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What Evangelicals Believe
Robert Bowman, Jr.
word evangelical is used in a
variety of ways:
are variations and permutations of these uses, but the above four are by
far the most common uses of the word in English.
term evangelicalism, on the
other hand, is far narrower in usage, and applies only to the tradition of
conservative Protestant Christianity (#3 above). It is in this sense that
we use the term when we speak in an unqualified manner of
What, then, do evangelicals believe? It is best to begin by observing that evangelicalism is a subset of orthodox Christianity. That is, evangelicalism is a particular movement that affirms the essential theology of orthodox Christianity and, in addition, makes affirmations that it regards as crucial to a sound Christian faith.
Orthodoxy is defined as adherence to the system of doctrine represented by the
theological and Christological creeds of the early church. These are,
Apostles Creed (ca. 100-150)
Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed (325, revised 381)
Arguably, a full-bodied orthodoxy also
Athanasian Creed (late 4th century)
In the area of the doctrine of salvation,
orthodoxy is identified with the Augustinian tradition of sola
gratia (“by grace alone”) over against Pelagianism.
gratia is implicit in the Nicene Creed. Salvation results from Christ’s work
(which dominates the creed) and that of “the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the
Giver of life.”
was condemned at the Council of Ephesus (431) and the Second Council of
gratia is affirmed by all three major branches of Christianity (Catholic,
Eastern Orthodox, and Protestant).
In sum, orthodoxy is adherence to the basic theological standards of historic Christianity, specifically the doctrines of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and salvation by grace alone.
can be defined theologically as adherence to the Reformation principles of
sola scriptura (“Scripture
alone” as the infallible source of doctrinal truth) and sola
fide (justification “by faith alone”) within the context of
orthodoxy. The theological boundaries of evangelicalism are reliably
expressed in the international, interdenominational statements of faith
and confessions of the evangelical movement. This means that the following
are reliable expressions of evangelicalism:
Denominational or regional confessions,
though they may be soundly evangelical, are not normative or necessarily
representative of evangelicalism as a whole.
theology—in particular, the principle of sola
fide—is essential to a sound proclamation and understanding of the
gospel. Thus, while we do not hold that only evangelicals are orthodox
Christians, we do maintain that reliably sound forms of Christian faith,
piety, and life are to be found only in evangelicalism.
inerrancy historically is an integral and foundational doctrine of
evangelicalism. Two excellent expositions of that doctrine are the Chicago
Statements on Biblical Inerrancy and Biblical Hermeneutics. These do not
carry the kind of normative character of the WEF or