Saturday, 29 August 2009

Redeeming Evangelicalism

(Ed: This is supposed to be my third talk for Ireland, next weekend. However, I am conscious of being waaay out on a limb here, and may just dump the whole thing!)

Where we began

I’d like to begin my third talk by making clear that I hold evangelical Christianity in the highest regard. Wherever you find true evangelicalism, you find a passion for the gospel, a dynamism to the church, a desire for holiness and a faithfulness to Scripture.

Anything which I’ve said or will say by way of criticism must be seen in this context.

However, it will also be clear that I see evangelicalism as a broad movement which is defined primarily in terms of praxis arising from experience.

The theological basis of evangelicalism is a core of often-undeveloped theological propositions. These propositions are, I believe, true. They can be summed up in the demand to believe, as the Apostle Paul demanded that we believe, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures and that he was raised on the third day, according to the Scriptures.

Nevertheless, this is very far from a full-blown theology. Evangelicalism is not creedal, nor is it denominational. Most importantly, we cannot swap the word ‘evangelical’ for ‘Christian’, even though, in my view, Christianity is quintessentially ‘evangelical’.

The evangelical dynamic needs to be set within a bigger context —the context of the work of God in Christ, revealed in Scripture —if it is to be true to the gospel and effective in the long term.

The evangelical tradition

At the same time, we need to see that evangelicalism is itself a tradition which is not above criticism. And when I say this, I am referring not to the kind of manifestations of the Christian life that we sometimes equate with evangelicalism (I think this was the great mistake of Dave Tomlinson’s The Post-evangelical).

Rather, I am referring to the evangelical presentation of the gospel itself. I am referring to how evangelicals evangelize, and I want to suggest that some of the weaknesses in evangelicalism which I identified in the last talk arise precisely at this point.

Spot the difference

I want to tell you a story, or rather to read you a story from Scripture, and ask you if you can spot the difference between this and with most contemporary evangelism:

Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter and like a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he opens not his mouth. 33 In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Now let me pause there and ask how many of us would have done the same. My guess is, we all would have done. We would have seen it is a golden, God-given opportunity to proclaim the gospel.

But now let me ask, how many of us would then have got the response Philip got:

And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”

My guess is, none. In fact, I am sure the answer is none. The way we present the gospel, the way the gospel was presented to us, and the way we teach others to present the gospel, does not lead anyone to ask, “What is to prevent me being baptized?”

The way we learn

In researching this talk, I came across a website which examined six popular gospel outlines, all of which would, I think, claim to be evangelical. They were,

The Bridge to Life, by the Navigators.

ProclaimIT (formerly called The Black Book or Why Good People Don’t Go To Heaven), which is a multimedia presentation, suitable for the mobile phone or i-pod.

Two Ways to Live, from Phillip Jensen and co in Sydney

Knowing God Personally (formerly Four Spiritual Laws), from Campus Crusade for Christ

Are You A Good Person?, by Ray Comfort

The World We All Want, Sydney again.

To this list, we may also add Norman Warren’s Journey into Life, that I commended earlier.

In all of these, Christ is presented as the one who has died for our sins according to the Scriptures. In none of these, as far as I can work out, is this message presented in such a way that anyone would ask, “Where can I get baptized?”

Compare that with, for example, Acts 2:41, “So those who received [Peter’s] word were baptized ...”, or Acts 8:11, “when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women,” or Acts 9:18, “Then Paul rose and was baptized,” or Acts 16:32-33, “And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family.”

Now I suspect some of us will be feeling uncomfortable, and even defensive, at this point, but don’t jump to conclusions about what I might be saying. All I want you to notice at this stage is the difference between how baptism follows naturally from the presentation of the gospel in Acts and ask why it doesn’t follow naturally —in fact doesn’t even get a mention —in most evangelical gospel presentations.

And then I want you to ask what might be the significance and the effect of this.


Let me tell you where I am not going with this. I am not suggesting there is something in baptism itself, or in the way in which we do baptism, which determines whether an individual stays on the rails or goes off them later on.

I think that was somewhat the thesis David Pawson advanced in The Normal Christian Birth, but it is not what I am suggesting here.

In fact, my primary concern is not with baptism at all. What I am saying fits entirely, I hope, with what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:17, “for Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel.”

