The Root of Evangelicalism
"Evangelical" has historically been used as a term to be an identifying mark of Christians whose most notable characteristic is the gospel (the evangel). This is a mark that occupies the most important place in the evangelicals life because it centers on worship in the Spirit, glorying in (and bearing witness to) Christ Jesus alone, and having no confidence in the flesh... According to Paul, those who exhibit these characteristics demonstrate that they have received the True Circumcision (Phil 3:2). I pray you and I are both evangelical in this sense, for that would demonstrate, by God's grace, that we shine, not ourselves, but the light and glory of Christ before men.
To be genuinely evangelical is to be Christ-driven, Christ-defined, Christ-oriented as it concens the gospel. This does not mean we must reduce everything in the Bible narrowly to mean the gospel and nothing else, but rather that it is the crux, necessity, the heart and soul of everything authentically Christian. Everything else, even the law and commands of God, is to be understood in light of it, since the gospel of Jesus Christ is our very life and our vital nutrient. It is the begining, the foundation and defines who the Christian is.
The Reformation of the 16th century took the gospel as the cornerstone of its identity, so it was evangelical in the original, historic sense of the word. The reformers went back to the source, the Bible, and re-discovered the central evangelical principles of Salvation:in Christ alone, by grace alone through faith alone ... the very concept which the Reformers believed the church either stood or fell. Luther and Calvin judged all preaching and doctrine by whether it honored the gospel of Christ, because this is what the Scriptures hold high as its own standard ... that our faith is nothing if Christ has not been crucified and raised to life, which is the power of God to everyone who believes. Salvation was seen as a Trinitarian work where the Father elected a people, the Son redeemed them and the Holy Spirit regenerated the same. My prayer is that both you and I are evangelicals in this sense.
After Augustine and the grace-centered Council of Orange ended in the early church, it did not take long for the Roman Catholic church to abandon its right understanding of the grace of God in Christ by making the gospel into one of human attainment (at least partly) and not divine accomplishment alone. Likewise modern "evangelicalism", sadly, seems to be careening down a similar course. As such the name evangelicalism" has been assimilated into a shapeless, undefined mass of competing and parallel movements which really have little to do with its original. It is a "big tent" word which can now include anything from non-Trinitarians, to moralism to pietism to emotionalism to theologicial liberalism, to therepeutic deism, to revivalism and even semi-pelagianism. So when we use the word "evangelical" now, sadly, we have to further define what we mean by it. It has fallen away from grace to such an extent that many of us may have difficulty continuing to identify ourselves with this movement. This is because our differences with other so-called evangelicals are not simply over adiaphora, or secondary doctrines (which are not enough to divide us), but our differences are over the evangel itself. It just goes to show that we cannot simply coast as a church but must be ever dilegent to be putting to death the snake produced doctrines of trusting even partly in human effort, ideas which arise so easily and naturally to the ungoverened inclination of men.
Regeneration: Monergistic or Synergistic
As earlier noted, the Reformers were used by God to bring about a true revival in evangelicalism which stood in stark contrast to the Roman Cathoic dogma which insisted that man had a natural ability to fulfil the condition of faith while still in his unregenrated human nature. They even affirmed that they had the human ability, after baptism, to maintain (by human effort and cooperation with God), their just standing before God: A salvation scheme of cooperation, where God responds to man. But both Luther and Calvin wrote treatises to vigorously defend the Bible's teaching on on man's utter inability and God's sovereign grace; the bondage and liberation of the will from its captivity to sin. Both argued from Scripture that faith was not a reward or precondition for grace but could only proceed from a Divine act of unconditional free grace as the Holy Spirit moved in to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (Ezek 36:26; Deut 29:4, 30:6). So we were regnerated, not because of faith, through faith or by cooperating with God's Spirit (synergism) but by a unilateral act of God's mercy which predeeds and gives rise to saving faith. As Jesus said to Peter when He confessed He was the Christ, "flesh and blood did not reveal this to you but my Father in heaven."(Matt 16:17)
Theologian and historian Michael Haykin said,
"It is wrong to suppose that the doctrine of justification by faith alone, that storm center of the Reformation, was the crucial question in the minds of such theologians as Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, Martin Bucer, and John Calvin. This doctrine was important to the Reformers because it helped to express and to safeguard their answer to another, more vital, question, namely, whether sinners are wholly helpless in their sin, and whether God is to be thought of as saving them by free, unconditional, invincible grace, not only justifying them for Christs' sake when they come to faith, but also raising them from the death of sin by His quickening Spirit in order to bring them to faith."
Unfortunately this biblical view of salvation by grace alone took little time to be lost again among Protestants. Melanchthon, Erasmus, Arminius, the Remonstrants, Wesley and Finney reintroduced synergism back into evangelicalism. Sola fide (faith alone) became theoperating prinicple once again over sola gratia (grace alone) thus the independent human fulfillment of a condition for grace once again took the spotlight. Such a faith-bequest was itself a principle standing independent of God's favor, and again became the cause of it. Such a view was a backwards step, putting faith over against grace as an independent, autonomous principle. Confidence then became unconsciously divided between faith and Christ, since Christ was not considered the author of faith. So faith rather than (but not apart from) grace has become the central principle; an upward movement of man rather than downward movement initiated by God. As a result, psychological practices such as the anxous bench were created because getting a person to decide for Christ could be generated by manipulating natural emotions rather than entrusting our evangelism, preaching and prayers to God's grace alone. From these ideas arose various movements such as Arminian fundamentalism, moralism, perfectionism, holiness, Pentecostalism and the like. These have now given birth to new "evangelical children" - theological liberalism, emotionalism, mass-marketing, therepeutic Christianity, the emerging church, and other practices which embody the Spirit of the age. Most of these movements judge themselves by results or their works, including how much it gives us pleasure and well-being rather than being concerned with doctrine, truth or the advancement of Christ's kingdom by grace through the preaching of the gospel. Or on the other extreme sees the gospel as something we do rather than what Christ has done for us.
All of this trending toward narcissism has essentially lost touch with the self-denying root of Christianity which costs us our self-righteousness and glories in Christ Jesus alone, who is King and Lord over all. By the grace of God, we should reclaim the term evangelical from those who have co-opted it by boldly proclaiming the true gospel without shame and by exposing the darkness the church experiences by all of these erroneous views that corrupt the gospel.