Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Westminster Wednesday: Trueman on Bog Standard Evangelicalism

The idiom, "bog standard," is of British origin, essentially meaning "ordinary." As an adjective to the term, "evangelicalism," it gains a positive connotation.

Carl Trueman writes:

"Now, I am a confessional Presbyterian, but at my core I am what, to use British idiom, we would call a bog-standard evangelical, nothing fancy, someone with a central commitment to what the seventeenth century divines would have called 'fundamental articles:' prosaic, simple stuff like the Trinity, the Chalcedonian definition, justification by faith, penal substitution, bodily resurrection, final judgement etc. Just your standard theological meat and potatoes - no doctrinal equivalents of your poncey ciabattas or effeminate moccacino espressos."

He goes on to express affection for this strain of evangelicalism, arguably the original and undefiled kind, an affinity which I share:

"I am not in the game of bashing evangelicals and evangelicalism - humanly speaking, I owe everything, almost all my theology, and much of my Christian nurture to such people. It wasn't the confessional Presbyterians who told me the gospel; it wasn't the confessional Lutherans who took the time to teach me the basics of the faith; it was the evangelicals. They cared enough to reach out to me and engage me. Yet evangelicalism at an institutional level seems to have been hijacked, not by the kind of decent, orthodox people who taught me the faith, but by a group of people who are happy to use the institutions and the market of evangelicalism to give themselves a power base, but who seem to despise precisely the kind of basic evangelicalism which I have loved and to which I owe so much."

But what of the prevailing meaning attached to "evangelcalism?" He states:

"The way evangelicalism now functions is that it has weakened the church. Because it requires the marginalizing of ecclesiastical distinctives such as views on baptism and church government, evangelicalism and its institutions cannot, in theory, replace the church. Furthermore, the whole problem of accountability is a hardy perennial for parachurch organizations, from seminaries to academic fellowships like the Evangelical Theological Society. The problem is that, in practice, evangelical institutions come to supplant the church, even though they are not designed to fulfill that role. For some they become the key theatres of action, the forums in which little fish can be big shots, and the deviant and heretical can flourish without proper accountability. For others they become the primary centres of Christian identity, the reason why they become evangelicals first, and Presbyterian or Baptist or Pentecostal only second. This, I suspect, is the reason why bog-standard evangelicals such as myself get labeled as anti-evangelical and, ironically, as sectarian when we put our denominational, church affiliation in front - not because we are anti-church but precisely because we are pro-church and will not allow our bog-standard evangelicalism to supplant that. I am an evangelical precisely because I am first of all a Presbyterian, and the beliefs of bog standard evangelicalism are a subset of the beliefs of Presbyterianism. Ironically, I suspect in some quarters I am now a sectarian not simply because I put Presbyterianism first but because I also put doctrinal commitment ahead of a nebulous bumper-sticker commitment to 'just love Jesus.'"

In conclusion:

"So I hope this clarifies my position on evangelicalism. I refuse the binary opposition which makes me either an evangelical first, last and only; or a denominationalist who sits in his study taking supercilious potshots at those who do their best to share the gospel with those who need to hear it. Bog standard evangelicalism: I love it; I owe almost everything to it; and I am saddened at the way it has slowly but surely been evacuated of all of its basic and beautiful theology by those who are interested in drawing pay checks and power from its institutions, and performing on its stages, while at the same time dripping spittle on its theological heritage, from the doctrine of the Trinity to justification by grace through faith as understood by the Protestant confessional consensus to basic biblical teaching on homosexuality. And, of course, the problem with these charlatans is not simply a lack of theology; it is a lack of integrity."

Find the full article here.

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