What is an evangelical?

I am glad that Rachel Held Evans is stoking a conversation about the meaning of “evangelical.” Evans says that she herself is an evangelical, yet she defines the term in a way that can only be described as radically revisionist. I daresay that very few would recognize her definition as anything approaching what evangelicals have historically held. We all know that defining the term ‘evangelical’ can be controversial, but many observers still look to David Bebbington’s quadrilateral as a helpful outline of the defining characteristics of evangelicals.

According to Bebbington, evangelicals have four leading characteristics: biblicism, crucicentrism, conversionism, and activism. Biblicism refers to the fact that evangelicals look to the Bible alone as the ultimate authority and measure of all truth. From the 1820’s onward, a growing body of evangelicals also insisted on inerrancy, verbal inspiration, and the need for literal interpretation of the Bible (Bebbington, 13-14). Crucicentrism focuses on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross and the necessity of his substitutionary atonement for sinners (Bebbington, 15). Conversionism is the conviction that sinners need to be born again through the spirit and to repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Activism refers to the fact that evangelicals are doers. They believe that their faith should be worked out in good works.

Whatever its shortcomings, Bebbington’s quadrilateral has been widely received as summing up some of evangelicalism’s most important emphases. As I mentioned above, Evans’ definition of evangelical is a substantial revision of these emphases. In fact, she undermines nearly all of them.

Evans denies the inerrancy of scripture and says that “as a woman I have been nursing a secret grudge against the apostle Paul for about eight years.” As a young adult, she says that she stopped believing in the “Bible’s exclusive authority, inerrancy, perspicuity, and internal consistency.” She came to the conclusion that “the Bible wasn’t what I’d once believed it to be.” Evans has also pressed the case for inclusivism—the view that says people need not have conscious faith in Jesus Christ in order to be saved—and she rejects exclusivism. In her recent post, she defines the gospel without reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus and adopts the reductionism of counterimperial interpreters who say that the “good news” is “Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.” She supports gay marriage, and she has served communion to practicing homosexuals. We could go on, but that is enough to make it clear that her definition of “evangelical” is strained at best. At worse, it’s not anything close to approaching evangelical.

But being out of line with an historically responsible definition of evangelicalism is not nearly so troublesome as being out of line with what the Bible defines as true. And on that score, Evans’ description falls definitively short. The gospel is more than a contrast between Jesus and Caesar. The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ crucified and raised for sinners (1 Cor. 15:3-5). It is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes (Rom. 1:16-17). And it requires conscious faith in Christ in order for it to become effective in a person’s life (John 3:18; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Rom. 10:14-15). This same gospel not only saves sinners from the penalty of sin, it also progressively delivers them from the power of sin and transforms them into the image of Christ (1 Cor. 3:18; 1 Thes. 2:13). It requires sinners to confess their sins—including the sin of homosexuality—even as it promises to make them into new creatures in Christ (1 John 1:9; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 2 Cor. 5:17). These are longstanding evangelical emphases, and yet they seem to be missing from Evans’ definition of “evangelical.”

My hope and prayer is that the biblical definition of the evangel might win the day, not only with the thousands of people reading Evans’ blog but also for Evans herself. These are not trivialities but the most important issues in the world. And the stakes are eternal.

87 Responses to What is an evangelical?

  1. Alan Molineaux October 10, 2012 at 2:13 am #

    I am sorry Denny but you do not own ‘evangelical’ and you can’t have it as exclusively yours.

    You misrepresent Rachel’s views regarding theology because she is honest enough to talk about her intellectual and emotional journey.

    How she outworks her faith in Christ might be different from how you do but that is a red herring.

    If I used your tactics I could exclude; Pentecostals, charismatics, Methodists, and uk Anglicans who claim to be evangelical.

    I am not saying that these groups all agree with Rachel but they disagree with your stand enough to make them suspect by your logic.

    Once again – you are not the owner of the word Evangelical.

    • AndrewFinden October 10, 2012 at 9:53 am #

      But @Alan what is the point of the identifier if its meaning is so subjective that it can be so broadly revised? Could Denny call himself an egalitarian by that same reasoning? It has nothing to do with anyone ‘owning’ it, it is simply a fact of what it normally refers to (and having been in UK evanglical Anglican churches, I don’t see why the definition above would exclude them as you claim – those four focuses would sum them up nicely). And it raises the question of why Evans is so keen to identify as an evangelical in the first place, when her views are apparently not what it normally means (in what way has Denny misrepresented them?).

    • Andrew Caldwell October 10, 2012 at 2:22 pm #


      You pick up on multiple strains of thought that no one has seemed to call Denny on – one of which being the fact that he seemingly disregards multiple strands of the evangelical movement (Methodist, holiness movement, pentacostals, etc) that have been around for much longer than the fundamentalist evangelical strand which with Denny (by my characterization) appears to strongly identify. Denny starts with the assumption that his particular strand of evangelicalism has always been the traditional and historic decider of what it means to be evangelical and the beliefs that follow, which I would argue is a wrong assumption. Many of these evangelical denominations have been ordinating women for hundreds of years – which makes Denny’s assertion that patriarchalism has always been a defining aspect of evangelicalism not only not true, but mischaracterizes the evangelical movement as a whole.

      And secondly, given that many people have claimed that Denny and others’ positions have been mischaracterized, why should Denny get to do the same for RHE?

