In an interesting new e-book by Carl Trueman called The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, Trueman revisits the question originally posed by Mark Noll, but with an emphasis not on the mind of the evangelical, but with the term evangelical itself. Trueman writes,
For there to be a scandal of the evangelical mind, there must not be just a mind, but also a readily identifiable thing called ‘evangelical’ and a movement called ‘evangelicalism’–and the existence of such is increasingly in doubt.
In evangelical churches today, a great deal of ministry focus is grounded in what we call the doctrinal essentials because these essentials have historically been the foundation for the meaning of evangelical. These essentials include personal conversion, sharing the gospel, biblical authority and inerrancy, and the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Among these essentials, is there truly agreement on those who identify as evangelicals? At the most basic level, while there is agreement on the need for salvation, how salvation occurs is the never-ending debate. Surely we can come to some agreement on the doctrine of election and the age-of-accountability…or can we?
This will definitely be a topic of discussion among evangelicals and non-evangelicals for some time, but it raises an important question for us as a church that we need to consider now. How important are doctrinal distinctives among Christians? Does it matter what we believe about baptism, the meaning of communion, or when/if Christians will be raptured? I believe that by not answering the question, we are answering the question: doctrinal distinctives are of little importance. While these are complicated doctrinal questions, we run the risk of not standing for anything at all as 21st century, not evangelicals, but Christians. Perhaps the term “evangelical” has served as an umbrella term to provide unity among Christ followers, but has actually been a detriment and caused us to compromise our doctrinal reality.