I am not suggesting that we suddenly become ‘hyper-Baptists’, who see baptism as the new key to success or failure, and for whom baptism becomes another way to divide evangelicals, as if we didn’t have enough already.

In fact, what I’m concerned about is not so much how we include baptism in, but why, as evangelicals, we leave baptism out, and how this reflects and shapes the evangelicalism. It is the hole left by the absence of baptism that concerns me — why is it there, and why does it matter?

No need for baptism?

I suggest there are two important reasons why we leave baptism out.

The first is, perhaps unsurprisingly, pragmatic. Evangelicalism emerged within Christendom, or situations close to it, where most people already were baptized.

Even today, many of the people we share the gospel with have been baptized, even though they are not only not believers, but have never been brought up even to consider becoming believers.

Unless we are ourselves Baptists, we will not be encouraging them to get baptized again. And even Baptists seem to regard baptism as something evangelism relating to the fruits of evangelism, not the gospel itself —though I am willing to stand corrected on that point.

In short, we have not spoken about baptism because we have not needed to. However, that is clearly beginning to change.

No effect from baptism?

I suspect the second reason, however, is that many evangelicals see no need for baptism because in their view it doesn’t do anything.

I have heard, though I hate to say it, of clergy who have said at an infant’s baptism that we are doing nothing here —just making the baby’s head wet.

Now I hope that view is a minority, but I suspect that if pressed many evangelicals, including many evangelical clergy, would be entirely unclear as to what baptism is doing. They are clear —or reasonably clear —about what it is not doing. But they are clearer on the negatives that the positives.

And here, I would even (tentatively) include Baptists. For like much Protestant paedobaptist theology, Baptist anti-paedobaptist theology is as much a theology of negation as of affirmation and Baptist confessions have much more to say about who should not receive baptism than the New Testament ever does.

Baptism in much evangelical theology is an afterthought, a PS, a tidying-up. Moreover, it is left to the discretion of the individual —it will be arranged when they wish, as they feel ready.

They are not saying to us, “Here is water, what is to prevent me being baptized?” and we are not saying to them, “Repent and be baptized.”


Now let me stress once again, I am not saying that therefore the secret is to talk about baptism. It is the absence itself that matters, but why does it matter?

First, because it shows that we are not reading Scripture as closely as we might like to think. Let us remind ourselves of the Great Commission:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. (Matt 28:19)

It is no exaggeration to say that the evangelical typically leaves out the bit between “nations” and “teaching”. But by its very nature, this means we ignore at the outset of the Christian life precisely what we are supposed to teach, which is “all that I have commanded you”. And we leave out precisely what we are supposed to do, which is to baptize those whom we are making disciples.


But what of those who do baptize? Unfortunately, the truth is that baptism itself is generally so misunderstood that it is not administered Christianly, even when it is administered rigorously.

What I mean is this: baptism is treated separately from the process of salvation, rather than as integral to it. In Scripture, the gospel is presented in such a way that baptism is part of the process. Let me read again from Jens Christensen in The Practical Approach to Muslims:

Baptism is NOT the witness of the individual that he now has faith in Christ. [...] Baptism, considered as a witness, is the testimony of the Church to an act of God. Baptism proclaims to the world that God has a pact with mankind, mediated through the body of Christ, the Church.

Notice, baptism also confronts us immediately with the reality of the church. If we preach mere repentance and faith, as inward experiences and personal decisions, we privatize the faith. Then, when the individual is confronted by the church —by the lives and beliefs of other Christians —there is a fresh challenge: “What has my faith got to do with these people?”

Baptism, by contrast, demands and immediate engagement with the church, for the simple reason that no one can baptize themselves. I need at least one other believer to baptize me, and I need them to tell me what this is all about.

The Church

But again, what matters here is not so much the doing of baptism as its omission. We omit baptism from the message of the gospel not only because we doubt that baptism does anything but because we doubt that the church matters.

Or rather, we accept that church matters, but (like baptism) we see it as something added on to salvation, like a post-script —something which the individual can choose. So Norman Warren says to the new convert, “Join a local church at once.”

But before this, in telling you how to “grow strong as a Christian” he writes,

The Bible is the Christian’s food. It is a living book and through it God will speak to you. Read it every day.


Talk to Jesus Christ naturally as to a close friend, yet respectfully remembering who he is. Spend time alone with him every day.

It is thoroughly individualistic —God speaks to you in the Bible, you speak to God in prayer, and you do this alone. True, he adds, “never miss being with Christians in church on Sunday.” But that is point three, not point one.

Once again, though, let me try to clarify what I’m saying. I’m not saying that baptism is what is important. I’m saying that the omission of baptism from how evangelicals currently tend to present the gospel (I say currently, because they wouldn’t have done so 2,000 years ago!) reflects weaknesses in current evangelical understanding and therefore in our missiology and in the effects of our mission.

It would be no good simply tacking baptism onto the end of our evangelistic appeal. We have to ask ourselves why we have left it off and what this says about our understanding of God’s work for us and in us, and what message this gives to the new convert.

It is no wonder, for example, if the new convert has a high regard for their own opinions about what the Bible means if we have taught them that the church is something for them to choose having been saved, not something which was the vehicle through which they received the gospel of salvation.

By why would they take the teachings of the Bible seriously when we leave out the fact of baptism? And why would they be anything other than individualistic, when we have taught them that everything of importance took place solely between them and God? And why would they think it mattered whether they joined a church now or later, when we have not set their conversion in the context of the church?

It is not that they have not been baptized which matters, so much as the fact that we have taught them bad habits from the outset. And it is precisely these bad habits, I would argue, that come back to weaken evangelicals and evangelicalism in later years.

Strengthening evangelicalism

Let me reiterate. Nothing I am saying is about rejecting evangelicalism. So long as the word ‘evangelical’ continues to mean a gospel-centred, salvation-proclaiming spirituality, then I want to be known as an evangelical because I believe Christianity is, in this sense, an evangelical faith.

But just as evangelicalism entails an acceptance of the witness of Scripture (we believe that Christ died and was raised ‘according to the Scriptures’) so our understanding of being evangelical must be subject to a Scriptural critique.

The evangelical church is, or should be, semper reformanda: always being reformed, and that by the Word of God. And the Word of God says to us, “What happened to baptism, and through what hole in your thinking about the gospel did it fall?”

And the answer is it fell through a hole in our ecclesiology (our understanding of the church), created by a hole in our theology (related to our understanding of the gospel).

As a result, although we have been manifestly effective in bringing people to faith, they are isolationist in their Christian living and individualist in their Christian thinking.

At worst, they wander in and out of church as they feel inclined, and they pick and choose their beliefs as they think fit.

And too often, when they discover the church they become institutionalists, when they discover the wrong ideas they become liberals, and when they discover baptism they become sacramentalists or —as a modern variation —Federal Visionists. We set them up for failure, because we have not thought through these things for ourselves.


Now all the way through what I’ve been saying, I’ve been painfully aware that there is the potential for misunderstanding. So let me say again, the secret is not getting people baptized.

Indeed, I’d want to emphasize that when it comes to evangelism there is no secret. There is just the hard, and sometimes terrifying, slog of preaching the gospel, of telling people they are sinners, of telling people that God sent his Son to die for our sins, of telling people that they must repent and that they must confess Christ as Saviour and Lord.

But I am saying that according to the word of Christ himself, the proclamation of the gospel ought to bring people to expect and receive baptism, and that the lack of this expectation is a weakness in contemporary evangelicalism which explains a lot about the problems evangelicals experience.

Our pragmatism allows us not to think through the meaning and place of baptism. We can get people converted, genuinely and effectively, without baptism even being mentioned (Journey into Life worked for me), so why bother trying to sort this one out?

But‘doing theology’ is already marginalised in our own understanding of Christianity, and it is actually reflected in our unwillingness to get to grips with what baptism means.

We don’t care too much about the church, though we know it is important, so why introduce something as complicated as a ‘sacrament’? That can wait. The important thing is to get people converted. But the converts this produces pick up on our attitude, and so church wait, as far as they are concerned, too.

We know that what matters is ‘my’ relationship with Jesus —no-one else can take my place in that —but we also like to think no-one else can interfere with it. Above all, why would anyone else be able to tell me what to think or do? And so we’re not going to tell anyone to ‘repent and be baptized’ —who would do the baptizing, and could they be trusted?

