Thursday, 11 December 2008

What should evangelicals believe? Justin Thacker responds

Justin Thacker, head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance, responds here to The Guardian CIF Belief question of the week:

It's what you do that counts
... if evangelicals are going to claim to be followers of Jesus Christ – which is what we do claim – then perhaps the question we need to be asking is not just "What should evangelicals believe?" but perhaps more importantly "How should we behave?"

When posting your comments please give a full name and location. Comments without this information may not be posted.


  1. Hm, I could put this the easy way or the hard way.

    For some time, I've been worried about the theological drift of the EA, and this illustrates my concerns. Behaviour is *not* more important than belief, according to Paul and according to Jesus. What are the works God requires? This is the work of God: to believe in him who sent Christ.

    This illustrates that drift in the EA, and among evangelicals more broadly, which is to abandon the idea that orthodoxy precedes orthopraxy. Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin, wrote Paul. We'd do well to hold onto the deposit of the faith.

  2. Lecture on what is an evanglical at St John's (11.12.08) was interesting and your recent Guardian article was discussed. I think the gist of what was said was about how you were right in the first part of your article where you define belief in terms of scripture but then when you break it up into 3 strands and you are rather going back on what you first asserted. Not much detail on opinion about NEAC given but very interesting to see the development of evangelicalism since Keele. I also found it very encouraging to hear just how committed the St John's speakers were to hermeneutics.

    Some of the comments Christina made were off the record so I'll be careful when I edit my notes but I'll post soon on the event.

  3. Well done John. You put the trust of a sinner in the cross at the centre. Baxter put loving others with our own unique vision of Jesus at the heart of evangelicalism. Thacker seems to put how we live at the core.

    So there we have it: one vision requires the gospel. The next requires an undefined love and the last works. The classic trio of evangelicalism, liberalism and works-righteousness. Or to put it a more ancient way, the gospel, the Sadducees and the Pharisees.

    I can't wait to see what Friday provides.

    In Christ,

    John Foxe (Hertford).

  4. I think I might have fallen foul of the name/location rule. If you can rescue the comment, I'd be obliged, but if not, the executive summary was that I thought Thacker was deeply disappointing, concerning, and illsutrative of my own worries about doctrinal drift at the EA. The head of theology at the EA is now on the record as saying that our actions matter more than our faith. St. Paul and the Lord Jesus disagree: John 6:28–29, Rom. 14:23.

    Orthodoxy must precede orthopraxy, even when we're writing for the Guardian.

    Phil Walker
    York, UK

  5. Phil, you were just the 'victim' of me being away from my computer for 36 hours. Aaargh - withdrawal symptoms. Thanks for the post.

  6. Rachel, from what you've said I wonder if the folks at St John's really understood what I'd written.

    You wrote, "you were right in the first part of your article where you define belief in terms of scripture but then when you break it up into 3 strands ... you are rather going back on what you first asserted."

    But the first part of the article was really a reflection on Stephen Neill's optimistic assertion that Anglican belief is based on Scripture. If that were so then, as I said in my CIF piece, "ideally" there would be no distinctive evangelical doctrines since we would all believe what is "clearly set forth in ... scripture".

    In such an ideal world, evangelicals would all agree, and all Anglicans would be evangelical. But clearly neither is true, and this is not least because what is set forth in, or contrary to, scripture is not "clear" in the sense that Neill demands.

    Hence the second part of my piece proceeds on the basis that such a simple formula is not applicable, whilst at the same time recognizing the fact that there is an evangelical 'mutual recognition'. This necessarily means there are some evangelical 'distinctives'.

    However, I think Neill's categories of 'atmosphere' and 'attitude' are helpful here, as evangelicalism is not held together by, for example, a single view of creation, baptism, the millennium, orders of ministry, or even scripture (since there are inerrantist, infallibilist and other views around).

    I'm not, therefore, going back on what was asserted in the first part of the essay, but rather recognizing that what was asserted was an ideal, not an actual, situation! I'm slightly worried if people didn't spot this.

    I'd be interested, also to hear a bit more on what you meant by a commitment to hermeneutics. Surely we're all committed to hermeneutics in the sense of understanding the meaning of the text?