      • Jim October 16, 2012 at 12:22 pm #

        Jim Wallace

        Show me one instance of Jesus barring someone from a sacrament. Jesus said to those who would judge others, “Let him without sin throw the first stone”. Its true that He warned us not to take communion unworthily but in light of His treatment of the prostitute–and His warnings to the clergy–His admonition is to those who take communion, not to the clergy who serve it.

        Let there be no mistake: Homosexuality is undoubtedly a sin. It is a sin which should be treated the same as every other sin–lying, theft, murder, adultery, etc. It is no greater, and no lesser, a sin than any other. Unfortunately there are some people who use the Bible to justify bigotry, and as a result they ‘hype up’ the sinfulness of homosexuality. There are quite few people on this planet who live sin free lives & unless you’re a member of that handful I suggest you worry about your own sin first & the sin of others second…at least insofar as barring people from communion goes.

  2. Sarah Flashing October 10, 2012 at 9:26 am #

    Alan, Rachel wants the definition so fluid she, essentially, has made the definition exclusively hers. If we can’t allow history and scripture to define evangelicalism, why should she be allowed to define it any particular way? That’s exactly what she’s doing. Hers is a more open definition, but its definitely a definition and one that she owns. It’s “what it means to her”.” No one is telling her how to define herself as she has so unhelpfully described the issue, but she ought to stop defining a term that is rooted in history and scripture. The bottom line is, she is not an evangelical in any meaningful sense of the term.

  3. Michael Sweet October 10, 2012 at 9:32 am #


    I really appreciate this post. However, I think I am left with more questions than answers.

    First, I apologize for the countless people that I am about to offend. But if I had a friend with the same opinions as Rachel Held Evans, then I would not be concerned if they were an evangelical. I would be concerned about their salvation.

    I realize that we can disagree about secondary issues and still be saved. My question is this (and yes it is a sincere question): What do we have to get correct?

    I think it was R.C. Sproul that said salvation is more than mere intellectual assent, but it is at least that. So for example, I believe that in order to be saved you must have faith “in Christ”. Additionally, I have also been taught that inclusivists cannot be saved.

    So what is the answer? Can I just believe whatever I want to believe, and as long as I do my best to live out my convictions (whether they are true or not), then God will give me a pass?

  4. Sarah Flashing October 10, 2012 at 10:21 am #

    By Rachel’s logic I can identify as a theological liberal who is Pro-life, against gay marriage, holds strongly to inerrancy, and is complementarian. Doesn’t exactly work.

  5. Suzanne McCarthy October 10, 2012 at 10:43 am #

    “Children of God.”

    • Suzanne McCarthy October 11, 2012 at 10:07 am #

      What was moderated out is my comment on Sproul. He once wrote that all his Bibles, English, Dutch, German and Latin had “sons of God” for those who make peace. But of course, they don’t. The KJV, the German and Dutch refer to the “children of God.” But, in order to make his case against the translators of a translation he did not like, he misrepresented the truth. This entails inappropriate attack on other Christians, and lack of truth. He had those other Bibles, so he was responsible for saying something truthful about them and he didn’t.

      He fails the basic New Testament tests for being a Christian, so why do we follow his definition of an evangelical?

  6. Don Johnson October 10, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    As a joke, I say I am 73% evangelical and 27% messianic gentile. That usually confuses everyone, especially the non-rounded quasi-exact percentages.

    I do not worry where I “fit” anymore. I am a redeemed sinner and need to always be reminded of both aspects; I am in the image of God, and hopefully sometimes reveal the glory of God, but came from dust and to dust I will return.

  7. rockstarkp October 10, 2012 at 11:45 am #

    Why do people insist on re-defining terms?
    If they were once A, and now question what A is, why re-define A?
    Why not just admit they are B?

    • Henry Michael Imler (@henryimler) October 11, 2012 at 1:47 pm #

      Same reason we re-filled the term “text” for the current context in which we find ourselves! The world changes – language must keep up.

      • Adam Murray October 13, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

        Henry, I’m sorry but you defy the moorings of communication when you understand a word like this. The concrete nature of linguistic definitions serves the purpose of translating something subjective into something objective. In other words, it is a vehicle that translates the thoughts in my head into your head. If language was as fluid as you so cavalierly suggest, it would render communication impossible with the most valuable of texts: the past. I might suggest that this philosophy renders anything you say completely arbitrary, and therefore, null and void outside of your own individual context.

        • BruceSymons October 14, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

          So Adam, if your wife says to you “Coffee will keep me awake,” will you get her a cup of coffee or not?

  8. Chris Blackstone October 10, 2012 at 1:33 pm #

    If anyone can define what an evangelical is, it’s the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICALS. Here’s what they believe http://nae.net/about-us/statement-of-faith.

    They also reference Bebbington’s four criteria here http://nae.net/church-and-faith-partners/what-is-an-evangelical.

    Seem to me that if you want to call yourself something, and there’s already an association of that something, you better fit their definition pretty closely, or you aren’t what you say you are.

    • Suzanne McCarthy October 14, 2012 at 6:15 pm #

      Oh, bother, jus t read this. Does this mean that a woman can’t call herself a biblical woman unless she fits in with the association that has been set up to define this? That’s is just plain silly. All kinds of women call themselves biblical, and they do the things that women did in the bible, like speaking out, leading, buying property, working hard to feed their family, and so on … these are the things a biblical woman does, along with sheep herding. The notion that a biblical woman should be lead does not appear in the narrative of any biblical woman. We will not allow any silly association to monopolize either the word “biblical” or the word “evangelical.”

