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Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology)

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) [Kindle Edition]

Kevin Bauder , Jr., R. Albert Mohler , Jr., John G. Stackhouse , Roger E. Olson , Andrew David Naselli , Collin Hansen

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Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism compares and contrasts four distinct positions on the current fundamentalist-evangelical spectrum in light of the history of American fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The contributors each state their case for one of four views on the spectrum of evangelicalism: -Kevin T. Bauder: Fundamentalism -R. Albert Mohler Jr.: Conservative/confessional evangelicalism -John G. Stackhouse Jr.: Generic evangelicalism -Roger E. Olson: Postconservative evangelicalism Each author explains his position, which is critiqued by the other three authors. The interactive and fair-minded nature of the Counterpoints format allows the reader to consider the strengths and weaknesses of each view and draw informed, personal conclusions. The Counterpoints series provides a forum for comparison and critique of different views on issues important to Christians. Counterpoints books address two categories: Church Life and Bible & Theology. Complete your library with other books in the Counterpoints series.

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22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Groundbreaking 9 Nov 2011
By Philip Thompson - Published on
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
There is no other book like this book. Everyone knows that substantial differences exist under the evangelical label. These differences have been written about for years. Even Systematic Theologians (e.g., Erickson and Geisler) have taken a stab at explaining them, albeit not to the satisfaction of the groups being described. People have fought over these differences and divided over these differences, but no one has allowed each major proponent present his case for his own view. This work, in the mind of this reviewer, is nothing less than groundbreaking. It is groundbreaking for a number of reasons. First, it selects from a broad range of viewpoints. Most works thus far may have focused on the conservative evangelical and generic evangelical debate, but few have had the audacity to include the fringe viewpoints of the fundamentalists and post-conservatives. Second, it selects excellent representatives for each viewpoint. Each proponent has studied extensively, written substantially, and is respected by the other writers for this. Each proponent is able to make a reasonable (as opposed to a caricatured) defense of his position. This fact speaks well to the effort of the editors in selecting the writers judiciously. Third, the clarity of the writing and the quality of the dialogue has already sparked ongoing and helpful discussion between the groups. In the end, it seems that this work may be seminal in a better understanding of the landscape of evangelicalism.

A thorough analysis of all the views would be quite difficult to do in a simple book review, but an attempt will be made to summarize each view and note the points of contention that are raised with each writer. As well the reviewer will some offer personal critiques of the arguments of all the writers.

View 1 is the fundamentalist view as presented by Kevin Bauder. Bauder lays out his case from a number of angles. His arguments seem unique in that he does not attempt to claim the title of "Evangelical" and in so doing does not attempt to restrict the evangelical tent. He merely makes the case for how he decides who to fellowship with under that broader umbrella. The key difference (maybe the only difference) between his view and View 2 is his understanding of secondary separation (38-40), which he feels has been lost by the second view (31-33). As presented by Bauder, the secondary separation argument is, as noted by the other writers, quite tame; however, the broader implications of the view have scarred the movement that Bauder promotes. The whole idea of separating with those who do not separate has led to an ad infinitum chain of separation that has led to the deconstruction of fundamentalism. Bauder takes time to lament this fact in his article (40-49). He points out that fundamentalism really only exists as an "idea" but not as a movement any longer. "Hyper-fundamentalists" are carrying on the tradition of separating merely for the sake of separating and the progressives are jumping ship to join with their conservative evangelical brothers. The other writers chide Bauder a little here (e.g., 58, 62), as he represents a view of fundamentalism that does not match the reality seen by those who have interacted with the movement.

Overall, it does seem that Bauder is too good of an example of his own movement. He represents the movement in a way that is uncharacteristically scholarly, balanced, and insightful; however, he still fell prey to the pitfalls of any who would attempt to defend the fundamentalist movement. I felt that he attempted to beat the Billy Graham drum too much in his argument for separating with Al Mohler (e.g., 101). In all reality, Billy Graham and his methods are passé and it feels like too much of a stretch to draw on it for the sake of debate. His emphasis on separation is also too easy due to the fact that fundamentalism has already separated from Evangelicalism long ago, resulting in a "hardening" of the separatist approach (100). In Kevin's words, fundamentalism has set up a "parallel universe" (143) apart from the broader evangelical movement. Fundamentalism has codified separation as the only response to liberalism and other issues. Bauder's approach is shaded by this position. To imagine pushing out liberals and doing battle to take back denominations is both unsettling and useless from this point of view. It is no wonder, then, to find Bauder's expression of surprise upon seeing the conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention (102). In the fatalistic mind of the fundamentalist, separation is the only viable response to error. Mohler insightfully notes that this approach would not have allowed for the "rescuing or redeeming of wayward institutions" (55). Bauder ultimately stands victim of his own philosophy here (not to mention the fact that his collaboration with men like Olson in a work such as this contradicts the very idea of separation that he claims to espouse). Historically, fundamentalism allowed for responses other than separation. It allowed for work to be done to attempt to restore the individuals, denominations, and schools. Only when nothing more could be done, then separation was used as a last resort (i.e., Westminster and the OPC). In this sense, Bauder is not a historic fundamentalist, and in another sense, he is not a modern fundamentalist (which he characterizes as "hyper-fundamentalists"). Bauder ultimately is an anomaly who attempts to hold up an idea of fundamentalism without a history or a movement while a great likelihood exists that the historic idea of fundamentalism that Bauder champions still is alive and well in the view that follows.

