Posted by: Alex | January 2, 2012

The Evangelical Understanding of Scripture

This afternoon I read a post by one of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, on an interesting series of discussions she is planning to have on her blog about the nature of scripture.  Her description of her own developing views on the subject is fairly parallel to my own journey and I very much enjoyed reading it.  You can read it here:

Loving the Bible for what it is, not what I want it to be

I think Rachel is right about the necessity of a conversation about how we relate to scripture.  What I’m wondering, however, is how this will shape evangelicalism itself.  As best I understand it, the nature and way we relate to scripture were, and are, pretty essential parts of the evangelical identity.  I’ve joked in the past that to be baptist you only need to agree to two things: only “adult” believers should be baptized and that local churches are autonomous.  Everything else is non-essential to the baptist identity because the baptist movement was born in debates on those two issues.  Likewise, contemporary evangelicalism was born out of debates about the way we relate to and understand scripture.  And while evangelicalism is a significant movement away from a more fundamentalist notion of what constitutes proper doctrine, it has to my understanding always been very concerned with maintaining a very “high” view of scripture.

So the question that I think Rachel raises is one that strikes at the very core of the evangelical identity.  If we reassess the way we relate to scripture, are we changing the core of evangelicalism?  And if so, are we still evangelicals?

I’m genuinely asking this question.  Like Rachel, I have found myself reassessing  my relationship to scripture for years.  As a result, I have frequently questioned whether the label “evangelical” is a good one for my own views.  There is much about evangelicalism that I admire and am very sympathetic to, but if my understanding of scripture is not the “orthodox” evangelical understanding of scripture, am I still considered an evangelical?  And if large swaths of evangelicalism begin having this same conversation, will the result be a stretching of the meaning of “evangelicalism” or will it be a separation in which parts of the evangelical community move over into the category of “mainline”?

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