  9. wggrace October 10, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I am a little puzzled by some of Denny’s criticisms of Rachel.
    He presses the point about inerrancy too far if he is relying on Bebbington. Bebbington is British and is speaking as much about British evangelicalism as American. In Britain inerrancy is not the language that we use. If Rachel is uncomfortable with the term, then probably so is Bebbington and the majority of British evangelicals.
    Also the various things that he asserts of Rachel, e.g. inclusivism, are not actually avowed in the article he cites. They may be true of Rachel but that are not asserted as true of her in that posting. What she asserts is that inclusivism does not rule out being an evangelical. She is disputing the boundary rather than defining what she believes.
    To criticise her description of the gospel and its omission of the crucifixion and resurrection is itself criticisable. Jesus preached the gospel before the cross took place and without mentioning it. In fact he preached it in terms very like Rachel’s.
    I am encouraged by one thing Denny affirms; the importance of the resurrection. One problem that I have with too many evangelicals is that they preach a gospel in which either the resurrection is omitted or it is relegated to some kind of proof of the cross. It is instead better seen not as ‘the bill of sale’ (evidence of the transaction) but as the goods themselves.

    • BruceSymons October 10, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

      I agree completely wggrace.

  10. Ken Temple October 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm #

    I think you meant 2 Corinthians 3:18 for the verse about being conformed to the image of Christ, not 1 Cor. 3:18.

    Excellent post; Rachel Held Evans is not Evangelical. It is not right to define and interpret words and sentences against the author’s intended meaning. The author’s of the Scripture, both the human authors and the Divine author who inspired it all ( 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Peter 1:20-21) used words that had meaning at that time. We have no right to interpret their words in a way that we want to.

    If your dad writes you a letter and includes encouragements, commands, advice, and a story that is symbolic of some deeper meaning, he intends you, the child to interpret his words in the way that he means them. Otherwise, communication and relationships will break down. We must interpret the Bible in the way that the author’s intended the words and genres to be understood. (whether commands, principles, proverbs, parables, poetry, symbols, prophesy, historical narrative) Literal interpretation means “according to literature” – if it was meant as a symbol or type, then literal interpretation takes it as a symbol or type. Basic hermeneutics.

    • Denny Burk October 10, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Good catch! I did mean 2 Cor. 3:18. Thanks!

  11. JM LaRue October 10, 2012 at 2:33 pm #

    Many got caught up in the egal/comp argument and a few in the inerrancy argument, but the easiest one to establish Evans’ post-evangelicalism is her rejection of exclusivism.

    Its overtly apparent that Evans’ is defining her own terminology instead of affirming a previously defined term to be descriptive of her position.

    Maybe the very best question to ask her is what is a non-evangelical?

    Her definition redraws the boundaries to include all liberal Christians. As long as the words ‘faith’ and ‘gospel’ are important to them, they can call themselves evangelicals.

    • Andrew Caldwell October 10, 2012 at 3:59 pm #

      Well, by that logic I suppose that means C.S. Lewis can’t be an evangelical (and by extension, in your or Denny’s regards a true Calvinist!) because he was an inclusivist.

      • JM LaRue October 10, 2012 at 4:17 pm #

        You are correct. Inclusivism denies Conversionism outright.

        If you do not believe that you need to be born again through the Spirit and repent and believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ you are not an evangelical.

        Conversionism is well within the bounds of both Arminian and Calvinistic beliefs.

        • wggrace October 14, 2012 at 8:53 am #

          There are so many versions of inclusivism around it is a gross simplification to claim that it denies conversionism outright.

          • JM LaRue October 18, 2012 at 2:59 pm #

            The definition of conversionism necessitates exclusivism.

            The only way to be saved is to be born again through the Spirit by repenting and believing in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

            All versions of inclusivism includes a denial of the absolute necessity to be born again by faith in Christ in order to be saved.

  12. BruceSymons October 10, 2012 at 4:18 pm #

    I think I would be rather careful about saying that someone who says “Jesus is Lord” is not an evangelical. STM that there is a rather significant precedent for saying they are.

    • Denny Burk October 10, 2012 at 4:25 pm #

      Romans 10:9-10

      • BruceSymons October 10, 2012 at 4:57 pm #

        Thank you Denny for supporting my point

        • Aaron Meares October 10, 2012 at 5:58 pm #

          Merely claiming “Jesus is Lord” does not an “evangelical” make. Nor does it make a Christian. Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses have no reservation about that title for Jesus, all while denying that he is God in-the-flesh. Jesus himself warned of those who use such a title devoid of its meaning:
          “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” (Matt 7:21–23).

    • JM LaRue October 10, 2012 at 4:44 pm #

      There are countless many who use the words “Jesus is Lord” to whom we should not apply the label evangelical. Liberal Christianity still uses these words. By your interpretation, there is no such thing as a divide between liberalism and evangelicalism.

      • BruceSymons October 10, 2012 at 5:20 pm #

        JM (note DB’s comment policy)
        But what _exactly_ is achieved in this discussion? RHE may or may not fit a label … so what?

        • Aaron Meares October 10, 2012 at 6:02 pm #

          RHE portrays a displeasure with the use of “labels” (“Labels tend to divide and distract…”), while she liberally dispenses labels such as “patriarchal” or “complementarian” at those with whom she disagrees.

