The Emerging Divide In Evangelical Theology -- By: Gerald R. McDermott

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 56:2 (Jun 2013)
Article: The Emerging Divide In Evangelical Theology
Author: Gerald R. McDermott


The Emerging Divide In Evangelical Theology

Gerald R. McDermott*

* Gerald McDermott is Jordan-Trexler Professor of Religion at Roanoke College, 221 College Lane, Salem, VA 24153.

Imagine the scene. Ancient Jerusalem is at war. Its army is fighting far away. Behind the city walls, its old men, women, and children nervously await word on what happened in battle. Their lives and future are at stake. Suddenly, a cry rings out from the sentries watching from the look-out points on top of the wall. “Your God reigns!” A rider approaching the wall has signaled victory. The whole city explodes in celebration. The word “evangelical” comes from this Hebrew idea of announcing the good news that God now reigns with power and grace.

This essay will argue that while evangelical theology has come into its own in recent decades, it is also deeply divided. One branch contributes to the development of historic orthodoxy, while another follows a trail blazed by Protestant liberals. The future will probably see further distance between these two kinds of theology, with one perhaps becoming “evangelical” in name only. I will begin the essay by outlining recent successes and the ways in which evangelical theologians since the 1970s have understood their own distinctives. Part II will uncover the divisions in today’s evangelical theology, and Part III will highlight the doctrines that evangelical theology is reexamining. I will conclude with projections for the future (Part IV).

I. Success

Evangelical theology has come of age. This is not surprising, given the explosion of the movement in recent decades, not only in England and America but especially the Global South. While evangelicals were confused with fundamentalists by most of the academy until recently (and still are by many), the rise to academic prominence of evangelical historians (such as Mark Noll, George Marsden, Harry Stout, and Nathan Hatch), Scripture scholars (the likes of N. T. Wright and Richard Bauckham), ethicists (led by Richard Hays), and theologians (including Kevin Vanhoozer, Miroslav Volf, and Alister McGrath) has demonstrated the growing maturity of this movement’s intellectual leaders.

Evangelical theology has not reached the self-confidence of Roman-Catholic and post-liberal Protestant theology, and some of its strongest thinkers borrow from the two latter schools. But more of them are learning from their own tradition (for example, from Jonathan Edwards’s mammoth philosophico-theological project and John Wesley’s capacious if diffuse theology), and sounding distinctive voices in the world of Christian theology. The result has been a new profusion of evangelical theologies. Already, at the end of the 1990s, Lutheran...

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