the following is an excerpt written for the Introduction to Theology course in Truett Seminary’s Certificate of Ministry Program
In the Introduction of Practicing Christian Doctrine, Beth Felker Jones introduces the subject of “Evangelical Theology”. Roger Olson, one of the preeminent theologians on faculty at Truett Seminary has written extensively about the messy and imprecise nature of the term “Evangelical”. He has often described how the term has gotten to the point where it means everything and nothing.
The author of your text does a good job of summing up the term on page 7, but in the representative context of of Baptist life (Truett Seminary is a Baptist seminary after all), what does Evangelical mean?
To attempt to smooth over some confusion, I have tried to put together a chart that shows how various Baptist groups typically see themselves in relationship to each other:
This is not meant to be a precise illustration, but a rough guide (for one, the scale does not represent numbers, as Southern Baptists heavily outweigh all other Baptists in the US). First of all, you can see that even within the Baptist faith, there is a wide variety of diversity.
This diversity extends well beyond the very limited representation shown. The limited graph does not show various subgroups in the broad Baptist denomination: Anabaptists, Missionary Baptists, Primitive Baptist, a wide variety of other Baptist congregations and groups of differing racial and ethnic backgrounds, as well as a large variety of other international, state, and regional Baptist groups. More so, it also does not show the bigger picture on where most Baptists fit into the greater spectrum of the church – it does not show how Methodists, Lutherans, Catholics, or other Christian denominations have a similar broad spectrum of beliefs within their respective groups.
Interestingly enough there is also an area (not depicted) on the left side of the spectrum that is sometimes referred to as the “fundamentalism of the left” – similarly to the Fundamentalism on the right hand side, amongst other things they insist that proper belief and adherence to specific views are essential for Christian participation.
It’s All Relative
One thing to understand is that this type of spectrum is often relative. We like to think of ourselves in relative terms to other people or groups, but in doing so we often magnify the differences in our beliefs to the point of emphasizing our distance, rather than or similarity. When in reality all of these Baptists groups, and even more so all Christians in general agree on most of the essentials of the Christian faith.
Perhaps we ought to better think about this greater ecumenical approach in the following way:
Here the illustration is far more obvious. The amount these four groups share is quite large. There are only a few minor differences on certain beliefs.
Now, this is merely intended to be an illustration, but the actuality of the issue is represented fairly accurately, and it is on the light brownish green common ground that we want to spend our time looking at ecumenical theology. But first, we want to provide clarification on a very commonly misused term – Liberalism. (see next page)
A Little Something Extra
Incidentally if you enjoyed the above graphs, the following one might be quite interesting. It uses data from the Pew Religious Landscape Survey to chart the political ideologies of churches and religions in North America.