The term “evangelical” has been so broadly used and abused that some Protestants have abandoned it entirely, preferring to describe themselves as “Baptist”, “Presbyterian”, or “Reformed”. In a 78 page, EP paperback, What is Evangelicalism?, Joel Beeke seeks to define evangelicalism.
Beginning with representative historic and modern definitions, Beeke notes the problems with defining the term, including Lloyd-Jones’ warning that we can err in defining “evangelicalism” too narrowly, creating schism, or too broadly, falling into blind eccumenicalism.
The book then attempts to define evangelicalism by examining its biblical roots and historical examples, utilizing the “solas” of the Reformation to aid in this. A section on confessional branches of evangelicalism, evidencing the need for theological fidelity in order to claim the term, and some examination of the fruit of evangelicalism preceed Beeke’s own summary definition: “Evangelicalism is gospel-driven Christianity, recognizable by the biblical fundamentals of the gospel of Christ, the Reformation fulness of the doctrines of Christ, and the practical fruit of the Spirit of Christ” (46). Helpfully, Beeke also differentiates between “Reformed” and evangelical, noting that a member in good standing in a Reformed or confessional church is not necessarily evangelical – that is a matter of the heart.
The last chapter explains this in more detail: “To experience true, historic, experiential evangelicalism (yes, I’m aiming for the ideal here) is to experience the Word of God with its sharp edges stripping away our self delusions and cutting deep into the soul” (55). Rightly used, “evangelical” is a term that describes someone for whom the inner reality of biblical convictions is expressed outwardly in loving thoughts, words, and actions that are grounded in theological integrity.
It’s not too late to reclaim the term “evangelicalism”, and Beeke’s book is a help in that direction. With useful footnotes, a good cover, and a great price, it’s a clarifying volume. And right now, RHB has a package deal for churches or other groups wanting to buy in bulk.