Magazine article The Christian Century

Identity Check

Magazine article The Christian Century

Identity Check

Article excerpt

MAINLINERS ARE NOT the only ones worrying about an eroding theological identity. A group of evangelical theologians recently produced a 3,000-word document designed to present the evangelical understanding of the gospel and to identify some of the ways evangelicals have distorted or misconstrued the good news. "We are living in a time when evangelicals choose their churches based on music style or specialized ministries rather than doctrine or biblical content," laments David Neff of Christianity Today. "The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration," which appeared in CT earlier this month along with a preface by Neff (titled "A Call to Evangelical Unity"), seeks to articulate with some precision the understanding of the Christian message that unites evangelicals.

The document is clearly the work of theologians who think the experiential, activist, pragmatic, entrepreneurial side of American evangelicalism needs to be more firmly grounded in Reformed doctrine (or at least a selective reading of Reformed doctrine). Since American evangelicalism has always been a diverse quilt, a stitched-together movement of Pentecostals, charismatics, pietists and revivalists, as well as defenders of Reformed orthodoxy, it will be interesting to see whether the document indeed serves to rally the troops or whether it brings to the surface some old and perhaps some new conflicts.

Neff notes that "some parts of this document sound like a reprise of themes from the 16th century." Indeed they do. So much so that one wonders whether the statement has any deep resonance with contemporary evangelical concerns.

Much attention is given, for example, to the substitutionary theory of atonement--Christ's death as a "propitiatory" sacrifice which vicariously satisfies the retributive demands of divine justice, a penalty that would otherwise have been meted out to humans. …

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