Hey all Catholic Answers friends. I notice that the topic of “what is an Protestant evangelical Christian?” pops up around here frequently. I always try to do my part to offer insight as best I can, but I admit, my attempted definitions often leave me unsatisfied as being too convoluted. That’s why I’m always on the look out for people who define Evangelicalism in accessible and understandable terms. I was delighted reading evangelical theologian Roger E. Olson’s blog post “Who’s a ‘Real Evangelical?’”
Olson begins by locating Evangelicalism within the spectrum of Protestant orthodoxy: “Protestants who take Christian orthodoxy seriously–trinitarian Christians who believe in justification by grace through faith alone” and the other Reformation solas (Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, through Christ alone, to the glory of God alone).
What distinguishes evangelicals from other orthodox Protestants is what is known as the “evangelical quadrilateral.” First, there is Conversionism, as Olson explains:
Evangelicals are (mostly) Protestant orthodox Christians (orthodox as defined by the Nicene faith in the deity of Christ and the Trinity and by the Reformation solas) who believe that authentic Christian existence necessarily includes being converted to Christ–an experience (whether felt as an experience or not) of transformation from a life of sin and self to a life of repentance and faith in Jesus Christ through which one is brought by the Holy Spirit into “new creation” (justification and regeneration). In other words, nobody is “saved” by being born into a certain nation-state or family or church or through any sacrament or ritual without personal commitment to Christ.
The next hallmark of Evangelicalism is Biblicism, on which Olson remarks:
Evangelicals are also people . . . who have a special regard for the Bible as God’s written, inspired, authoritative Word whose authority stands above tradition and experience–the highest “court of appeal,” so to speak, for faith and practice. Some evangelicals think the Bible must be “inerrant” to be authoritative, but they disagree among themselves about what “inerrancy” means. I agree with those who define the Bible’s perfection as “perfect with respect to purpose” (e.g., John Piper). Evangelicals also have a special relationship with the Bible as not only a textbook of correct doctrine but also as God’s living Word to be read devotionally–a sacrament, if you will, of God’s gracious love.
Cross-centered devotion and preaching (or Crucicentrism) is another hallmark of Evangelicalism:
Evangelicals are also people who bring nothing to God in their “hands,” so to speak, but cling only to the cross as their sole hope in life and death (for having a living relationship with God that includes forgiveness and acceptance). Evangelicals have a special place in their hearts and minds and worship and devotion for the cross. The atonement of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and trusted as humanity’s only hope for peace with God and for a meaning filled life in relation with God. For evangelicals the cross, the atonement of Jesus Christ that happened there, is the centerpiece of devotion and proclamation.
Then there is Activism, described by Olson in the following way:
Evangelicals are also people who believe in and practice Christian activism to approximate the Kingdom of God among people through missions, evangelism and social action. They disagree among themsleves about the best means and possible ends (within history as we know it before Christ returns), but they agree as evangelicals that God calls them to be active in the world for the cause of God.
Any thoughts? What are the weaknesses and strengths you find within Evangelicalism as you understand it (but please if your definition differs from Olson’s, let us know so we’re all on the same page;)).