Tribes of Evangelicals

How do you classify the Evangelicals?

John Stott, in his book Evangelical Truth, put a few ways that people have attempted to classify the Evangelicals. For example, he showed how Peter Beyerhaus of Tübingen distinguished the evangelicals into six different groupings:

  1. The New Evangelicals, who distances themselves from the fundamentalism’s science-phobia and political conservatism, and strive for the greatest possible collaboration.
  2. The Strict Fundamentalists, who are uncompromising in their separatist attitude.
  3. The Confessing Evangelicals, who attach importance to a confession of faith and a rejection of contemporary doctrinal error.
  4. The Pentecostals and the Charismatics (amusingly, Stott/Beyerhaus did not explain it; it must be self-explanatory, I guess).
  5. The Radical Evangelicals, who acknowledge a sociopolitical commitment and strive to unite evangelistic witness and social action.
  6. The Ecumenical Evangelicals, who are developing a critical participation in the ecumenical movement.

Well, Stott himself could be used to classify the Evangelicals, from the incident which occurred at the National Assembly of the Evangelicals in 1966. Martin Lloyd-Jones was the keynote speaker, and he made a call for evangelicals to unite together and leave their ‘mixed’ denominations: “Ecumenical people put fellowship before doctrine,” he said. “We, as Evangelicals, put doctrine before fellowship. . . I make this appeal to you Evangelical people this evening: what reasons have we for not coming together? Some will say we will miss evangelistic opportunities if we leave our denominations, but I say ‘Where is the Holy Spirit?. . . Don’t we feel the call to come together — not occasionally, but always?”

At that time Stott, who remained in the Anglican church to this day, served as the chairman of the assembly, so he was not supposed to give his own opinion about the talk. Nevertheless, he responded in his closing address: “We are here to debate this subject, and I believe history is against Dr. Lloyd-Jones, in that others have tried to do this very thing. I believe that Scripture is against him, in that the remnant was within the Church and not outside it.”

After that day, British Evangelicals were basically divided into two camps: the separationists/purists and the participationists, symbolically represented by Lloyd-Jones and Stott, respectively. The two camps represented the two ends of spectrum of approach. One tends to insist on the doctrinal purity, while the other emphasizes on the visible unity. And everyone of us is somewhere in the spectrum.

And now perhaps you could appreciate better why the IFES movement in general tilts towards the participationist option. John Stott was a highly respected figure in the IFES movement. Some seventy years ago, he was active in the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (he had never been an exco member though, since he was too valuable such that “the CICCU Exec., however, had the sense to send one of their number to tell him that they would not invite him to join the next committee as they believed he should be free from committee meetings”), he was once the Vice President of the IFES, and at the World Assembly 2007, John Stott gave a message saying that “I would like to introduce myself to you as a committed IFES man.” And his approach influenced the whole movement as well.

Happy 89th birthday, John Stott.


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