Friday, May 19, 2006

Biblical Protestantism: Part 2 Protestant Evangelicals

Part of the problem with Evangelicalism today is that we have forgotten our origins in the Protestant Reformation. The times are certainly a changing. Evangelicalism is in danger of losing its doctrinal clarity. In his book The Gagging of God, (Apollos, 1996) Don Carson devotes a chapter to The Changing Face of Western Evangelicalism. He argues that the Evangelical world is “fraying, fragmented and frustrated”. The early years of the 21st Century represent a watershed moment for Evangelicalism. Old certainties are being challenged from within the camp. Truths that were once regarded as essential and indispensable to faithful gospel preaching are now regarded by some as mere matters of emphasis and opinion. The Evangelical movement no longer coheres around an agreed doctrinal and spiritual centre.

We need to go back to the great truths rediscovered at the Reformation if evangelicalism is to have a future as a movement that is faithful to the biblical gospel. We do not go back to the Reformation as an arbitrary point in Church history. The Reformation was an attempt to re-form the Church’s life and teaching in the light of the New Testament. Chris Sinkinson discusses the changing shape of evangelicalism and says,

If we take the Reformation as our starting point then evangelicalism is born out of a theological rediscovery. Of course there is a breadth to the Reformation but the breadth is held together by a shift in the location of authority from church councils and traditions to the Bible. Ultimately, to be evangelical is to be biblical in our approach to the knowledge of God and life.

As a movement stemming from the Reformation, evangelicalism is essentially creedal. Not only that, there are clear doctrinal commitments that make up the creed.
(Table Talk, Issue 14. Summer 2005, Published by Affinity)
The doctrinal foundation of the evangelical movement is found in the Bible-based creeds and confessions of the Reformation and Puritan periods: The 39 Articles of the Church of England, Westminster Confession of Faith, Savoy Declaration and 1689 Baptist Confession. These confessions differ on matters such as church government and baptism, but they all give expression to the great biblical doctrines that were rediscovered at the Reformation.

Evangelical doctrine, rooted in these Confessions, is not ill-defined and endlessly flexible. Spurgeon said of the 1689 Confession. “This ancient document is a most excellent epitome of the things most surely believed among us”. May we continue to hold fast our profession.

But what truths lay at the heart of the Reformation? The Theology of the Protestant Reformers crystallises around five great principles. Sola Scriptura, Solo Christo, Sola Fide, Sola Gratia and Soli Dieo Gloria. This series will continue with a consideration of the Five Solas of the Reformation and their value for us today.


Eduardo said...

Great post. I would add to the list of your confessions the Three Forms of Unity employed by the churches of the Continental/Dutch Reformed tradition: The Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. I think these are also extremely important.

Eduardo said...

By the way, you might find this post of mine of some interest:

Exiled Preacher said...

Thanks Eduardo, I agree that the Three Forms of Unity are important documents for international Reformed Christianity. Maybe I was being a bit parochial in limiting myself to British doctrinal statements.

Good post on your blog re "A new Reformation".


Guy Davies

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