McKnight offers his own definition, too, drawing upon the work of David Bebbington and Mark Noll:
Evangelicalism is a movement in the Protestant church shaped by differing but clear emphasis on four beliefs: the centrality of the Bible, the centrality of the atoning death of Christ, the centrality of the need for personal conversion, and the centrality of an active mission to convert others and to do good works in society.
McKnight’s a smart guy, of course, and brings a wealth of knowledge to this ongoing debate within (and outside of) the Christian Church. But I’ve got to admit that the most enlightening elements of this blog post come in the Comments section. I was fascinated to read the way that thoughtful evangelicals (presumably the bulk of McKnight’s readers) characterize the movement of which they are a part. Here are some words of wisdom from the commenters:
When evangelicalism began calling for defining and affirming propositional statements about “truth” and ceased being a vibrant contrast culture in terms of *way of life,* it became another entity tolerated by a pluralistic culture.
–“John W Frye”
It seems to me that there is one more characteristic of the old evangelicalism and that is “generous orthodoxy”. Thus evangelicalism was not limited to Arminian or Reformed or other particular disputable understandings of scripture. Evangelicalism was not separatistic as I see many are who now call themselves evangelicals. Fundamentalism was a descriptive term rather than a movement unlike the old evangelicalism which was a movement.
My impression is that [evangelicalism] is exploding outside of North America (growth & influence) eg. China house church movement, Evangelical Anglican’s in Africa, Pentecostalism in Latin America. Comments so far seem to be focused on the US Evangelical church.
There are 65 (and counting!) other comments on McKnight’s post — I encourage you to read them here.
I’m fascinated by this discussion for a number of reasons, but mostly because I hope to contribute to the evolution of the term “evangelical” with my thesis, “Born-Again Brethren: New Evangelicalism and the Cultural Transformation of a ‘Plain People.’” I think the Brethren in Christ offer a few new vantages on this historical movement.
HT = John Fea