Steve Chalke: 'We need to redefine what evangelical means'

The founder of Oasis, Baptist minister Rev Steve Chalke, has called for a redefinition of evangelicalism.

In a new essay, published on Christian Today, Chalke asks whether the 'Bebbington Quadrilateral', widely regarded as foundational in defining evangelicalism, is still adequate.

"Throughout my adult life, I, like many others, have wrestled with the question 'am I an evangelical or aren't I'," Chalke told Christian Today. "Lots of people choose to use the word, but more often than not it is a term of revulsion in the media. I don't think it should be that way. It struck me that it's a good time to ask the questions – who are we, what do we believe, how do we think, how does that relate."

In the essay, Chalke suggests that the four aspects which Bebbington uses to define evangelicals (conversionism, activism, biblicism and crucicentrism) now equally apply to other parts of the Church.

"When we (evangelicals) say 'we take the Bible seriously', it comes across as an arrogance, as if we're implying that others don't take the Bible seriously. I don't think it was meant like that when Bebbington put it together. I think what he was trying to do was define things that hold people together. But time moves on and we have to look at whether his definition is still adequate."

However, many would argue that time moves on, but the truth does not change. When asked to defend himself against those who would say any attempt to 'redefine' evangelicalism represents a drift from Orthodoxy, Chalke said:

"Firstly, anyone who says that should look at all the blogs that exist about redefining evangelicalism from within evangelicalism. Bebbington doesn't mention the Holy Spirit, he doesn't mention incarnation and holistic engagement, he doesn't mention the resurrection... these are all huge emphases within evangelicalism now.

"It is evolving, it's happening all the time. The bit we have to deal with is to stop attempting to define evangelicalism over and against other forms of Christianity. Going forward, where our biggest challenge is secularisation, we have to find what binds us together, rather than emphasise what keeps us apart."

So what should define evangelicals? "I would like it to be a smile. I'd like people outside the church to hear the world evangelical and think 'they're good guys'. I always define evangelical as good news bringing – it's what the word actually means. When people hear that an evangelical is standing as a local counsellor, for example, they should smile. This must be good news. We're far from that at the moment."

Read the full article here.