They called me an Evangelical Part 3
God is with us
As it turned out, we missed lunching together the following week because the wife of one of the fellows at work had a health scare, and Pete and Marian went to their place to clean house and mind the kids. But we met the next week, and Marian joined in. It was she who asked the first question.
“Pete’s been wording me up on what you discussed last time. I think I understand what an Evangelical person is – somebody who really believes what the Bible is telling us about God and Jesus. But what would you say is the key to the whole thing?”
Larry replied slowly and thoughtfully. “The way I’d put it is that:
The focus of our thought and lifestyle is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen; whom we acknowl¬edge not only as a supremely good man, but as Saviour, Lord and true member of the Trinity.
“That sounds pretty familiar”, said Pete. “It’s the sort of statement you get in the Creeds.”
“Sure”, responded Larry. “I wasn’t trying to say anything new. I was simply reaffirming what I think is at the heart of the New Testament proclamation. Evangelicals aren’t revisionists.”
“But surely”, said Marian, “any Christian would agree with that?”
“You wish,” I commented. “The problem is that some don’t. My friend admires Jesus as the greatest man ever, and he tries to live by the Sermon on the Mount. But he doesn’t accept that he was also God, or that he died for our sins. He calls himself a Unitarian. I’ve got a great respect for Bruce, I think he’s missed the main point.”
“So Unitarians aren’t Christians”, said Pete, “however noble their ideals, or however much they respect Jesus as a man?”
“In theory, yes”, said Larry, “but only God knows the heart. It’s not for us to pass that kind of judgment on individual people we know. But I can say that even many church people are no more than good Unitarians in their behaviour, whatever they believe. They may not put it that way, but for them the church is a community of people trying to do good and trusting that God will approve of what they do. Praying to Jesus, for them, is like praying through a saint.”
“That reminds me of our women’s fellowship president”, said Marian. “She’s a lovely person and always helping people. But she says: ‘I don’t worry myself about heavy stuff like the Trinity and the Incarnation. Just be a good person and do what you can for the poor. That’s what God wants’.”
Larry nodded. “Yes, many good and caring people in our churches are operating at that level. Often, it’s because they haven’t seen how clearly the Scrip¬tures say that’s not enough. And often this is because they’ve been sitting too long under preachers with a Liberal theology. But Paul said to Timothy: ‘What you’ve heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who’ll be able to teach others as well.’ Many churches fall down at this point.”
“Including some Evangelical churches?”, said Marian provocatively.
“Well yes, I’m afraid so”, said Larry. “Some are very committed to Jesus in their witness and evangelism, but fail to ground their people in biblical understanding and the reasons for the faith that is in them.”
“Too much entertainment and not enough sound teaching”, I suggested.
Larry nodded, adding: “Also, critics often say Evangelicals make the Bible their God instead of putting Christ first. But this objection is misguided. You can always ask such critics to describe how they see Jesus. Some think of him as a great ethical teacher, others see him as a political revolutionary, or a mystical figure with a New Age approach to life. Asking the question tells you which Christ they are claiming to serve: one of their own imagining, or the one clearly revealed in the Scriptures.”
“In the end,” he continued, “you have to fall back on the biblical evidence – all of it, not just the bits you like. It’s clear and consistent. There’s no doubt that Jesus himself claimed to be the Son of God, and said that he must die for our sins and rise again for our salvation. On the strength of that claim, and the strong evidence that he did rise again, we base our confidence that he lives today and is in touch with us at a spiritual level.”
“A lot depends, though, on our belief that the Bible is a unique book, doesn’t it?” said Pete. “Many people today simply dismiss it as out of date.”
Larry agreed, adding: “That’s such a good point we’d better wrap ourselves round a take-away again next week to discuss it.” Carried unanimously!
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