And so converts learn that they have a right to live their Christian lives without ‘interference’ from other Christians. They can believe what they want, and practice their faith how they like, because that is how we like to do it ourselves.

Again let me say, it is not that we don’t baptize — it is that our attitude to the gospel itself makes baptism an optional extra. But from the beginning it was not so.

Again, it is not that we have despised baptism. No evangelical I know is against baptism — but it has not figured large or accurately on the evangelical radar because the radar is not tuned to that frequency. We do not do theology or think church in regard to salvation, we are pragmatists and individualists, and it is undermining the work of the gospel.

The answer is not to baptize people. It is to examine ourselves and our understanding of the gospel. The Bible is clear:

Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

If that message is not our message, we need to acknowledge the difference and address the problem.

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  1. Interesting. I have often wondered if being baptised is the biblical equivalent of modern evangelical practices such as responding to an altar call or praying a prayer of commitment, i.e. the symbolic action which indicates the reality of repentance and turning to Christ. If so, perhaps evangelists should make sure that, as at the Day of Pentecost and in Acts 8:36, there is a suitable pool of water available for people to jump into, or at least be sprinkled from. But would that meet your objections, or are you looking for a greater or different place for baptism in evangelicalism?

  2. "...when they discover baptism they become sacramentalists or - as a modern variation - Federal Visionists"

    Thank you for the way you have identified these weaknesses in contemporary evangelicalism and for calling us to rethink our theology and practice in these areas - neglect of baptism and the church, individualism &c. I was slightly surprised to come across your throwaway comment equating what may be nicknamed Federal Vision with sacramentalism, in addition to your mention of it in your post 'What is wrong with Evangelicalism?' in which it appears you are identifying it as problematic and divisive. Only in March you were researching 'Federal Vision' theology and concluded that, while you wouldn't identify with it, you couldn't see why it was a such a touchy subject and agreed with its 'high' view of baptism and critiques of some aspects of evangelicalism.

    I am just slightly concerned that these throwaway comments, not backed up in any way, particularly in the context of articles in the national evangelical press raising concerns without any substantiation, might cause more problems than they solve, further arousing unnecessary suspicion and promoting unhelpful divisiveness which we don't really need in conservative evangelicalism right at this moment.

  3. Daniel, I wasn't so much equating the Federal Vision movement with sacramentalism, as saying that this is another way in which people who have not thought much about the sacrament of baptism 'jump' when they do.

    As you've picked up, one of my reactions to Anglicans getting very excited about FV was that they ought to have known these things already. It appeared to me that it was the absence of any solid understanding of baptism amongst many Anglican evangelicals that had set these people up for a theological fall when FV came into their sights. The potential for the division was actually created by the earlier, weak, theology, rather than by the later, slightly OTT, understanding.

    I hope this may clarify for you and others.

  4. John,

    I have found your three articles on evangelicalism really interesting and commend you for the thought that has gone into them.

    I can see why you have argued for praxis as that which defines evangelicalism – it arises from your personal observation and experience, itself shaped being within a theologically mixed denomination that has resulted in large part in a reliance on parachurch organisations to do ministry, whether UCCF, Summer conventions, whatever.

    However you want to redeem evangelicalism. You direct our attention to the conjoining of baptism and evangelism which leads you to raise the issue of church, but when you come to your conclusion I think it is too muffled, too hedged about.

    May I point out a dilemma, perhaps even an inconsistency that runs through what you have written, and let me preface by saying that I may say things that run against your ecclesiology.

    The inconsistency is in seeing evangelicalism as “praxis” and “not creedal” but then later you talk about “a hole in our theology”. In fact I would say your discussion of the problems in evangelism, the confusion over, even neglect of baptism and the endemic individualism illustrates the necessity for securing the theological base for “redeeming evangelicalism” and then reforging a new praxis in conformity with that theological base.

    In the reformed tradition that I have known and experienced baptism is treated seriously. Yes children are baptised but only on the basis of the parents’ (parent’s) faith, which by appropriate questions is articulated prior to and at the point of baptism. Such baptism is seen as the sign of a covenantal relationship. It is understood that those babies will one day need to confess Christ for themselves. There will come a day, and in my experience it doesn’t much come before 18 years, but often later, because a person needs to profess faith, and part of the process is standing before the congregation and responding to a series of searching questions, usually/often including a personal testimony. Once having made profession of faith=being admitted into the membership of the local church, that person may participate in Lord’s Supper, in time become an office bearer, have the right to participate in the call process, etc. If a person is converted after years of profligacy there is much joy as per Luke 15:11f as such a person stands to profess faith in joining the church, or alternatively never having been baptised as an infant to be baptised on their profession of faith.

