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In this excerpt from my book The Evangelical and The Open Theist, I discuss the evangelical understanding of Scripture.
evangelical understanding of scripture

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What follows is, with minor modifications, an excerpt from my book The Evangelical and The Open Theist.

The story of evangelicalism is one of complex theological development and expression. Through the years, the term evangelical has carried a wide range of meanings.[1]

Modern evangelicalism is by no means a monolithic movement. Nonetheless, across the spectrum, its foundational beliefs lie in its affirmation of three major theological principles.

(1) the complete reliability and final authority of Scripture in matters of faith and practice; (2) the necessity of a personal faith in Jesus Christ…and (3) the urgency of seeking actively the conversion of sinners to Christ.[2]

The first principle is the most pertinent to the question at hand. Still, the implications of open theism touch on the second and third principles as well.

An Evangelical Understanding of Scripture

The great diversity among evangelicals makes any effort to define the evangelical understanding of Scripture difficult.

Nonetheless, evangelicals have at various times come together to formulate statements of faith. These statements are distinctive enough to differentiate themselves from other groups—such as Roman Catholics and liberal Protestants. They are nonetheless broad enough to leave the interpretation of such statements to the individual.

InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, for example, affirms the “unique divine inspiration, entire trustworthiness and authority of the Bible.” This affirmation leaves great room for interpretation, typical of many such attempts to define evangelical bibliology.[3]

There may be disagreements among evangelicals regarding terminology. Evangelicals may, for example, define “divine inspiration,” “entire trustworthiness,” and “authority of the Bible,” differently. Nonetheless, the common strand binding all evangelicals together is a high view of the authority and reliability of Scripture in matters of faith and practice.[4]

Claiming The Title of Evangelical

Recent years have witnessed a debate over who can legitimately claim the title “evangelical.” Issues ranging from evolution to conditional immortality have forced evangelicals to reevaluate where to draw the line between evangelicalism and broader Christian thought. Nowhere has this trend more clearly manifested itself than in the intense, emotionally-charged debate surrounding open theism.

Yet, the difficulty associated with defining the term “evangelical” makes drawing such boundaries arduous. Indeed, it unclear how we can question evangelicalism’s compatibility with all but the most blatantly unorthodox Protestant theologies. Consequently, determining the place—or lack thereof—of open theology within the evangelical tent requires the establishment of a basic understanding of what it means to be an evangelical.

The Bible and The Evangelical Understanding

Evangelicals readily agree that they hold a high view of Scripture. What constitutes a high view of Scripture, however, is a matter open to debate. Yet, to evaluate the legitimacy of open theism as an evangelical school of thought, a basic grasp of the evangelical understanding of Scripture is essential.

Therefore, in this chapter, I will outline the basic evangelical approach to Scripture. By doing so, I hope to assess its compatibility with open theism.[5] The best way to grasp the evangelical understanding of the Christian Scriptures is to evaluate how self-professing evangelicals have themselves defined that understanding.

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[1] For the purposes of this book, I use the term evangelical as it generally appears within modern Western culture and scholarship. The term has been applied in other parts of the world to all Christians who are not Roman Catholic and during the Reformation to distinguish the followers of Martin Luther from those of John Calvin. Richard Quebedeaux, The Young Evangelicals: The Story of the Emergence of a New Generation of Evangelicals (New York: Harper and Row, 1974), 3. All other uses of the term, as well as its association with neo-evangelicalism, are outside the scope of this book.

Because of the nature of the debate, the word evangelical here and throughout this book refers to those holding to some form of sola scriptura and the 66 book canon of the Protestant Bible. It, therefore, excludes Roman Catholics claiming the title.

Furthermore, it is important to note that the terms evangelical and fundamentalist are not synonymous. The fundamentalist movement is more narrow and hardline in its definition of the faith. In fact, a former President of Fuller Theological Seminary labeled fundamentalism “orthodoxy gone cultic.” Richard J. Moux, The Smell of Sawdust: What Evangelicals Can Learn from Their Fundamentalist Heritage (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 39. The Fundamentals, a series of essays compiled over several years in the early twentieth-century, adequately defines its positions.

In contrast to fundamentalism, evangelicalism allows, for example, for an historical-critical study of Scripture. (See generally the writings of George Ladd). Opposition to historical-critical study of Scripture is a central foundation of the fundamentalist movement. While the fundamentalist movement may have influenced modern evangelicalism, drastic differences between fundamentalist presuppositions and evangelical scholarly methodology make the study of fundamentalism unnecessary for the task at hand.

[2] Quebedeaux, 3-4.

An Evangelical Understanding of Scripture

[3] J. I. Packer and Thomas C. Oden, One Faith: The Evangelical Consensus (Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 2004), 21. Unless otherwise noted, all references throughout this chapter to the various evangelical statements of faith—except the Westminster Confession of Faith—are quoted as they appear in Packer and Oden, 39-57.

[4] Where possible, I refer to evangelicals as holding to a “high view” of Scripture. I do so in an attempt to avoid the intense emotional and academic baggage more exclusive terms, such as inerrancy and infallibility, carry. Debates regarding the proper terminology—with their complex nuances and varying implications—to associate with the evangelical view of Scripture are outside the scope of this book.

I do not, however, mean to suggest that non-evangelicals, such as Roman Catholics or Eastern Orthodox Christians, do not hold a high view of Scripture. Instead, this is intended to contrast evangelicals with liberal Protestants. The contrast between the two schools of thought is beyond the scope of the work. The purpose is merely to establish an essential evangelical baseline and then determine open theism’s compatibility therewith.

The Bible and The Evangelical Understanding

[5] This book has no interest in proving the validity of either evangelicalism or open theism as they stand alone, only in determining their compatibility with one another.

See Also:

Open Theism and The Evangelical

The Nature of Scripture


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