fellowship. Minimal Christian fellowship is based on the fundamentals of the faith. Maximal Christian fellowship focuses on the fact that while Christians are united by the Word of God and can fellowship with other Christians on a minimal level, they must "limit their cooperation" on other levels and separate "from Christian leaders who will not separate from apostates" (37, 40).
Albert Mohler, the second contributor, argues that evangelicalism should be "confessional," because it can be defined as a "coherent movement only if it is also known for what it is not, because these boundaries help one to be clear about what the gospel is and is not" (95’96). This will help Christians avoid divisiveness over issues secondary to the gospel. Reformed or Presbyterian readers may wonder why a Reformed or Presbyterian theologian wasn't asked to articulate the "confessional" view of evangelicalism. As a Southern Baptist, Dr. Mohler adheres to the confession of faith of the Southern Baptist Convention, namely, the Baptist Faith and Message 2000. In order to teach at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, professors have to adhere to the "Abstract of Principles," a document written in 1858 by John A. Broadus, James Petigru Boyce, and Basil Manly, Jr. "The Abstract of Principles" is based on the Second London Confession, which is a Baptist revision of the Westminster Confession. Mohler's confessional view of evangelicalism may not satisfy Presbyterians entirely, but his position is representative of a growing number of Calvinistic Baptists who want to recover a more vigorous theology for the evangelical
The third contributor is John Stackhouse whose chapter is on "generic evangelicalism." He states that evangelicalism cannot be defined, because "the definition of authentic and healthy Christian is inherently contestable" (141). The final contributor, Roger Olson, argues for what some call "big tent evangelicalism," because he sees the movement as having "no definable
While each view attempts to provide support for its respective positions, I was prompted to consider the importance of "Calvinism" to what it means to be evangelical. The Princeton theologian B. B. Warfield once asserted that evangelicalism "stands or falls with Calvinism" (quoted in Arthur C. Custance, The Sovereignty of Grace [Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1979], 83’84).
By evangelicalism, he meant the term as used during the Protestant Reformation: a church founded on the gospel, the good news of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus. The "Calvinism" in view referred to the insistence on justification by grace alone, through faith alone, because of Christ alone. Evangelicalism stands for the gospel, and Calvinism stands for grace. Warfield was pointing out what every Christian should and must believe: the gospel stands or falls by grace. Warfield recognized that "the gospel" is not really the gospel unless it is a gospel of grace, which means the gospel is only good news if it announces what God has done to save sinners. If that is true, then the gospel of grace stands or falls with the
doctrines of grace.
Turning to additional sources, the most helpful way to think through what it means to be an evangelical is to understand the theological categories of catholic, evangelical, and Reformed. In For Calvinism (Zondervan, 2011), Michael Horton points out that "there is only the Christian faith, which is founded on the teachings of the prophets and apostles, with Jesus Christ as its cornerstone" (25). First, "all Christians are catholic’that is, a living expression of Christ's visible church that affirms the ecumenical creeds on the basis of Scripture" (27). Second, evangelicals are those who "believe, confess, and spread the good news of God's saving work in Jesus Christ" (27). Finally, the keys of the Reformation are Scripture alone (sola scriptura), salvation by grace alone (sola gratia) in Christ alone (solo Christo), through faith alone (sola fide). Consequently, all of the glory goes to God alone (soli Deo gloria). "Every distinctive feature of Reformed theology or Calvinism is aimed at clarifying and defending this evangelical core of Christianity, with the goal of reconciling sinners to God in Christ for true worship of the triune God" (28). This is what led Dr. Thomas Nettles to claim that "the purest and most consistent expression of evangelicalism resides within the halls of Calvinism."
Regardless of how one views the evangelical movement, Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism will help its readers think through which version of evangelicalism they relate to: fundamentalism, baptistic confessionalism, generic evangelicalism, or postconservative evangelicalism. This debate is not trivial, nor is it merely academic. As all evangelicals will give an account for how we respond to the evangel, we need to heed Paul's teaching in Philippians 1:27: "Conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ."