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.