Evangelicalism has not always been synonymous with fundamentalism


C.S Lewis

I’d not come across Andy Gill’s blog before but then my friend Ed Watson posted a link to this rather good post. Gill takes issues with the “[s]elf-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism” who take to twitter to denounce as heretics those who fall outside a definition of evangelicalism ” is becoming so narrow that it really doesn’t describe anyone but themselves [the gatekeepers].”

He points out that many evangelical icons fall short of the standards of ideological purity demanded by such people: St Augustine didn’t believe the world was created in six days, Martin Luther rejected biblical inerancy and Billy Graham thought that non-Christians could get into heaven. Perhaps most striking is what Gill has to say about C.S. Lewis:

Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons. Lewis’ seven-volume, fictional masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, reveals Lewis’ belief that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the Kingdom of God without knowing it.1

Lewis also rejects the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement, which states that Christ “diverted” God’s wrath toward us and took it upon himself. Instead, in part three of Chronicles, Lewis describes what is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement, which holds that the cross is not an image of God’s wrath against us, diverted to his son, but it was the defeat of evil through an act of selfless love. Here is a video of Greg Boyd giving a good description of that view using Lewis’ imagery.

I would suggest that the issue here is that evangelicalism has in the past few decades become the acceptable way of describing fundamentalism. The founders of fundamentalism did indeed identify ideas like substitutionary atonement and biblical literalism as fundamental to the Christian faith. As I think Gill shows, evangelicalism is a much broader and as a result more interesting and credible movement. It should not allow itself to be co-opted as cover for fundamentalism.

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