View 2 is the confessional evangelical view as presented by Al Mohler. His case is argued historically and biblically and is a case for measuring evangelicalism by how individuals measure up to conservative orthodox theology and practice. Interestingly, a number of similarities between Mohler's approach and Bauder's view are easy to be found. Mohler's handling of the fellowship as center-bounded (75-77) smacks of Bauder's maximal and minimal levels of fellowship. Mohler's triage concept (77-80) marries nicely with Bauder's concept of a "matrix" of considerations in the realm of fellowship (37). Both Mohler's concept of orthodoxy and opposition to liberalism create a number of parallels to the fundamentalist approach; however, Bauder disagrees with the idea that Mohler is a fundamentalist because Bauder feels Mohler is indifferent (100-101) to the dangers of the heterodoxy. Stackhouse and Olson identify Mohler as a fundamentalist right out of the gate (104, 110) and do not see the supposed difference between him and Bauder. Perhaps this difference of opinion is due to the fact that Stackhouse and Olson do not see Mohler as indifferent, but see him aggressively attempting to assert conservative orthodoxy over the big tent of evangelicalism. Perhaps this difference of opinion is because Bauder feels a need to drive a non-existent wedge between himself and Mohler here. Ultimately, the connection is perceived by those involved in the movements and is not seen by the broader evangelicals.

Mohler does a good job representing his position, but it seems that there are some elements lacking in his approach. First, the title of the position is listed as "confessional." Some of the other writers take him to task here, so there is not a great need to go into detail, simply to say that Mohler is not discussing a confession, but rather a conservative view of evangelicalism that points back to an orthodoxy represented in the creeds of the reformation era. Secondly, Mohler's argument seems to center on redefining the identity of the evangelical movement. This seems to be the weakest point of Mohler's argument. By trying to elaborate (75) on Bebbington's definition of evangelicalism, Mohler attempts the impossible. He actually attempts to define the movement as, in essence, his own theological viewpoint. Stackhouse and Olson react strongly against this point. By attempting to redefine and capture the evangelical camp for himself, Mohler overreaches and is called on the carpet for it. The reality is that evangelicalism is much broader than the conservative and confessional camps. What would have helped Mohler here was, instead of focusing on defining evangelicalism in a way that was most helpful to him, he should have argued that within evangelicalism he advocates certain doctrines or fellowships with a certain circle of individuals. He seems to realize this conundrum by the end of his response to Stackhouse. He ends up seemingly conceding the argument to Stackhouse. Yes, evangelicalism is a big tent; however, "at the end of the day, the confessional church must do what the evangelical movement cannot - confess with specificity the faith once delivered to the saints" (155). Big tent evangelicalism is not sufficient for true Christian fellowship. This fellowship demands a tighter circle, in Mohler's mind, than evangelicalism allows.

View 3 is the generic evangelical view as presented by John Stackhouse. At the outset of his chapter, Stackhouse states that he seeks to purpose a position that is the "most authentically evangelical" (116). And it would seem that he does just that. He spends the majority of his article defining the movement and his position within it (116-128). He here defines what evangelicalism is, not what it should be, not what it should not be, not what it was, but what it is. John's evangelicalism is a broad and fluffy sort of thing with no real boundaries. Primarily Stackhouse argues that evangelicalism should be defined as centering on the Bebbington quadrilateral. The trouble that Stackhouse seems to struggle with is how far one can be from the center and still be considered part of evangelicalism. Thankfully, John does provide us with two examples of those who do not fall within that solar system. Roman Catholics, in the writer's mind, do not fit the mould because they do not seek to identify with the movement (128). One might ask if this may change should the Catholics change their mind on this point, but that remains beside the point. According to Stackhouse, Mormons also do not fall within the evangelical camp because they do not hold to his concept of orthodox doctrine and are therefore not even Christian (137). John also gives us two examples of (interestingly, non-orthodox) views that can be considered evangelical: open theism and the New Perspective on Paul. So now a "useful" (116) definition of the movement emerges: evangelicalism is a movement made up of all non-Catholic, non-cultic born again Christians.