    All I’m saying is that by appropriate teaching and practice around the issue of baptism (and the administration of Lord’s Supper) it is not impossible to honour the NT teaching concerning baptism in relation to the Church’s evangelism. Could this not happen in Anglican circles?

    Having carefully read your three articles John, I think if the object is to redeem evangelicalism, by all means acknowledge that it has been praxis driven if that has been the case (and I think you are substantially correct), but go on to say "we must buttress those theological foundations, and where do we go for that?" Well, why not at the very least revisit your confessional heritage, including especially I suggest Calvin.

    David Palmer

  5. Peter, you wrote "I have often wondered if being baptised is the biblical equivalent of modern evangelical practices such as responding to an altar call or praying a prayer of commitment ..."

    I think they are two different things, and indeed that the 'modern practices' have sometimes usurped baptism.

    Colin Buchanan used to argue, and I basically agree with him, that evangelistic rallies (in the days when they were held) ought to take place near a swimming pool, and that people should be led from the 'counselling room' to the pool for baptism. Certainly when we evangelize, we should be saying to the person (and to ourselves) 'repent and be baptized'.

    That does raise the problem, though, of what to do with the already-baptized, and I think we should do (or at very least say) something!

    However, as I have tried to stress, I am interested not so much in how we should 'do' baptism in relation to evangelism as why we leave it out and what are the effects of this. Why do we leave something so fundamental to New Testament evangelism out of our proclamation of the gospel? And what does this lead to, later?

    I would want to stress, once again, people are undoubtedly being converted (God is good!), but the weaknesses of evangelicalism are familiar, and some - though not all - can be attributed to this lacuna in our thought and practice.

    I cannot recommend too highly Jens Christensen's The Practical Approach to Muslims, available as a pdf file here. What he has to say about baptism in the context of Islamic evangelism illustrates exactly what I mean.

  6. I think the Colin Buchanan model, if I understand it correctly spititualises baptism and thus fails to deal with your point. For baptism to be incorporation into the visible church it must be incorporation into a particular church fellowship

    West Yorkshire

  7. I came to faith in Christ when I was seven years old. It was through reading some Christian fiction (not the Bible) which described the rescue of children in danger after they had prayed - and I knew that I needed spiritual rescue by Jesus Christ.

    I was never baptised as a baby - but when the appropriate time came (at 14 years old), I requested baptism by immersion because it was a command of Jesus - acommand that I only came to know by continuing to read my Bible and becoming a more mature Christian under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

    There are several reasons why baptism at the time of salvation is not practical.

    1) Family and friends may not be available to participate in the public witness.

    2) Conviction of sin does not arise at "convenient" moments - no water, presence of menstruation, absence of qualified administrator, non-presence of adults to give permission, coming to faith while on holiday, non-ability to follow up because of difference in denomination to name but a few!

    While I commend you for your thoughtfulness in this area, I should hate to think that "evangelists" - no matter how unprofessionally qualified - will be put off doing what is most urgently needed, just to fulfil the "order" of four small words of scripture "repent and be baptised".

    Although I can understand that those same four words would be the clarion call (and order) of

    Beryl Polden

  8. John, thanks for responding to me. Yes, I suppose I am agreeing with Colin Buchanan's model. The already baptised who have not been living as good Christians are not a problem as, at least in this diocese (Chelmsford), they can be asked to renew their baptismal vows. But I suspect that it is this issue which has led to baptism being left out of most evangelical gospel presentations.

    I'll follow up your book recommendation when I have time.

    David, perhaps the real problem is that evangelism is being carried out outside the context of a particular church fellowship.

    Beryl, I take your point, but many of these issues surely apply to people, especially young ones, making a clear profession of faith without baptism. If we think it appropriate for evangelists to lead young people to Christ on holiday, without their parents' permission, across denominational boundaries, then why is baptism inappropriate?

