May 20, 2007

Evangelicals and Other Christian Traditions

Evangelicals certainly aren't the only Christians. Christianity is made up of a diversity of views and emphases, embodied in numerous denominations, and embodied in various strems of thought that transcend these. One way of look at these is to characterize them broadly as "catholic," "liberal," and "evangelical." Now these certainly don't exhaust the diversity of Christianity (Orthodox Christianity is conspicuously absent), they may provide helpful ways of thinking about who we are and how we think. So how do evangelicals think about people from other streams of thought? Are they the enemy? Are they totally wrong? Maybe they aren't even Christians at all? I think this is a question that must be faced, squarely.

Too often, evangelicals get caught up in the question of who is in and who is out. It would sometimes seem that that is the primary pasttime of the Evangelical Theological Society (or at least one of its favorite diversions), as the row over Francis Beckwith this past month has made plain.

I was reading this morning from a letter by Andrew Goddard from Fulcrum, part of a dialogue between Andrew Goddard and Giles Goddard on the issues facing Anglicanism today. And he speaks insightfully about these streams of tradition, and how evangelicals should view them:

"I am an evangelical by conviction through commitment to such matters as the supreme authority of Scripture, the centrality of the cross and Christ's atoning death, the priority of mission including evangelism and the call for conversion. I am an Anglican by conviction not only because I see those central evangelical marks as central to Anglicanism. It is also because, as an evangelical Christian seeking to be faithful to Scripture, the church is also important and I am aware those evangelical emphases on their own can and have led to some evangelicals losing sight of this and other important aspects of Christian belief and discipleship.

"Anglicans from a 'catholic' tradition remind me of the importance of the whole church and Christian tradition (not least for reading of Scripture) and the need to set my evangelical emphases in the context of worship and relate Word to sacrament. 'Liberals' remind me I need to be open to new insights and developments, to question received wisdom and not (in Archbishop Rowan's words) 'close down unexpected questions too quickly'. They also (as you note through reference to human rights) have a passion for justice and require me to take seriously the social, political and intellectual contexts of both Scripture and our contemporary mission field.

"To be honest I think all of these are also part of evangelicalism at its best but as evangelicalism is - like all human traditions - rarely at its best I'm grateful to be in an Anglican Communion where other traditions can often more faithfully bear witness to these features of following Jesus."

Well put.

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