As expected, Bauder and Mohler jump all over Stackhouse although each one clarifies their points in response. Bauder moves towards an "I told you so" sort of approach and breaks into a history lesson of why fundamentalists left the movement to begin with (145-148). He argues that this very slippery slope of the movement drove the fundamentalists to remove themselves from it a half-century ago. Mohler moves to shift his argument to one of admitting that, though the movement is vast and difficult to bound, believers must bound their fellowship to avoid being taken prey by false doctrine. It was fascinating that neither Bauder nor Mohler really targeted questionable points on an individual level, but rather dealt with the argument as a whole. The one phrase that jumped out to this reviewer was actually targeted by Olson. Stackhouse defined penal substitutionary atonement as "far from being merely some sort of evangelical marker...[it] is a vital and non-negotiable part of Christian theology in general" (133); however, instead of writing off the view as non-evangelical (based on the same reasoning that he wrote off Mormonism), he rather closes here by noting that although the New Perspective crowd are merely wrong evangelicals, but they are still genuine evangelicals. Olson picks up on the doublespeak and points it out (158). Ultimately, when John speaks of orthodoxy (and he does quite frequently) the reader must ask the question: from whose perspective? This question will really come into play as the final view is considered.

View 4 is the post-conservative evangelical view as presented by Roger Olson. This writer has always been fun to read. The reader may find a visceral reaction to some of what he says, but he certainly thinks outside the box and writes with a sharp wit and great skill. Overall his view of evangelicalism is big and fluffy like Stackhouse's, but just bigger and fluffier. In the center one will find those that reject the inerrancy of Scripture (165, 172-173). Out on the fringes one may find "monophysites, Sabellians, open theists" (192), New Perspective promoters, and so on. To Olson this odd bunch of believers, among several other things, demonstrates a respect for the tradition of Christian orthodoxy. On the one hand, Olson argues for respect of the early creeds of Protestantism and Christianity (176), but on the other hand argues that evangelicalism should be generous enough to include views held as heretical since the fifth century (177). In this sense, Olson seems to be militating for a broader view of evangelicalism than currently exists. Just as Mohler militantly argues for a smaller view of evangelicalism, Olson co-opts the evangelical movement for his own purposes and tries to force upon it views that do not even fit within the orthodox framework.

Surprisingly, Olson gets hit quite hard from all three of the co-authors. Bauder makes an insightful analogy to Olson's evangelicalism looking like something of a "freak show" (192) that includes all sorts of deformed dogs and holds them up as the archetype of what a real dog should be. Mohler points out that even Olson bounded the movement by excluding Seventh-Day Adventists and Catholics. Olson really does believe in a bounded evangelicalism whether or not he states it outright. Ultimately, the result of views such as Olson's and Stackhouse's is an "unstable" movement in Mohler's opinion (197). Mohler indicates that the only means of regaining the stability of the movement is to return to specific doctrinal boundaries. Stackhouse also makes two particularly strong points. He notes that "every element in a centered set has to embrace all of what constitutes the center. Not "face toward it," but to embrace it" (202). By making this point, Stackhouse undermines even his own concept of centered evangelicalism. If all the difference rests upon whether one is embracing the center or merely facing the center, then who is to determine that difference? Does this not smack of something of a boundary (viz., one group is close enough to embrace the center and another group is too far away and is only facing the center)? That said, Stackhouse does solidly strike at Olson's model and should raise a number of questions in the mind of the readers. To this reviewer, Stackhouse seems to be concerned about just how big and fluffy the movement may become if it is not bounded in some way. It seems that this may be John's fleeting attempt to try to erect some sort of boundary before the term truly becomes meaningless. Secondly, Stackhouse notes that Olson relies too much upon the NAE in his definition of what is in evangelicalism and what is out (203). This point was a much needed corrective to the incessant pleas to the organization throughout the chapter.