          • Akash Charles October 10, 2012 at 6:35 pm #

            Yeah !
            RHE does to others what she criticizes others of doing to her!

            Does it really matter if someone calls themselves Evangelical or not?
            Would someone pls explain this to me.

            As long as someone is saved, believes the bible is true and honest and is willing to share about the Lord Jesus christ to others are they not Evangelical in simple words.

            Most people will not go to the depth that Denny has gone to to decide whether they are evangelical or not!

          • wggrace October 14, 2012 at 4:24 pm #

            Complementarian is a label people adopt for themselves. If RHE labels people as such it is because that is the label they like and she graciously concedes it. I think it a misnomer. There is very little that is complementarian about such people. They adopt a rigid hierarchy at odds with a true complementarian position.

  13. Elizabeth McAlpine October 10, 2012 at 5:01 pm #

    Rachel Held Evans loves Jesus, believes he is God and that he died and rose again. She loves the Bible (see her post today). The fruit of her life suggests she is a Christ-follower, filled with the Holy Spirit. In summary she loves God and she loves others. Why are we creating a ruckus over the ‘credentials’ of a sister in Christ?

    I think she is your sister in Christ, Denny, and whether or not YOU think she fits under the label ‘Evangelical’ you are called to love her (and she is called to love you).

    May I humbly suggest that you use your considerable and admirable intellectual powers and your platform to point out the errors of real wolves – don’t go after your fellow sheep.

    • Shaun DuFault October 10, 2012 at 10:01 pm #

      Unless RHE submits herself to the authority of Scripture which she has denied, she may say anything she wants and sadly be deceiving not only herself, but others as well.

  14. Tom Parker October 11, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

    Denny, why have you picked out Rachel Evans for this public battle? It seems less than evangelical of you.

    It makes you look like you are trying to bully Women. You are not are you?

    • Denny Burk October 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm #

      No, I’m not. We’ve been going back and forth on these issues for a long time. She’s singled me out before as well: http://rachelheldevans.com/patriarchy and http://rachelheldevans.com/mutuality-women-roles. We disagree sharply, but I hope always graciously and forthrightly. To suggest that disagreement equals bullying is untrue and an unhelpful distraction from the serious theological issues at stake in this discussion.

    • Akash Charles October 12, 2012 at 2:48 am #

      Classic egalitarian statement

      If anyone says a woman is wrong that means that person hates/bullies woman, ie a woman can never be wrong.

  15. Suzanne McCarthy October 11, 2012 at 5:30 pm #

    “Unless RHE submits herself to the authority of Scripture which she has denied, she may say anything she wants and sadly be deceiving not only herself, but others as well”

    Submitting to the authority of scripture usually means that you want somebody else to submit to your own preferred translation of the scripture, along with your own interpretation. I don’t happen to share a common translation with many other Christians.

    So asking others to “submit to the authority of scripture” comes across as saying “submit to what I think scripture says” and really is not an appropriate thing to say to anyone.

  16. J S Lang October 13, 2012 at 12:41 pm #

    Having read and reviewed two books by Rachel Held Evans, I definitely think that the label “evangelical” (or, for that matter, “Christian”) is a bad fit for her. In her recently published book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, she mocks the entire Bible by using a familiar liberal ploy: we don’t observe all the rituals in the Old Testament Law, so we are liars when we say we live by the Bible. She not only has a “grudge” against Paul but, as her books show, a grudge against the entire Bible. She claims Christians condone genocide because genocide is represented in the Book of Joshua, even though no Christian has ever claimed that Joshua justifies Christian genocide. She makes the same claim for “witch hunts,” even though no Christians today are hunting down witches.
    I find it disturbing that peope like her, Brian McLaren, Doug Pagitt, Shane Claiborne, etc, bother to even retain the label “Christian.” They let the secular culture decide what they think, then announce that Jesus would have wanted it that way. I would respect them more if they simply abandoned the faith and said, “I’m an ex-Christian, the Bible is poppycock, so please join me in political activism for the left.”

    • Don Johnson October 13, 2012 at 3:54 pm #

      I think you are very wrong in your assessment of her as you are misunderstanding what she is doing. She is trying to point out that everyone makes decisions about what parts of the Bible applies and what parts do not and that various groups make different decisions according to different criteria and end up with different answers.

    • Jim October 16, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Jim Wallace

      Since when does Evangelical = Conservative Republican? It could just be me but I’m pretty sure Jesus would not have a political party. In fact I’m fairly sure that He would ignore politics altogether–He did, after all, ignore the Romans raping, killing, and pillaging–which was much worse than anything either of our parties are doing–b/cs He had a singular focus on personal salvation.

      Frankly, I think any good Christian has to wrestle with Paul. The man was single-mindedly focused on salvation. That means ignoring slavery, and moreover, even counseling a slave to return to his master! I’m a 4th generation evangelical & let me tell you the way he ignored slavery was a struggle for me. Now I ultimately came to the conclusion that for Paul ALL earthly matters (even including marriage) were a distraction to salvation. And he was only taking Jesus’ admonition “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world & lose his soul” to the logical extreme. But the Christian who reads Paul without questioning Paul at all is not taking their faith seriously. I’ll be honest, I spent a few weeks trying to understand why Paul was unconcerned with slavery.

  17. Skip Spangler October 15, 2012 at 11:02 pm #

    If I want to know if I am “United Methodist,” I can compare my statements of faith with those contained in The Discipline of the United Methodist Church, which is a document written and revised by a gathering of United Methodist Christians every four years since 1784.