  9. Hi John
    I appreciate this talk very much (along with the previous two) but if there is time to revise it before you actually give it, might I humbly suggest that it would be a stronger and more effective talk if it moved more quickly from your point about 'baptism gone AWOL' (essentially a 'negative' critique of evangelicalism) to 'church (via baptism) essential to discipleship' (potentially a very 'positive' edifying application for your hearers to take home from the meeting)!

  10. Peter, I agree! As it stands, it kind of half a talk. Still time to work on it during the week, I hope.

  11. Peter Kirk,

    I am not saying that baptism is "inappropriate" at all - just maybe not "appropriate" at the same time and place as salvation.

    Having been trained as a counsellor for salvation in mass evangelical rally events, the emphasis is on helping people to understand why they have indicated a positive response - and sometimes they don't know. To try and "seal" that moment by baptism would, I suggest, be one emotional pressure too soon - and also suggests that the church cannot trust the individual to respond to Christ's command of their own free will.

  12. I think the point I'm making here is worth making, not least because (with respect) people are finding it hard to grasp the central point.

    My point is not, repeat not, that if we start doing baptisms in evangelistic rallies, or get people baptized as soon as they become Christians, it will 'put things right', either for the individual or for evangelicalism.

    My actual point is that we need to ask WHY the typical 'evangelical' gospel presentation does not lead to the point where people would ask, "What is to prevent me being baptized?" whereas the presentation of the GOSPEL in Apostolic times naturally led to this point.

    One of the emerging 'answers' is, indeed, that we can see all sorts of 'difficulties' if people should want baptism. But ACTUALLY NO ONE ASKS FOR IT THE WAY WE PRESENT THE GOSPEL.

    (Sorry to 'shout', but I've run out of time!)

  13. Beryl, if that's you who replied to me anonymously, I certainly wouldn't pressure into baptism anyone who doesn't clearly know what they are doing. Perhaps it is not right for impressionable and unstable teenagers. But it is the biblical response in a mass rally (at least, the one at Pentecost) for adults who have made a clear decision for Christ.

    John, I really don't understand the distinction you are trying to make. If you are saying that baptism needs to be made central to gospel presentations, then what would you say that would "lead to the point where people would ask, "What is to prevent me being baptized?""? And how would you answer that question, unless to say that there is no water available? Biblically, the response has to be immediate baptism, as in Acts 8. So we are right back at the point where "we start doing baptisms in evangelistic rallies, or get people baptized as soon as they become Christians". Of course no one is trying to say that this will solve all the problems in evangelicalism, just that it seems to be the right thing to do.

  14. Perhaps the reason why the Ethiopian eunuch saw immediate need for baptism was because Philip had explained the gospel as an extension of what had previously occurred in Jewish "legal" terms!

    I refer to the "mikvah" - the Jewish ritual cleansing which, for Christians, was superseded by the baptism of John and subsequently, immersion in water and the Spirit. Apostle Paul summarised it in Ephesians 5 25-27 as a "washing by the word" in order to present "the church", His body, without wrinkle, spot or blemish - certainly pertinent to a church that takes "the law" and "purity" as its basis. I'm sure bible students can do the legwork of checking these terms and references.

    And yes, it was me who posted earlier - I'm still trying to get used to giving my name and location.

    Beryl Polden

  15. Peter, I think what John may be suggesting is not so much that evangelistic talks need to focus on baptism per se, but that they do need to be talks which focus on the role of the church in the life of the believer, so that the obvious response includes not just repentance and renunciation of sin, but also the positive commitment to entry into the body of believers. Salvation not only as a change of status of the individual, but as a change of status which includes incorporation into the body. So then it would be natural for someone to ask something like 'How do I join?', and for the answer to be 'By being baptised.'

  16. Well, Ros, that may be what John meant. But where does he get his biblical warrant for this? Biblical evangelistic sermons did include a call for baptism, but I don't think any of them focused on the role of the church. Philip was telling the Ethiopian eunuch about Jesus, not about the church, when the eunuch asked about baptism.

  17. The following works are helpful when considering the question "what is an evangelical?": Bernard Ramm, 'The Evangelical Heritage: A study in historical theology', especially Chapter 1; John Stott, 'Evangelical Truth'; Richard Turnball, 'Anglican and Evangelical?', chapter 2. Packer and McGrath have also done work on this.

