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Doctrinal Distinctives

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
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July 2, 2020 12:01 am

Doctrinal Distinctives

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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July 2, 2020 12:01 am

Commonly, people consider evangelicals simply to be Protestants who are theologically conservative. Today, W. Robert Godfrey argues that evangelicalism actually is its own distinct branch within Protestantism, and he explains why this is noteworthy.

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What does it take to achieve unity among so many Christian denominations. Evangelicals recognize that there is a kind of minimalism to what their core values are Evangelicals often want to ask what are the minimal number of essential things that we have to believe to be faithful Protestant Christians and yet not reject other Protestant Christians in the mid 20th century, the term evangelical described various Christian denominations agreed on several core issues, the authority of Scripture. The central place of Christ atonement and the necessity of new birth in Christ.

But in recent years the term evangelical is become so broad that the movement is difficult to define, to the point that there are key Christian leaders today who in some ways, do not consider themselves evangelical, including our teacher today.

Dr. W Modica looking as we go along until some of the huge issues that have been confronting the church in our time, and in this penultimate lecture I want to return closer to home to look at the subject of evangelicalism not we use the word evangelical in a number of times in these lectures, and often I've allowed it to stand just as a kind of synonym for conservative Protestantism, but I think it's very appropriate as we think about the 20th century and we think about the context in which we find ourselves in North America in the 21st century. I want to suggest that we need to look more carefully. More precisely at the subject of evangelicalism and ask what exactly is evangelicalism. The British scholar DW Bevington suggested that evangelicalism essentially has four points disappointing, but we have to live with it and he suggested first of all, that it is characteristic of evangelicalism that they are committed to the Bible are committed to the authority of the Bible there committed to the distribution of the Bible and there committed to the teaching of the Bible and that that certainly would be true and helpful, and key to any historic sense of the word evangelical.

Secondly he said evangelicals are cross centered when it comes to theology they want to focus on Jesus and on his saving work on the cross. That's at the very heart of what they are of what they talk about of the message that they need to get across to people. It is a cross centered theology. Thirdly, he says, evangelicals are very concerned about conversion from the Bible.

They focus on the cross and the message of the cross should leave to change hearts and change lives and that's a great passion of evangelicals to see conversions to see people brought to faith to see people brought out of darkness into life that is a characteristic and a central element of evangelicalism and fourthly he says characteristic of evangelical is a kind of activism. Their work they want to be busy about advancing the cause of Christ as they see it there busy in evangelism. Both corporate kinds of evangelism and individual kinds of evangelism.

There busy in missions there busy in moral reform in voluntary cooperation and educational activities. There is a busyness that activity about evangelicalism and that that is essential to who they are and how they are to be understood.

Others have suggested that to those four elements, 1/5 might be added and that would be that evangelicalism has displayed a remarkable adaptability to the cultures in which it is found itself so when people look at evangelicalism in the late 18th and on into the 19th century. They often find a very rational spirit to evangelicalism as it seeks to speak to a rather rational age and now some of suggested in the latter part of the 20th century, when Western culture seems to become less rational, perhaps more irrational, or at least more feeling oriented evangelicalism to has become more feeling oriented and so that would suggest there is an adaptability to evangelicalism that is crucial to its character. Now if that something of the character of evangelicalism, then we might ask what exactly is its function in the religious life of America evangelicalism would answer that by saying well. Evangelicalism is a uniting movement to bring Protestants together. And the reason that we emphasize these four or five elements as central is it's because those are the things that unite all conservative Protestant, and therefore evangelicals would say evangelicalism is really a kind of umbrella that wants to have under its umbrella. Whatever kind of Protestant you are as long as your Bible believing cross centered conversion oriented, inactive, and so if you're a Methodist you're welcome under the evangelical number of your Baptist you're welcome under the evangelical umbrella. If you're presbyterian you're welcome under the evangelical umbrella after Lucifer you're welcome under the evangelical umbrella and therefore evangelicals pretty much recognize that there is a kind of minimalism to what their core values are.

In other words, evangelicals often want to ask what are the minimal number of essential things that we have to believe to be faithful Protestant Christians and yet not reject other Protestant Christians and so there is a constant kind of push towards this question. What are the basics. What are the minimal water that defining underlying foundational values so that we can keep this umbrella as big as legitimate tonight. Various Protestants and it's understandable that two of those are the ways evangelicals understand themselves and the way evangelicals want other Protestants to understand evangelicalism. I would like to dissent from that and I would like to say to you, in some ways I do not consider myself an evangelical not want to be too shocked.

I certainly believe in the Bible and I believe in the cross and I believe in conversion. I believe in activism. In that sense if certain people asked me in certain circumstances. Are you and evangelical fires on the today show and they serve you and evangelical. I'm almost certainly going so you but among some more informed crowd a brilliant group like this I really want to say I'm not an evangelical.

Why do I want to say is just because I'm contrary by nature that could be, but I think for all that evangelicalism wants to say it's you.

19 umbrella and that's true up to a point. It is also a movement that says in the interests of unity you presbyterian stop talking about infant baptism and you Baptist start making a big deal about believers baptism and are you Lutheran stop talking about the Lord's supper the way you talk about your distinctive way.