    From where I’m sitting, it looks like “evangelical” is nothing than a quick way of saying “I’ve decided your faith statements agree with mine.”

  18. wggrace October 16, 2012 at 2:30 am #

    The debate about the definition of evangelical needs first to establish what kind of category ‘evangelical’ is. Is it an organisation? Surely not. Is it a club with specific rules? Something like an association of evangelicals could be but is that what we are discussing? Probably not. Is it a movement? If it is, fixed clearly defined boundaries are inappropriate. Boundaries there can be but over time these will evolve, sometimes beneficially, sometimes negatively. Part of the debate seems to me to be about whether the redefinitions of those like RHE are helpful or not. Another less obvious thing is the way in responding to RHE, more conservative contributions are in themselves redefining the notion in order to make clearer the distinction between themselves and RHE. And these redefinitions also need critique to see if they are positive or negative.
    One negative tendency among conservative contributions in recent years has been to emphasise the ‘confessional’ element of evangelicalism. Al Mohler is a flag bearer of this tendency. The reasons this is a negative tendency, in my opinion, are that it creates an authority external to the Bible which at times creates a tension between the Bible and the confession, and secondly that adherents to ‘confessional evangelicalism’ waste their time and perhaps of others checking the doctrinal purity of others, using the confession as the standard rather than the Bible. This is essentially what Eck tried to impose on Luther.

  19. Don Johnson October 16, 2012 at 9:14 am #

    I agree completely with this comment. I see some groups trying to form a quasi-Magisterium among prots, and being against the very idea of a Magisterium is what started the whole protestant idea. This concerns me greatly, as a prot.

  20. Jim October 16, 2012 at 1:20 pm #

    Jim Wallace

    Denny–I have some questions about your ‘Exclusivism’ point vs RHE’s ‘Inclusivism’ point. I do believe that Jesus is the exclusive means by which we gain salvation (Jesus Himself says that), but I think RHE raises a legitimate point. More than 1500 years went by before the very first Christian colonies were started in N. America. Hence many millions of Indians died without being exposed to Christ. Are those people damned to hell simply b/cs they were not lucky enough to be born in Europe?

    I’m an Exclusivist, but I’m not prepared to make that argument. We know that Jesus would not be cavalier about these people’s souls–after all He spent the 3 days He was dead preaching to those who had already died. It seems to me that this is the basic point RHE is making: Are those who die unexposed to Christianity damned to hell? I find it difficult to argue that millions of Native Americans (not to mention Asians and Africans) were doomed to Hell b/cs they were not born in Europe and exposed to Christ, but I’m willing to listen to someone who can make that argument.

    • JM LaRue October 18, 2012 at 9:24 am #


      Though understandably difficult to modern conceptions, this is exactly the point of exclusivism.

      The foundation for this begins in the OT with God’s choosing to reveal himself to Abraham. God made Israel his people and not the Egyptians, Hitites, Philistines, Moabites…. (and all other people groups on the earth at the time – Chinese, etc). The nations left without God’s special self revelation are left to their own rejection of worshiping the God who created them. The very point of Israel is that God revealed himself specially to this people and NOT others.

      Romans 1 makes the point that general revelation has provided enough knowledge about God such that people ought to respond in worship to Him. However, all have rejected this general revelation. All have fallen short of the glory of God.

      The reality is that all people stand condemned for their rejection of the knowledge of God available to them in general revelation. No one seeks God. No, not one.

      Exclusivism’s claim is that only in the Gospel of Jesus Christ and only upon the profession of faith in Jesus’ death and resurrection may one be saved.

      The reality that not all are offered this reconciliation in Christ through special revelation does not negate the reality that all have rejected the knowledge of God already given to them in general revelation.

      And yes, this is the foundation for the utter necessity of evangelism and missions. As Romans 10 expresses, “How shall they believe in Him in whom they have not heard?”

      Grace and peace,

  21. Emma Gold October 17, 2012 at 4:51 am #

    Wait a minute, are we not supposed to serve communion to “practicing homosexuals”? That just seems wrong and totally against everything that Jesus was about; moreover, there seems to be a push to equate the terms ‘evangelical’ and ‘Christian’ but being a follower of Christ is much bigger umbrella than just being an evangelical. The whole point of the book of Colossians is that belief in Christ is sufficient for Christians and what gives us unity despite our differences. Rather than focusing on how RHE is or is not an evangelical, shouldn’t we be focusing on how we’re all different parts of one body? Even if we have different beliefs, we share Christ and He gives us our purpose and our ‘marching orders’ and those purposes and instructions are going to be really different for different people because Christianity is a big, glorious, mess of diversity, isn’t it?

    • JM LaRue October 18, 2012 at 9:08 am #

      If someone is in open, unrepentant sin, you should not serve him/her communion.

      Repentance is key to taking communion. The practicing homosexual is openly unrepentant of their sin. Hence, the practicing homosexual ought not be served communion.

      1 Corinthians 11:27-29 grounds the need to examine oneself and repent of one’s sins prior to partaking in communion. Not doing so is a way to eat and drink judgment upon yourself.

  22. Don Johnson October 18, 2012 at 10:22 am #

    If you do as you say, you are thereby violating the very Scripture you claim to uphold. Each individual is to assess their own qualification to partake, there is no mediator in this decision, according to Paul. Why then do you propose to add to Scripture?