In summary, the views could be stated as follows. Bauder argues that one should separate from evangelicalism. Mohler argues that one should retake evangelicalism. Stackhouse argues that one should exist within evangelicalism. Olson argues that one should expand evangelicalism. The views really do polarize and, as Naselli states, in essence form two opposites (214). One view seeks to limit their fellowship within the breadth of evangelicalism (Views 1 and 2) and the other view seeks to allow for as much variation within their fellowship within evangelicalism (Views 3 and 4). In light of these considerations old enemies may become fast friends or deeper differences may need to be brought to light. Possibilities abound as this book brings a fresh perspective on the spectrum of evangelicalism.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scintillating Dialogue On The History and Status of Evangelicalism 22 Sep 2011
By David P. Craig - Published on
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I love the format of the "Views" books in that they allow the reader to wrestle with and think about crucial issues that oftentimes divide Christians. Instead of having the bias of one author - you get to see an offensive and defensive articulation of each view and weigh the evidence based on the strengths and weaknesses of the evidence given by each author. This new offering in the "Views" series particularly addresses important aspects that unite and divide "evangelicals." An evangelical is someone who holds to the "good news" as declared from the Scriptures. However, what is the good news? What are the uniting factors of the good news? And what are the boundaries required in disseminating the message, and uniting around the good news in order to penetrate society with the gospel?

The reason this book and the issues are so important is that what is at stake in all of this discussion is the heart of the gospel, and if there is no agreement on the gospel than unity is ultimately a vain pursuit, and the power of the gospel is squelched in isolated enclaves, rather than in a unified front.

In this book the panel of experts specifically focus on three areas in evaluating the spectrum of evangelicalism:

1) They evaluate their views on Christian cooperation with respect to Evangelicals and Catholics in evaluating the Evangelicals and Catholics Together movement led by Charles Colson and the late John Neuhaus, which began in the 1990's. Also, they address the more recent Manhattan Declaration in order to bring more clarity to cooperation among social and theological concerns.

2) They evaluate doctrinal boundaries - what are the "essentials" that make one a doctrinally sound evangelical - specifically with reference to the recent debates over "open" theism (does God know the future).

3) They explain their specific views on key issues related to the atonement with specific reference to what it means that Christ took on God's wrath meant for sinners.

The Four Distinct Views Presented Are:

View #1: Fundamentalism - Kevin T. Bauder (Research Professor at Central Baptist Theological Seminary in Minneapolis)

View #2: Confessional Evangelicalism - R. Albert Mohler Jr. (President and Joseph Emerson Brown Professor of Christian Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville)

View #3: Generic Evangelicalism - John G. Stackhouse Jr. (Professor of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada)

View #4: Postconservative Evangelicalism - Roger E. Olson (Professor of Theology at George W. Truett Theological Seminary of Baylor University)

After each writer presents his view there is a response from each of the others with insightful commentary on the others' views. I found this book to be historically enriching, doctrinally thought provoking, and challenging in its ecclesiological and sociological implications. I hope this book will summon a wide reading and will help balance the thinking, behavior, and unity of all who care about being an evangelical - and more importantly getting the gospel right so that we may speak it and live it boldly in a world that desperately needs to know Jesus and what it means to be a part of His body on earth.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Glimpse into the Broad Range of Views on Evangelicalism 5 Jan 2012
By Life Long Reader - Published on
For decades Evangelicalism has been in a constant flux and there is no sign of it slowing down. The nature of this flux centers on Evangelicalism's very identity. But the nature of Evangelicalism itself hinges on defining two important terms or ideas: "What is the evangel?" and "Who is an evangelical?"

As if answering these questions were not controversial enough, throw into the mix the fact that everyone wants to have the answer(s) but not everyone agrees. Thus, within broader evangelicalism there is significant confusion and lack of unity about who is an (e)vangelical and what is (E)vangelicalism. This is a debate, and sometimes war, that has waged for decades and will continue for years to come.

It is a commonly held belief, applied to many arenas, that he who defines the terms wins the debate. Since Evangelicalism is so divided and spread out the question naturally arises, "Who gets to define these two terms/ideas?" Is any one definition correct? Can any definition be wrong? Can anyone be an evangelical? What does it take to be considered unevangelical?

In an effort to present and possibly come to more of a unified consensus on the definition of these terms Andy Naselli and Collin Hansen have edited the new book Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism. This book brings together the views of four leading voices within Evangelicalism today. The contributors and their respective positions are as follows:

Kevin Bauder - Fundamentalism
Al Mohler - Conservative/Confessional Evangelicalism
John Stackhouse Jr. - Generic Evangelicalism
Roger Olson - Postconservative Evangelicalism
There are no doubt other slices within Evangelicalism that could have been represented but these four views seem to be the most dominate and have a large following.

Unity on the evangel

The basis for the word evangelical is the word evangel which means "good news." Across the four views presented there is unity in believing that Evangelicalism as a movement and evangelicals as persons should be centered on the good news of the gospel.