  18. Peter Kirk: But hadn't Phillip been commissioned by the church? He was not an itinerant in the sense that he was acting solely as an individual apart from a larger corporate identity (whether you call him a deacon or an evangelist, he was working for the church in some capacity). He was not para-church in the sense of Billy Graham; Phillip knew what happened next - baptism. I perceive that John is saying that our evangel has got to lead somewhere and not remain some atomized, individualistic message, i.e., we need to make more explicit that "saved" Christians live in families called churches.

  19. Anxious, Philip had indeed been commissioned by the church (Acts 6:6), but for a different work in Jerusalem. (Similarly, Billy Graham was ordained as a pastor in 1939 but his continuing ministry was not as a pastor and not with the church which ordained him.) Now Philip had become an itinerant, cropping up in Samaria (8:5), then (sent by the Lord, not by the church) on the Gaza road (8:26), then (taken by the Lord!) in Azotus and various other places before ending up in Caesarea (8:40), where it seems he settled down (21:8). But there is no mention in any of this of the Jerusalem church - except that they took action to correct a bad situation left behind by Philip (8:14). The eunuch never got incorporated or involved in the church but continued on his way home to Ethiopia.

    I say this not to downgrade the importance of the church, but to suggest that any attempt to preach about it from this story involves reading your own presuppositions about the church back into the text.

  20. John,

    I agree, but some do ask for baptism- those coming to Christ from other faiths. For a Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, or Zoroastrian (i.e. myself) baptism is crucial. For the Muslim, Hindu etc. family/community of the person who turns from Islam, Hinduism etc. to Christ, baptism is the really crucial point. Why? Because Muslims, Hindus etc. realize that the Christian faith of their family member is nolonger merely a "private matter" but is now public. Muslims, Hindus instinctively understand that baptism means a public declaration that their family member now embraces a new identity/community/way of life. Baptism makes the gospel "public truth". Nothing enrages other faith communities as much as one of their faith members being baptized. Up to the point of baptism, all is forgiveable of their errant family member who has been "misled" into believing in Christ. But baptism is unforgivable.

    Ro Mody.

  21. John, your 3rd article is as bad as the other two. You're still confused. First you say Evangelicals uphold Scriptural authority but then you say that they are more concerned about praxis than doctrine. I would beg to differ. Your definition of Evangelicalism might fit "broad" Evangelicalism, which is about as liberal as any mainline denomination but it certainly does not fit the "Evangelicals" I know here in the States.

    Evangelicalism by its very nature is defined by a commitment to the inerrancy of Holy Scripture, the true miracles of the Bible, and the true deity and humanity of Jesus Christ, His vicarious death on the cross for sinners, and His physical resurrection from the dead. Most also believe in His return for the elect and the final judgment, including either eternity in heaven for the elect or hell for the reprobate. This cuts across denominational lines.

    But in particular there are Calvinistic churches which have even more particular doctrinal commitments like the Westminster Confession of Faith and the Catechisms. Not to mention there are some Anglicans who actually believe the 39 Articles are what they claim to be: a binding confession of faith. The Articles teach a thoroughly Calvinistic view of soteriology and a Zwinglian and Calvinistic view of the sacraments.

    Furthermore, Anglo-Catholicism is a heresy along the same lines as the Roman Catholic Church in the 16th century. Articles were never meant to be a via media between Geneva and Rome but were meant to define the Reformed and Protestant faith in England under somewhat broader outlines than the WCF, which is a later and more particular exposition of the 39 Articles by way of the Irish Articles.

    In my opinion, your article merely reveals your own prejudices against dogmatic theology, systematic theology and biblical theology. Anyone who claims to be an Evangelical and says that doctrine doesn't matter but only praxis and experience has immediately revealed himself to be not only not Evangelical but not Christian. The very basis of Christian are the dogmatic teachings or doctrines of the Bible. The OT prophets, the NT apostles and Jesus Christ all taught doctrine. Jude 1:3 says, 3Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our) common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. ESV

    And what IS the faith once delivered to the saints? It is apostolic doctrine, the body of teachings written in the OT prophetic writings and oracles. It is the oracles of Christ and the apostles. To say that Evangelicalism or even Christianity is not based on doctrine but praxis is to reject the very doctrines recorded in the Scriptures which brought Christianity into existence in the first place.

