Resounding the Chicago Call: A Plea to Restore Evangelicalism’s Theological and Historic Foundation -- By: W. Brian Shelton

Journal: Reformation and Revival
Volume: RAR 13:1 (Winter 2004)
Article: Resounding the Chicago Call: A Plea to Restore Evangelicalism’s Theological and Historic Foundation
Author: W. Brian Shelton


Resounding the Chicago Call:
A Plea to Restore Evangelicalism’s
Theological and Historic Foundation

W. Brian Shelton

Over the last twenty years, it has become commonplace among scholars to admonish evangelical Christians in their assorted areas of weakness. Authors such as Mark Noll, Donald Bloesch, and David Wells have routinely offered constructive criticism to the evangelical world for its lack of theological, intellectual, historical, and cultural savvy.1 One wonders if the charge of the ancient atheist Celsus aptly applies to evangelicals today, that Christians do not wish to give a reason for their belief, but keep repeating, “Do not examine, but believe!”2 Amidst the reproaches by these authors there echoes a call from a neglected historic event that foreshadowed this recent impetus in scholarship. In May 1977, a group of significant evangelicals gathered in Chicago to make an appeal to evangelicalism. Their product was the Chicago Call: An Appeal to Evangelicals—a formal plea for evangelical Christians to step up their historical and intellectual capacities toward a more mature model of Christianity.3

The Chicago Call was a wake-up call, to observe and discover those qualities realized by the drafters yet lacking among American evangelical Christians. It was a call to rediscover an essential knowledge of the roots of our faith. It was a call to consider the practical yet powerful expression that traditional worship can serve in our spiritual lives. This event is

typical of a larger trend within evangelical Christianity now to explore the historic Christian faith and to capture the spiritual benefits of a well-grounded, Incarnation-based faith. It was also a landmark in the pioneering efforts of several Christians for whom this event would be personally spiritually fulfilling.

I would like to offer an analysis of this remarkable event because the echoes of its call sound synonymously with the initiatives of many Christians today, including the work of Reformation and Revival Ministries. This article first investigates the occasion and the nature of the Chicago Call. It introduces the participants and their burden for fellow evangelicals, and it examines the nature of their appeal. Next, this article analyzes the responses to the proclamation, and raises the question whether the evangelical world ever heard the Call. Finally, it weighs the lingering problems that prompted the appeal and asks whether the Call needs resounding following a quarter of a decade.

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