    • JM LaRue October 18, 2012 at 2:24 pm #

      Don, I would offer up the church discipline passages for dealing with open, unrepentant sin which is the case for practicing homosexuals.

      A relevant, similar example would be of a member openly, practicing adultery. Such an individual should not only be refused communion but also be pursued in church discipline for repentance.

      The issue is whether the Scriptures teach that homosexuality is a sin. If it does (which I believe is clear), then unrepentant embracing of such sin ought to be dealt with according to the biblical pattern of pursuit of discipline.

  23. Don Johnson October 18, 2012 at 8:23 pm #

    I do not think the church discipline passages are relevant for communion. There are no verses that say communion is only for members, just that each one should examine themselves.

    • JM LaRue October 19, 2012 at 1:13 am #

      If in church discipline, you ultimately deliver an unrepentant individual over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh (1 Cor 5:5), you (as a church) are clearly pronouncing that you do not believe this individual to be a member of the new covenant.

      The church should therefore refuse the sign of the new covenant – the bread and the cup.

      1 Corinthians 11:22 explicitly connects communion to being a part of the church of God. If in church discipline, the church has declared an unrepentant sinner to not be a part of the church of God, then they should not be admitted to the table.

      Communion is not a private affair. It is a communal affair. All member’s of the new covenant not under the discipline of a local church ought to be welcomed at the table. Unrepentant, practicing sinners (whether heterosexual adulterers, homosexuals, drunkards, idolaters, revilers, or swindlers – 1 Cor. 5:11) ought to be refused communion and not associated with as if they were repentant brothers/sisters in Christ.

  24. Don Johnson October 19, 2012 at 11:56 am #

    1Co 11:27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.
    1Co 11:28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.
    1Co 11:29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself.
    1Co 11:30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.

    It seems to me you are trying to protect someone from God. This seems like going beyond Scripture. The scenario is a person has been kicked out of fellowship and shows up, he is not a member, but he shows up. As far as I can tell, you are to treat him as an unbeliever, but do you stop all unbelievers from entering your church? A church can certainly make up its own rules for whatever reason, just do not claim the Scriptures back them up.

    • JM LaRue October 19, 2012 at 2:47 pm #

      Unbelievers are welcome to enter and attend a church. They are not welcomed to partake in the new covenant meal when they deny that meal by their unbelief.

      And can you stop someone from doing so if you do not know if they are a believer or not? No, you can’t. You are right in this.

      However, this is a different situation. This is one where such knowledge is readily available. Its about knowing a person is presently remaining in unrepentant sin – such as a practicing homosexual.

      Communion is clearly for the church of God (as referenced earlier), those members in the new covenant. If you as a church have put somebody out of fellowship because of unrepentant sin, serving them as if they were members of the new covenant is doing something with your actions that is the exact opposite of what you have previously said and done by your actions of discipline.

  25. Don Johnson October 19, 2012 at 3:12 pm #

    Obviously, you believe in closed communion. I attend a church with open communion, I have never seen anyone turned away, altho the verses I mentioned are often mentioned as a warning.

    Another response that I hope would happen during the time of disfellowshipping would be to ask the person how their actions align with Scripture. Scripture can be misinterpreted unless you think your church is a Magisterium, an infallible interpreter of Scripture, like the Roman church says it is.

    • JM LaRue October 19, 2012 at 4:53 pm #

      Even in open communion, you would still say that it is for all believers. Open communion does not teach that unbelievers can partake. If by church discipline, you have removed your affirmation as a church that you think the person is a believer, you ought not serve communion to them.

      FYI – My church practices close communion such that you don’t have to be a member of my church, but you must be a baptized member of a church that preaches the same Gospel as our church and not under discipline from the church.

  26. Don Johnson October 19, 2012 at 5:33 pm #

    In the open communion at the church I attend, they allow more than believers to partake, they allow anyone who wishes to partake, I think seekers are mentioned specifically. So it is truly open and any filters are by the person themselves. And of course, sometimes kids who are too young to be believers partake as part of a family and that is OK, no muss no fuss and no legalism. And no one is expected to participate either, some may choose not to do so and that is no big deal either.

    When I was an agnostic years ago, I went to a church with my Dad and Sis and they made a big deal of everyone filing up front to receive communion, which as I was visiting I did not know that they were going to do. So there was TREMENDOUS social pressure to conform to expectations and I had to resolve to decline, since I did not believe at that time. I did not want to make a scene, but I am sure many people noticed I was the only one to decline. My Sis said, “Good for you!” when she saw I was declining to conform as she was going up to partake.

  27. Ben Witherington October 24, 2012 at 4:50 pm #

    Denny I think that one of the things that disturbs me about that sort of narrow definition of Evangelical is that ‘literal interpretation’ of the Bible is frankly inappropriate in many places, for example, in the parables or the proverbs, or most any wisdom literature or apocalyptic literature. This is because it was not intended to be taken literally in the first place. As for the inerrancy issue, I suggest you read Ken Collins on that one in his recent book on Evangelicalism. Finally there is the term itself– euangellion means the Gospel. Jesus himself proclaimed the Good News, and it often involved non-literal interpretations of OT texts. He talked a lot more about the KIngdom and precious little about atonement, though Mark 10.45 is a good example The definition you’ve offered is all too modern, all too low church Protestant. I’ve read Rachel’s book, and my review of it will go up on the blog before long. She is honest about her faith journey, and unfortunately what she is reacting against is all too real— narrow minded fundamentalism of various sorts, which she has encountered first hand where she lives. Blessings on your ministry, Ben W.