That's why conservative Lutherans in America have almost always said to the evangelicals were not one with you because when you come up with your minimal list. Sacraments are dominant and were not interested in any minimal definition of Christianity don't have sacraments on a Lutherans now do begin to see what I'm trying to get out, probably not yet because I'm been very clear. I think evangelicalism is not in umbrella unitive phenomenon.

I think evangelicalism is in fact its own distinct brand of Protestant Christianity. And when I say that I don't mean to be insulting to evangelicals. I don't mean to be demeaning evangelicals, but none of us have any trouble understanding that a Pentecostal is not Lutheran and Lutheran is not reformed so why should it be so difficult for us to say. Just as there are Pentecostals and their Lutherans and there are reformed so there evangelicals we can be friends.

We share a number of beliefs and common we can cooperate on certain endeavors, but being reformed is a thing with its own integrity that can't be reduced to just four points. We need five. In fact we actually need more.

I would want to say that in a certain sense, one could say that reformed Christianity is inherently maximalist.

By that I mean reformed Christianity always is struggling to see what's the fullness that we can find in the Bible while everything that's in the Bible it it it's interesting that evangelicals who are so passionate about the great commission and and they've done much to carry out the great commission.

Forget that in essential part of the great commission is Jesus saying teach them all that I have commanded you.

He doesn't say teeth and the four basic things I commanded you, let the rest go the course. Evangelicals are really saying that either up what you see there is a different impulse a different impulse in evangelicalism that wants to think about the minimum to unite as many people as possible and the reformed who want to think about the maximum and I think we'd say in defense of our self to try to be as faithful as possible and I don't say that to be proud. But if if a Lutherans says you know if I can help my Lutheran doctrine of the sacraments.

I don't think I really have Lutheranism anymore. I've given it up. I can't do that. It would be a violation of the integrity of my understanding the Bible in my my commitments and I think we reformed auto sort of feel the same. We can cooperate with evangelicals we can appreciate evangelicals, but I think we could also say to evangelicals you know I'm reformed and not a Lutheran because I think that reformed or right on the issues were reformed and Lutherans differ.

I know Lutherans don't agree with me on that for my best friends are Lutherans and we had wonderful discussions whenever I talked to Luther, I feel like I learned lots of things that I have known before, but I'm not persuaded to be a Lutheran so I don't hate them. I can appreciate them. I certainly see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. But I'm different and I feel the same about evangelicalism, just as I'd say to you Lutheran.

You know I think on these points, you're not really understanding the Scriptures, and that leads to certain weaknesses in your religious life and as I tried to Pentecostals. I've I've had Pentecostal friends like I was interviewed on Sr. McPherson's radio station and that they kinda like to me though husband-and-wife ministerial team that interviewed me, but if I had had a chance for a prolonged conversation with that guy just said you know there's certain places where I think you misread the Bible and it leads to certain weaknesses in your tradition and I would want to say is reformed person the same thing to the evangelicals. You have many strengths but I think you've missed certain things about the Bible and I think it's led to certain weaknesses in your tradition, there may be areas where you're stronger than my reformed tradition, you may be done more in evangelism and missions in in the last century that we've always done course were pretty small group were barely surviving were kind of on life support reformed people, but sure we can be complementary to the evangelicals but I want to say to them, your movement precisely because of its minimalism has proven to be theologically unstable. I don't say that, in any sort mean way I rejoice that there are lots of stable evangelicals, but if you look at the movement as a whole. As we been doing the late 19th and early 20th century profound theological instability and what we see today exactly the same thing in evangelicalism because their minimalistic because they're culturally adaptable because there's so concerned about evangelism.

They're constantly asking what can we eliminate that so we can avoid giving offense and the danger is you've eliminated so much, and nature abhors a vacuum all kinds of things begin to creep back in. I'm amazed how many evangelicals have been sympathetic to elements of the charismatic movement. It's hard to find in America today. There are exceptions, but it's hard to find in America today in evangelical church the doesn't worship like the Pentecostals did in the 20s that that doesn't prove who's right and who's wrong that will not convince you all become solemn singers is really sure, but it's a simple fact that evangelicals have adopted themselves to what once were Pentecostal forms of worship or evangelicals have embraced tradition as a way of stabilizing them so their handful of evangelical churches that looked like Anglican churches worst thing in the world but you see there's a need to find something kind of outside the essentials of the movement itself to supplement it and if the supplementing of the Bible doesn't turn to the spirit has the Pentecostals did or two tradition as various groups have done. There's a very great danger that they will turn to reason and that's where I think we see some serious slippage in various parts of the evangelical world today.