For Bauder "profession of the gospel is the minimum requirement for Christian fellowship" which centers on 1 Cor. 15 and the events of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (p. 25). It is these events that make the gospel possible. But simply affirming the reality of these is not enough. "The gospel begins with events, but the events are not presented as brute facts. They are interpreted (p. 29)." To Bauder, the gospel is the explanation of the significance and meaning of those events. He states further, "That meaning explains why the good news is good....Therefore, the gospel has an irreducibly doctrinal component. The gospel is not only events; it is also doctrines (p. 29)." It is these explained doctrines that shape and provide the boundaries for an evangelical and should for those within Evangelicalism. "Since the gospel functions as the boundary of Christian fellowship, fundamental doctrines are part of that boundary (p. 29)." They are fundamental doctrines of the gospel and as such should be fundamental to and evangelicals explanation of the evangel.

For Mohler there is not much recognizable difference in what Bauder asserts. Mohler sees the doctrinal essentials inside a theological triad. There are first, second and third tier doctrines to the Christian faith. These first tier doctrines "include the Trinity, the full humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, justification by faith alone and the authority of the Scripture (p. 78)." He goes on to say, "Denying these doctrines represents nothing less than eventually denying Christianity itself (p. 79)." The rub lies in the boundary between first and second tier doctrines. This is where Mohler and Bauder might disagree (and where Stackhouse and Olson certainly will) but where they would also part ways with Stackhouse and Olson. Both Bauder and Mohler agree that there is a fine line between the two but they would differ on what they are. Mohler further articulates the gospel as the center of evangelical confession by rounding it out with the idea that whatever becomes the center naturally defines the boundaries. If the gospel is the center of Evangelicalism then it also defines its boundaries, thus by definition weeding out those who can and cannot (should or should not) claim to be an evangelical. Mohler champions a "model of evangelical identity that directs constant attention to both the center and the boundary.....Attention to the boundary is not a matter of mere doctrinal policing. It is necessary for our faith to resemble and represent what the Bible reveals. Attention to the boundary lines is essential lest the evangelical movement forfeit its responsibility to make our confession of Christ clear (p. 77)."

John Stackhouse understands the evangel to be "a message about the life, work, and significance of Jesus Christ as God reconciling the world to himself and how we can participate in that salvation (p. 116)." Though in somewhat different words Stackhouse falls in line with Bauder and Mohler on identifying the gospel as the center of evangelical confession. He too believes there are to be sets of beliefs that mark out an evangelical as well as convictions they hold to. As an individual an evangelical is to be Christ centered, Bible centered, conversion centered and activist minded (p. 119). As a movement Evangelicalism is to be Christ centered, Bible centered, conversion centered, missionally focused and transdenominational (p. 124). Going beyond Bauder and Mohler, Stackhouse believes an evangelical need not only confirm right doctrines (orthodoxy) but also right feelings (orthopathy) and right practice (orthopraxy) (p. 124). The issue for Stackhouse is how much of each sphere does one have to hold to in order to be considered an evangelical? Can you major on one and minor on the others and still be an evangelical? Can you ignore one or two and solely focus on the last that you cannot be identified as an evangelical who is committed to the gospel?

In much the same vein as Stackhouse, Olson seeks to shape the identity of an evangelical and Evangelicalism around the ideas of conversionism, biblicism, crucicentricism and activism. These form the center of evangelical belief. Unlike the other contributors he does not come out and define the gospel per se but one does get the general idea throughout his discussion of the aforementioned shapers of evangelical identity.

All in all the four authors have general agreement that the gospel is the center of the life of the evangelical and Evangelicalism as a movement. They also have general agreement that there is a center of sorts around which an evangelical and Evangelicalism is set. Where they clearly divide over is on whether this gospel center, and it's attending doctrines, by definition or naturally sets its own boundaries in which one must stay inside in order to biblically identify as an evangelical and associate and fellowship within Evangelicalism.

Disunity on who is or can claim to be an evangelical

Even a cursory look at the history of Evangelicalism will yield the harsh reality that it is fractured. There are many factors to this which historians of many perspectives have charted over the last decade or so. Perhaps the issue that is most responsible for these fractures is the place of separation among evangelicals. Do evangelicals separate from others who claim to be evangelicals but do not keep the gospel the center and what that implies? Do we have biblical warrant to separate from other professing evangelicals? It is here where the marked division occurs.

