Two things deserve credit for this post. First, my good friend Andrew Williams recently wrote a post on his blog titled “Can We Stop Trying to Be Evangelicals?” that in many ways served as a catalyst for this post. I agree with much of what Andrew said in that post regarding the tendency away from a dynamic expectation of the work of the Spirit in the church by a new generation of adherents and consider his point a good one. But I was a little troubled by the title, mostly because I know that many of my fellow Pentecostals feel that Evangelicals are to our movement what Pope Leo X was to Luther—namely, our theologically short-sighted forefathers who have sold out the true gospel. This was not my friend Andrews point, nor do I believe this assessment for a minute. But, I do think it’s widely held among some Pentecostals and Charismatics and that is the reason I am writing this. Second, my book on Carl F. H. Henry, the elder statesman of Evangelicalism, was officially released this week , and some are sure to wonder why an Assemblies of God missionary would take an interest in a Reformed Baptist theologian who was himself a defining force of the neo-Evangelical movement. After all, aren’t Pentecostalism and Evangelicalism diametrical opposites, the proverbial oil and water of the theological world?
For me, they are not, and here’s why.
- Evangelicalism must be defined, historically, as more than its 20th/21st century expression. The modern use of the term “Evangelical” can be traced all the way back to the Reformation, which itself was seen as a return to apostolic Christianity. And yet, is this not fundamentally the chief claim of Pentecostal theology? When Pentecostals desire to completely disassociate ourselves from Evangelicalism we are in effect cutting off an important part of our theological heritage.
- The most widely accepted definition of Evangelicalism (Bebbington’s quadrilateral) centers on four aspects: Biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. What of these four things is at odds with Pentecostalism? (Hint: NONE!). Yes Pentecostalism may be seen as more than this, but it cannot be less if it is to be orthodox.
- There are indications all throughout the NT of the non-ubiquitous nature of charismatic expression, indicating a somewhat non-uniform nature to ecclesiastical expression of various gifts, including tongues. And so, if our argument is that evangelicals don’t believe what we believe and they don’t practice what we practice, then we are faced with reality that not even all Pentecostal denominations agree with one another, and that there was at least some diversity on this issue right out of the gate (NOTE: this is not a who’s right, who’s wrong point, but rather, a note that diversity rather than uniformity has long characterized the exercise of the charismata).
- Evangelicalism holds forth the greatest promise for a united front on important issues such as theological reflection, cultural engagement, social justice, and evangelism and missions. The more divided and fractured the body of Christ becomes, the less potential there is for mounting an effective response to the world’s most pressing challenges, especially reaching the lost. This is presumably what caused classic Pentecostal denominations such as the Assemblies of God to join the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) in the mid 1940’s.
- Evangelicalism may not speak for Pentecostals now, but it will never speak for Pentecostals if Pentecostals close the door to communication and dialogue. Yet, isn’t it possible that God would have us learn from each other and grow together in our understanding of what it means to follow Jesus? We need look no further than the sad history of fundamentalism to see that barricading one’s self behind closed doors can lead to nothing but disaster.