Well, you know us offend people by banging the table about biblical inerrancy giveaway that much if you grant that the Bible has some mistakes and some problems and it doesn't affect the central core message while it does overturn and and that's what kind of facing today. Not BB Warfield the great Princeton theologian said will now when we think about truth, we ought to think about it this way. There's Catholic truth by that Warfield meant to the doctor the Trinity. The doctrine of Christology. Those are things that Protestants, Catholics, Greek Orthodox all hold together. And then he said added to that Catholic truth of the Trinity Christology is evangelical truth, by which Warfield meant some of the great discoveries of the Reformation essential Protestant truth, and then he sat on top of that are added some distinctive reformed truths and Warfield said while the best of people have all of those things and and I think there's a profound truth there that kind of distinction can be made can be helpfully made and we end up with what looks like almost a nice birthday cake. There, now the danger of the birthday cake approach. I don't think this is what Warfield meant, but the danger of this approach is that reformed theology seems just like the frosting on the cake. You have most of the cake without it and it just adds if you have a sweet tooth, like me, the essential thing, but nonetheless it just adds a little frosting on top and it kind of reinforces then the evangelical notion that if we want to be unified and be active as leave out the reformed distinctives or just be together is evangelical and that's why I don't think this diagram I don't think it's what Warfield attended, but I don't think this diagram ultimately is very helpful. I think instead we can think of it more like this like circles.

There's an evangelical circle and there is a reformed circle because were different traditions that we have certain things in common certain things where we overlap certain things away believe together, but it's also true that the integrity of our movement, requires that we say these things are not unimportant just because the evangelicals don't share of and that's the kind of implication if you're being reformed. I would like to suggest that one of the things you believe is an election you're not sure about that, get RC Sproul's book chosen by God but we would say is reformed people that the election is not just a little frosting on the cake.

That election is really foundational. It is essential. It is the bulwark of being saved by grace alone, and if we are asked to be quiet about election so we won't disturb the evangelical unity second to that because the Bible is not quite about election. Have you have ever met somebody knew the Bible pretty well and had not been reformed and then became reformed and they come to you and they say pre-destinations all over the Bible. How did I never see it before. That's happened to me over and over again and is true, isn't it no Paul in Ephesians 1 talks about election and he says that it's one of the great spiritual blessings for the church. It isn't our dirty little secret that we only talk about Sunday night when we finally get to Romans nine and go just as fast as we can to avoid spending too much time on it. It's glorious, it's foundational. It's reassuring if the doctrine of election that you have doesn't reassure you and comfort you in your faith you have understood biblical doctrine of election where offend good RC does in his book chosen by God.

The book, but you see the point I'm trying to make.

There's a structural integrity to reformed theology that needs to be maintained as a whole. In order to do that. I think we as reformed people have to say I'm reformed. I'm not an evangelical.

I tried not to be nasty when I say that I try not to be true triumphalist stick reformed people can be kind of triumphalist Nanyang Nanyang right in your room. We don't want to be like that, but we wanted to say we're so passionate about the great commission, we were only wanted teach everything that Jesus taught and Jesus in John 620 election and so I think it's crucial to the future reformed Christianity in America and around the world that we come to a self-consciousness or clarity about being distinct and and we need that because it's hard to be reformed in America because the dominant Protestant religious Athos in America is evangelical and therefore that evangelicals spirit is constantly seeping in to reformed hearts and reformed churches. Now I don't want to get into the issue of Psalms and hymns, but it was evangelical influences that brought hymns into Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed Church is that it always been some singing that where that's good or bad is not my point. The point is, it didn't come from the soul reformed people themselves. It came largely from evangelical influence if you're in a reformed church where there is a praise band that didn't come from reformed influences. It didn't come immediately from Pentecostal influences came through the evangelical influences now again were to talk next time little more about these things and done, I understand that reformed is not such a simple concept either of them talk about what it means to be reformed next time in the ultimate lecture but for this lecture. The great point. I wanted to make use to see that evangelicalism mustn't be allowed to define what reformed means and can talk about. They have every right to be what they want to be a free country.

But the phone Christianity has white news is a false description that's Dr. Robert Godfrey here on Renewing Your Mind describing the distinctives of evangelicalism.

This is a message from his sweeping overview of church history were glad you joined us today.

You know, in Matthew 16 Jesus promised that the gates of hell would not prevail against his church in the series. Dr. Gottfried gives us a glimpse of how that promise continues to be fulfilled is God grows and protects his church would like to send you part six of the series. He covers the 20th century. In 12 messages with your donation of any amount to litigator ministries. We will set it right out to you on two DVDs you can give your gift were bought by colleagues will be happy to take your call at 800-435-4343. Why should we study church history. What is it matter what and it helps us see the warning flags as we discover those times when the church slipped into error, but it also reminds us of God's faithfulness and helps us persevere when we face challenging times in the church. This 12 lesson series will give you a deeper understanding of the men and women who have stood firm for the faith. Our number again to request this series is 800-435-4343 web address is Renewing Your and in advance let me thank you for your gift of any amount, let me also remind you that ref that is a great way to find biblically sound preaching and teaching throughout the day you hear messages from our founder Dr. RC Sproul, along with her leg and or teaching fellows, including Dr. Robert Godfrey. You can listen for free 24 hours a or by downloading the free ref net app. While perhaps you've heard the term reformed Christianity before, but that you're not quite sure what it is.

So I hope you'll join us tomorrow. Dr. Gottfried mentioned earlier, he's going to tell us what it means to be reformed and why it matters. That's Friday here on Renewing Your Mind

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