Compared to many Fundamentalists Bauder brings a welcome tone to his view of Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism. He is of the same stripe but different. The heart of the difference for Bauder is what Fundamentalists have become famous for (whether they want to or not) - second degree separation. As central as this belief is it takes up very little of Bauder's chapter. The crux text is 2 John 9-11. For Bauder these verses describe how Christians are to handle other Christians who extend fellowship to other professing believers who they would not fellowship with. From these verses Bauder's conclusion is clear

"Christians who make a habit of encouraging apostate teachers are hardly a model of Christian discernment. We should treat them as people who have a share in the evil of apostasy. That is why fundamentalists separate from Christian leaders who will not separate from apostates. By refusing to break with apostates, such Christian leaders are losing reward by bringing themselves into fellowship with apostasy. The evil of apostasy becomes common property between them and the apostates (p. 40)."

What seems reasonably clear is how person A (evangelical) is to relate to person B (apostate). What I am not sure of yet is how to reconcile where person C (evangelical who associates with person A) is even in the picture in these verses. It seems like a point of implication at best. There are two parties in this passage not three. Whether or not Bauder's conclusions about 2 John 9-11 are as clear as he seems them to be, there is some merit and wisdom to his words. Bauder is more than reasonable earlier in the chapter as he recognizes that each person will draw the line differently and we must give everyone some room for different movement and personal discernment and application of separation. What has plagued Fundamentalism is that too often second and third degree doctrines are held to the level of first degree doctrines and thus first and second degree separation happens where there should be fellowship and unity. This is not healthy for the church. Bauder's conclusion is worthy of thought, "Any fellowship between fundamentalist and other evangelicals must grow out of what they hold jointly, and it must not ignore their differences (p. 49)."

Coming not far behind Bauder is Mohler. Mohler as many know is responsible for the restoration of the Southern Baptist Convention which the church and the world are better for. What God has done through him as nothing short of remarkable and plenty of fundamentalists know this. Where it seems that Mohler and Bauder would diverge is that it looks like Mohler would fellowship with institutions or organizations that are largely evangelical and orthodox though there may be some within the group that he would not fellowship with on an individual basis. I am not sure. Mohler (all three other contributors other than Bauder for that matter) does not speak of second degree separation except in his response to Bauder when he asks, "How far is this to be taken (p. 55)?" This has been the cry of those who hold second degree with suspicion.

Taking a jump we come to John Stackhouse. Stackhouse shows his flavor of evangelicalism when he addresses the issue of open theism. Bauder and Mohler would separate directly from them Stackhouse (and Roger Olson) would not. Stackhouse states, "I would say that open theists are, to my knowledge, genuine evangelicals. They are just wrong evangelicals (p. 132)." Further, when it comes to the atonement Stackhouse follows the same line. He agrees that the substitutionary atonement is "a nonnegotiable part of the Christian understanding of salvation" but again they are evangelicals who are just wrong in his mind about those doctrines (p. 136-37). This is a generous view of evangelicalism. But Stackhouse can hold to this because he does not see the denial of one doctrine by one person that another holds dear and central to the gospel as an act of forfeiting ones evangelical identity. It has to be more than that.

At the other end of the spectrum is Roger Olson who touts a postconservative evangelicalism. Olson does not believe anyone person can make a claim to setting the theological boundaries for Evangelicalism or even those who call themselves evangelicals. To do so is "an interesting but ultimately futile project (p. 162)." While Olson sees the gospel as the center of Evangelicalism this does not mean there are any boundaries (contra Bauder and Mohler). Gospel doctrines are centered sets and not bound sets. "The reason these entities do not compose a bounded set is that nobody can identify the precise boundaries around then, and therefore, at least in some cases, it is impossible to say with certainty exactly which entities belong to the set and which do not (p. 164)." What is confusing about Olson's proposal here is that later in his discussion on conversionism he seems to betray his own words when he says, "Conversionism of the evangelical type assumes some surrounding doctrinal beliefs (p. 171)." Foreseeing the accusation that this is a boundary Olson replies, "Rather, this hallmark....forms part of the gravitational center of evangelicalism (p. 172." In this readers mind this is wishful thinking. This is why Olson is described as holding to `big tent' evangelicalism because almost everyone is in. In this view there are many people under the tent and all are facing the center though some are closer to the center than others. Because of this there is almost no view of many doctrines that one could hold to that would push one out of the tent. It seems as if good intentions are all that are required to be under the tent.


Of the four views I come from Bauder's camp but I feel myself between him and Mohler. I like a lot of what Bauder had to say but I still have some concerns with second degree separation. I really liked Mohler's stance but I would find it helpful if there was some good interaction with the separation issue. I will say I agree with what Mohler did with The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and the Southern Baptist Convention. Does this make me not a Fundamentalist? To some yes. All too often I find myself more in line with Mohler's Evangelicalism than Bauder's fundamentalist version. Of course, there are many self-proclaimed fundamentalists who would say Bauder has jumped ship.

Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism is a great glimpse into a few of the many views on the movement of Evangelicalism and professing evangelicals. This seems to be a timely book but considering the fast pace at which Evangelicalism changes I am not sure it will be a timeless book much less a good historical reference book in the decades to come. Never the less, this is a good read and will prove a challenge to all readers alike.

NOTE: I received this book for free and was under no obligation to provide a favorable review.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sheds Light, and Edifies 4 Aug 2012
By Benjamin A. Simpson - Published on
Four Views on the Spectrum of Evangelicalism is an important book for evangelicals and non-evangelicals alike. Zondervan should be applauded for this project.

I found this book informative and instructive. As the reader might expect, four contributors were asked to write essays representative of four diverse strands within evangelicalism, with each essay being followed by a response from the other three contributors. Other reviewers have focused on the specific arguments of Kevin Bauder (Fundamentalism), Albert Mohler (Confessional), John Stackhouse (Generic), and Roger Olson (Postconservative), but I will keep my comments more general, and more brief.

Though I have limited familiarity with the depth of these controversies, the contributors were instructed to focus their essays on three concerns within evangelicalism: Christian cooperation (i.e., Evangelicals and Catholics Together and the Manhattan Declaration), views on doctrinal boundaries (i.e., open theism and the Evangelical Theological Society), and the gospel, with a focus on penal substitutionary atonement.

Each author focuses on these issues to varying degrees, so do not expect a fully developed treatment of each issue within each essay, but instead expect each argument to focus on the issue deemed central and vital by that particular author. Mohler and Bauder focus more energy on the gospel itself, and the accompanying doctrinal boundaries that should come to define true evangelicalism. Stackhouse and Olson focus on cooperation within the movement itself, and the doctrinal basis for evangelicalism's diversity.

The essays shed light, and generate heat. Each author illuminates the views associated with their perspective, and often generate critique or highlight friction points between their own approach and that of their fellow evangelicals. Thus, I found each essay instructive and challenging in its own right, and the ensuing response essays helped to underscore differences as well as points of agreement. This book represents dialogue and conversation well done among those with a common commitment to Christ, and an honesty concerning the differences that exist among evangelical Christians. In that respect, it is an edifying work, clarifying and building up, convincing and persuasive. My own views on evangelicalism align most closely with that of John Stackhouse, though I found myself appreciating Bauder, Mohler, and Olson as well.

If you wish to learn more about evangelicalism, this book will help.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Irenic, Hopeful Dialogue on the Spectrum and Future of Evangelicalism 20 Oct 2011
By Jeremy Bouma - Published on
I was thrilled to receive this book to review from Zondervan because of its content and scope: four views on the spectrum of evangelicalism'. I'm excited for this book for the reason Collin Hansen writes in the introduction: "all is not so clear within the evangelical camp either. Simply labeling ourselves evangelical no longer suffices. We are conservative, progressive, post conservative, and pre progressive evangelicals. We are traditional, creedal, biblical, pietistic, anti creedal, ecumenical, and fundamentalist. We are 'followers of Christ' and 'Red Letter Christians.'" (9)

And then the kicker: "We are everything, so we are nothing." (9)


There is this sense nowadays, at least from my estimation, that the term evangelical means little to nothing because it means so much. Contemporary expressions of evangelicalism seem to be moving in several directions all at once. And it doesn't make matters any better when a prominent president of a prominent evangelical seminary says of Rob Bell's new book Love Wins "I find nothing in his Love Wins book that violates the standards of a broad Evangelical orthodoxy."

At times like these I want to join a certain rap artist in asking, "Will the real evangelical please stand up?"

Insert into the conversation this new book with four perspectives on evangelicalism from four able "representatives": Kevin Bauder (Fundamentalism), Al Mohler (Confessional Evangelicalism), John Stackhouse (Generic Evangelicalism) and Roger Olson (Postconservative Evangelicalism).

This book aims to let each of these representatives of these four points along the spectrum of evangelicalism to define evangelicalism and locate their view in historical context. Along the way they address how they understand Scripture and authority, while also addressing three recently contested issues within evangelicalism: Christian cooperation, particularly between evangelicals and Catholics; open theism, to illustrate their views on doctrinal boundaries; and penal substitutionary atonement, to illustrate a key doctrinal issue relating to the gospel. Then after each contributor establishes their arguments and perspective, the other contributors give critique and pushback in a surprisingly irenic tone.