    • Denny Burk October 24, 2012 at 5:37 pm #

      Ben, thanks for the comment. What I mean by “literal” (and what I think Bebbington means) is what the reformers meant. The literal sense is what the author intended when he wrote. This is how N. T. Wright defines “literal” interpretation in his book The Last Word,” and I agree with him. Wright says that scripture must be interpreted in its “literal” sense in order for its authority to be realized in the life of the church. By “literal” sense, Wright also means what the Reformers meant, “the sense that the first writers intended” (p. 73; cf. 135). This kind of literal interpretation takes into account the different genres of scripture and the conventions governing their proper interpretation. I doubt that you and I really disagree much about this.

      As far as the apostle’s “non-literal” interpretations of the OT, that subject is probably too big to resolve in a comment thread. But I will say this. I much prefer the biblical theology of Greg Beale and others who show that NT writers respect the literal sense of the OT text in their typological interpretations of it. I would caution against citing Jesus and jumping too quickly to the conclusion that NT writers model a hermeneutic that ignores the OT’s literal sense.

      I know that inerrancy has not been a consistent feature among evangelicals in the UK, but it certainly has been a touchstone among evangelicals in North America. Even Bebbington acknowledges the importance of the doctrine among many evangelicals. For years, the Evangelical Theological Society only had one doctrinal standard–inerrancy (later defined by the Chicago Statement). For these reasons, I still think a committment to inerrancy defines the mainstream of North American evangelicalism.

      As far as Rachel’s book is concerned, I’m reserving comment until after I’ve finished reading it!

      Thanks for the interaction. I appreciate it very much. Blessings!


    • Kamilla Ludwig October 24, 2012 at 10:09 pm #

      “what she is reacting against is all too real”

      Isn’t this the primarily problem with her hermeneutic? Mrs. Evans is in her 30s now, isn’t it time she stop reacting and become serious about addressing issues in a less backward-looking manner?

      In addition, I think it’s rather telling that a conservative Complementarian like Denny Burk gets all manner of grief for questioning her attachment to Evangelicalism as a label while Sarah Pulliam Bailey in the CT article calls Evans a post-Evangelical and we hear not a whisper of criticism. The same goes for her new book and the recent television interview. Conservatives use the word mocking and Evans and her fan club show us high dudgeon like it’s never been seen before but a blogger friendly to Evans opens and closes her review with reference to it being “tongue-in-cheek” and it’s passed around as a great review.

      • BruceSymons October 25, 2012 at 3:21 am #

        Thanks for your reply to BW3 here — I have a copy of the SPCK edition of Wright (Scripture and the Authority of God) so I am having trouble finding the pages you reference. While you may be agreeing with Wright, I’m not sure that he is agreeing with you. Can you give some hint, say a section heading, for your pages 73 and 135? Thanks

        Sorry, but what are you referencing here?

  28. Keith Johnston October 25, 2012 at 4:43 pm #

    In my opinion, it is possible to be an ‘evangelical’ without being a Christian. If Christians are people who pattern their lives after Jesus, especially as presented in the Gospels, then what are we to make of people who apparently pattern their lives after the Pharisees as presented in the Gospels? The Pharisees were apparently judgmental, narrow-minded people who were primarily ‘gate-keepers’ who were concerned to define who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ in terms of doing God’s will. Since Jesus was clearly ‘out’ in terms of doing God’s will, then Jesus had to die. The self-righteousness and spiritual blindness required to desire to exterminate the Incarnation of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, is breathtaking. What are we to make of those evangelicals today that are essentially Pharisees — are they Christians or not?

  29. Kristen Rosser October 26, 2012 at 2:36 pm #

    Just one question: Why? Why three posts in a row all attacking Rachel Held Evans?

    It’s starting to look like a vendetta.

    • Denny Burk October 26, 2012 at 3:03 pm #

      Good question, Kristen. The reason is because I wrote The first one before I knew she was going to appear on the today show. I wrote the second one, just wanting to alert readers that she appeared on the today show. So all I posted was the video. It was only after that that I decided that I wanted to comment on her appearance on the show. And that explains the third post. I thought about deleting the second post with the video, but there were already many comments underneath it. So I decided to leave it posted.

  30. Sarah Flashing October 26, 2012 at 2:55 pm #

    Kristen, i saw your comment and just felt the need to respond. Think about your question. What “vendetta” could Denny Burk or anyone else have against Rachel Held Evans? She hasn’t hurt anyone personally–in fact I find her to be a very likable person. Maybe it is a serious difference in belief and concern exists about the impact of her celebrity with her false teachings on the health of the church? Could it possibly be a substantive concern? A “vendetta” is so very conspiratorial. Let’s not distract from the issues by calling into question the motivations of her critics. I have critics, most people who write have critics. If you must, defend Rachel Held Evans on the substance of her arguments.

  31. J S Lang October 26, 2012 at 5:02 pm #

    A sort of “cult” seems to be developing rather quickly around this author and her book. I notice on Amazon reviews that there are a LOT of five-star reviews of the book, all posted in just the past week. All of them gush over how wonderful the book is, but, suspiciously, aren’t too specific. Also, most of these are posted by people who never posted reviews before. It seems the author has managed to get herself free publicity by making herself a kind of Free Speech Martyr because the book’s publisher prevented her from using the V word.