    I would suggest one of two things. First, you should give up Christianity altogether. Or, you should begin to study the Scriptures from cover to cover. Read some solid Reformed theology. Carl F. H. Henry's 6 volume God, Authority, and Revelation might be a good place to start.

    Broad evangelicalism is as corrupt as the liberals you think you're countering. In fact, you have more in common with "open" Evangelicals than with true Evangelicals like myself. You wouldn't know a true Evangelical if you heard one.

  22. Charlie Ray,

    I fear you have missed the whole point of John's talks. He has been saying that one of evangelicalism's weaknesses is how it has sat loose to rigorous dogmatics.

    You clearly don't know John, who has spent most of his ministry upholding the key doctrines of the faith, contending as Jude urged, especially within his diocese, and writing and proclaiming sound biblical theology.

    I'm sure John would love to define evangelicalism theologically, but in the English context that is not historically accurate. Most people would have to recognise John Wesley as one of the founders of Evangelicalism (as distinct from Reformed theology, though obviously with considerable overlap), and yet he was a thoroughgoing Arminian, with odd views about perfectionism thrown in. The current death of English Methodism had its roots in Wesley's own errors, but it would be dishonest to try to deny him the description evangelical.

    I'm afraid I'd also have to disagree that the Articles are in any way Zwinglian. They are certainly Calvinist, but your suggestion that they could be Zwinglian and Calvinist on the sacraments at the same time perhaps shows a blind spot in your own knowledge of Reformed theology, as the two stand in opposition not agreement.

    I (and I imagine John) would subscribe wholeheartedly to all the doctrinal points you make, and am concerned when others dissent from them, but your unpleasant, hectoring tone does you a disservice, and I think an apology to John would not go amiss.

  23. Good set of articles John. I would defintely go ahead and present and perhaps publish them in an expanded form. Interestingly, the early church did not make new converts go through baptismal classes before baptising them!

    I echo Neil Jeffers comments concerning Charlie Ray's post which illustrates as much of Ray's prejudices and ignorance as to how we should understand Evangelicalism as he accuses you of having.

    Chris Bishop

  24. Hi John. I have often pondered why baptism is left out of the message myself. But I haven't seen anyone mention this previously.

    My own thought is that many churches fear presenting baptism as in any way important because mentioning it may lead to thoughts of baptismal regeneration. It is all-too-often thought of as an optional extra.

    In some paedobaptist churches it is not mentioned because it is assumed that people were "baptised" as babies. But in immersionist churches it is also not often mentioned, but comes up as a next step and as a prerequisite for local church membership.

    I was raised in the Baptist church and when the gospel was presented, a was often quoted:

    "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
    They replied, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved...

    It is interesting that those who taught us that belief alone was all that was required did not seem to know that a few verses later tell the story of the Philippian gaoler and his household being baptised, showing that baptism was part of Paul's message.

    I think many Christians today are afraid of baptism because they think it may cause division, so they think the wisest course of action is to omit it altogether.

    Btu why is it left out of gospel presentations? I think that perhaps the main reason is that these summaries are intended to be used in many different Christian denominations and in interdenominational contexts.

  25. Charlie Ray, I think the real problem here (and I'm sorry to say this) is that you've simply not read what I've said very carefully. Your criticisms are of what you think I'm saying, and the position you think I'm adopting, neither of which is the case.

    To give just one example, I have been saying for years that systematic theology is crucial to the Christian enterprise and that one of the key weaknesses in evangelicalism is a lack of systematic theology. On that, I think we are agreed.

    Unfortunately, I think you've jumped to too many conclusions and you are attacking a straw man, not my views!

    Just as a 'for instance', I am thoroughly committed to (and familiar with) the 39 Articles, which I taught to our congregations over the summer last year. Why? Because they are the basis of our Anglican church, I believe them to be a thoroughly good foundation for doctrine, including their Augustinian/Lutheran (and Calvinist ;-)) understanding of salvation.

    I can guarantee you and I agree on many things, but you need to realize here I am talking about the phenomenon of 'evangelicalism', not Christianity, and certainly not 'confessional' definitions of the faith. I am also, and this is important, writing in a UK (and to some extent Australian) context, not an American one and I suspect that also makes a difference.

    Comments are always welcome, but I think you're missing what I'm saying.