Of course the world evangelical is rooted in the NT use word euangelion, meaning good news, which relates to "the coming of Jesus Christ and his ministry to usher in the Kingdom of God." (10) And Luther and the Reformers--from whom our Protestant lineage we owe--were the ones who came to be known as evangelicals, because of their criticism of the Roman Catholic Church and concern for the biblical gospel. And of course from the post-WWII organizing efforts of Okenga, Henry, and Graham we derive an even more, specific evangelical lineage in their task at unifying around and preaching the gospel.

The same is true today. We still bear this good news that Jesus Christ has fulfilled the messianic hopes of Israel--the Jesus Story has completed Israel's Story, as another person has recently argued in defining gospel--through the cross in his death for the sins of rebels and resurrection to bring new life/creation, and we take seriously the command to proclaim this good news and provoke people to repentance, belief, and baptism. And these four contributors help us along with that effort.

I appreciated Bauder's clear explanation and defense of fundamentalism, and the responses from Mohler, Stackhouse, and Olson that provide some needed pushback. And while I appreciate the clarity and unity fundamentalism brings regarding the gospel, their posture and narrowness is beyond me.

I agreed more with the section from Mohler than I expected, though his charge that open theism is "disastrous to biblical Christianity" went too far for me. I've read all the open theists and, while I'm not 100% on board with their conclusions, find them to be well within the evangelical tent (ETS and NAE thought so, too) and helpful in correcting Calvinist overreach regarding the divine sovereignty and human freewill. I was also dismayed to find zero emphasis on orthopraxy, right living. The emphasis on orthodoxy was predictable, but neglecting pietism and social activism as extension of our evangelical gospel convictions was sorely unfortunate and a big miss. It's unfortunate this predictability marks confessional/conservative evangelicalism to such an extent it's basically cliche. The gospel and gospeling is about behavior as much as beliefs, and I don't mean the anti-drinking, anti-smoking, anti-dancing variety of behavior. I mean the type that is radically countercultural to the retribution, consumption, and injustice found in Kingdom America, the type of behavior that can only come from a radical encounter with Jesus' gospel and life in the Kingdom.

Also, Mohler's section on "theological triage" was very helpful and very timely, not only as evangelicals but also as Christians. Yes Jesus and His gospel-story and way are at the center of our lives and identity as Christians, but that life and identity is bounded by certain beliefs--beliefs about that person and about that gospel-story. Except nowadays it seems almost impossible to name what exactly are the contours of that person and gospel-story, unless you're Catholic and then you do have a magisterium and tradition to remind and root you. Since us evangelicals don't have such central governing body and hardly find a rootedness in tradition by way of liturgy and the creeds, such an effort at triage is necessary.

I resonated with Stackhouse and his tension of maintaining the boundaries of evangelical Christianity, while also being broad tented enough to include a whole lot of folks. He joins Mohler in using Bebbington's quadrilateral to define evangelicalism--conversionism, biblicism, crucicentrism, and activism--while also adding transdenominalism to account for that broad tent. Unfortunately, Stackhouses generic evangelicalism lacked the the more activistic theological triage motif and posture of Mohler, which I find necessary nowadays.

I did not find Olson's perspective on evangelicalism helpful at all. Olson's distinction between boundaries and centers, movements and organization was confusing. His drumbeat insistence there is no entity that has the right to decide who is in or out and instance on the impossibility do such a decision logically contradicts his own pronouncements against two Christian denominations. And his reaction against doctrinal "litmus tests" and policing is simply unhelpful.

Olson loudly protested there isn't an "evangelical magisterium," which means no one in evangelicalism has the right to name what is in or out, doctrinally right or wrong. Yes there is no central organizing group or person that has legal authority to declare something out of bounds, like Rome and the Pope. That doesn't mean there isn't an ethos and historical-socio-theological precedent that enables the movement and individuals to do just that. And on this point and others, Olson fails miserably, where Stackhouse and Mohler succeed in helping give good definition to what is and isn't evangelical.

Overall this was a good entrance into a conversation on both the history and future of evangelicalism. Though I appreciated each of the four perspectives, I thought the confessional position could have been represented someone who was confessional and Mohler could have represented a conservative evangelicalism. I join Olson in thinking another category could have been added: paleo-orthodox evangelicalism, represented by someone like Thomas Oden or D H Williams. I realize there could have been 10 positions represented, but I do think that only four views (which I know is in keeping with the marketing of the entire series) was too limiting, hence 4 stars.

In the end, my hope is that we as evangelicals would recapture the identity of which each of these contributors to helps remind us. The demeanor and tenor of their arguments and push backs should help create a good climate in which we can recapture and rediscover evangelicalism a new.
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