    I know this woman comes across on camera as sweet and adorable, but that has nothing to do with the way she has of twisting Scripture and doctrine.

    And, Denny, don’t let anyone rattle you by accusations of a “vendetta” against this author. They might as well say Jesus had a “vendetta” against the Pharisees. You are doing what Christians are supposed to do, warn against false teachings, and the warnings are very much needed in this situation where the false teacher is willing to play on her charm and media savvy. Don’t let up!

  32. Don Johnson October 26, 2012 at 6:53 pm #

    I gave her 5 stars, I also pointed out 4 places where her interpretation of the Bible was flawed.

    Her publisher warned her about the V word, at first she was not going to use it, then decided to use it and Lifeway (the SBC book seller) decided not to carry it, which of course they are free to do for any reason or no reason. I think the effect of this is she will sell MORE copies because people will want to see what all the fuss is about. But it also illustrates the tremendous power that large booksellers have on what gets published.

  33. Kamilla Ludwig October 26, 2012 at 7:23 pm #

    For crying out loud – I get so sick of the half truths and outright lies about Evans, Lifeway and the v-word I could just as easily accuse Evsns and her fan club of having a vendetta against those who don’t enthusiastically embrace her cheerfully vulgar manner!

    The fact is, as Evans earlier acknowledged, Nelson NEVER asked her to remove every instance of the word, only her single gratuitous use. She ginned up a firestorm of epic proportions and Nelson relented.

    Some months later, it became known that Lifeway would not be carrying her second book as they had her first. She again publicly confessed she had been warned not to assume it was because of the v-word. And, indeed, Lifeway has come put and said it was because of the poor sales of her first book. Yet she does absolutely nothing to quell the vulgarity-festival celebrated by her I’ll-informed fans. Her silence in that speaks volumes.

    And isn’t it interesting that Nelson turned down an interview on Evans’ behalf with WaPo religion writer, Lisa Miller? It’s clear from Miller’s piece that v-gate was to be a focus of the interview.


  1. Are You An Evangelical? « Arminian Today - October 11, 2012

    […] at Denny Burk’s excellent blog, he writes about the term evangelical.  The discussion as of late has been what defines an […]

  2. Set the labels free « Daniel Haas - October 12, 2012

    […] are at it again: The overseers of labels indulge in self-righteousness once more. Denny Burk is happy to take on the role of being the keeper of the label “Evangelical”. For that […]

  3. Why Abortion Is the Most Important Issue in This Election | Denny Burk - October 12, 2012

    […] such a majority, it will continue to be legal for unborn babies to be killed. Continue Reading ? Share this: Pin […]

  4. Juicy Links, 10/13/12 « Juicy Ecumenism - October 13, 2012

    […] Denny Burk, Denny Burk, What is an evangelical? Responding to Rachel Held Evans […]

  5. Slinking Toward Retirement | A Year of Biblical Womanhood: Rachel Held Evans followed the Bible and wrote about it, but now Christian chain LifeWay won’t sell her book. – Slate Magazine | News, Travel, Opinion and Just Odd and Funny Things... - October 16, 2012

    […] the validity of the Bible.” And author and theologian Denny Burk devoted a detailed blog post to why Evans doesn’t qualify as an evangelical. Her offenses include insufficient deference to […]

  6. I’m Uninvited (But Only Online) | Accidental Devotional - October 19, 2012

    […] herself against claims that she is not who she claims to be. She has essentially been told that she is no longer welcome to identify with evangelicals. Some of the most prominent voices in the movement have told her they don’t want […]

  7. What is a Christian? - October 22, 2012

    […] line of examples of this is a recent debate over whether Rachel Held Evans is an Evangelical or not. Answering the question “What is an Evangelical?” is far from easy, but I will attempt […]

  8. Rachel Held Evans on the Today Show | Denny Burk - October 22, 2012

    […] Natalie Morales and the author identify Evans as an evangelical. I have already written about this elsewhere at length, but I will reiterate here. Evans definition of evangelical misses the mark on a number […]

  9. Denny Burk comments on Rachel Held Evans’ Today Show Appearance « Diligent Soul - October 23, 2012

    […] Natalie Morales and the author identify Evans as an evangelical. I have already written about this elsewhere at length, but I will reiterate here. Evans definition of evangelical misses the mark on a number […]

  10. “Biblical Womanhood” is Not “Women’s Work” « Juicy Ecumenism - October 24, 2012

    […] Held Evans, the evangelical (perhaps “post-evangelical”) blogger and author has been hitting media outlets promoting her […]

  11. What is Evangelicalism? – Part 1 | Alastair's Adversaria - October 26, 2012

    […] post by Rachel Held Evans on the subject, a number of people have addressed the question, including Denny Burk, Jake Belder, and Adrian […]

  12. What is Evangelicalism? – Part 2 | Alastair's Adversaria - November 15, 2012

    […] concern with Adrian’s approach, as with Denny Burk’s, is that a rather tendentious and prescriptive definition of the term ‘evangelical’ is […]

  13. For the record .. | Kamilla Ludwig - December 9, 2012

    […] your postmodern revision of Evangelical Christianity are not afraid of you.  I’m quite sure Denny Burk isn’t.  I know Sarah Flashing isn’t.  And we all know Doug Wilson isn’t. I […]

Comment here. Please use FIRST and LAST name.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by Woo Themes