The 10 most pressing issues for evangelical theology today
With a dash of hubris (why not, it’s a Monday morning) - here are the issues on which I think evangelicals have some work to do. Not that individual evangelicals don’t hold strongly to some of these - it is just that either the ‘traditional’ view is under challenge, or that there is a lack of consensus among evangelicals. This list is, like all lists, meant to provoke and challenge of course - it is meant (and I hope will be received!) in that spirit.
1 - scripture
How is inerrancy best to be understood and expressed - if indeed it is the most appropriate and useful word to express and uphold the highest possible commitment of the authority of scripture? Can we move beyond the use of the word as line in the sand and actually articulate what we mean by it in the midst of a post-biblical culture? Can evangelicals actually have a mature discussion about this - the word itself has become a shibboleth of US evangelicalism?
2 - God
Now that the ‘openness of God’ distraction has been (in my opinion!) overcome, there still seems to be a tension between the position known as ‘classical theism’ and the more ‘biblical personalist’ position. How are the attributes of God to be addressed, then, by the biblical Christian? Does classical theism help or hinder?
3 - election
Election is always a tough one. Double or single? Have new readings of Paul made a difference to what needs to be said about Israel? What is the purpose of the doctrine of election, dogmatically speaking?
4 - the atonement
Classic evangelicalism has always stood firm on the centrality of the atoning blood of Jesus Christ for the propitiation of our sins. But even between those who would agree that penal substitution is an indispensable part of the Bible’s teaching on the atonement - what place does it have within the whole scope of the Bible’s teaching? How does it relate to other descriptions of the atonement in Scripture?
5 - justification
The debate between NT Wright and John Piper over imputation reveals some fault lines. Imputation seems a necessary corollary of an evangelical testimony to justification by faith. But what are its exegetical foundations? And will ‘union with Christ’ prove to be a more fruitful model to explain this teaching? (with much good work to come from Moore’s own Con Campell)
6 - anthropology
I think theological anthropology is right at the missional cutting edge, and the more thinking evangelicals can do about it the better. That is not to fall prey to the temptation to collapse theology into anthropology, or to get distracted by all kinds of anthropologically interesting byways, but to give a full and rich account of the meaning and purpose of human life lived under the hand of the God who is mindful of man (to steal from Psalm 8).
7 - sin
Sin is a corollary of the doctrine of man… Once again it is a missionally urgent task to give an articulation of sin that is as full-orbed as we can make it. This is one instance where ‘biblically faithful’ and ‘culturally aware’ are not necessarily mutually exclusive. The mute incomprehension of our contemporaries as they hear contemporary preachers talk about sin highlights the problem… The answer is not in their hearts of course. The word of God is better than we think it is.
8 - philosophy & theology
Evangelicals seem genuinely undecided about this as a group. Is philosophy good, bad, or indifferent? A friend, or a foe? Is a philosophy-less theology simply naive? or is a philosophy in addition to theology a blasphemy? What have we to say about thinking?
9 - apologetics
A connected issue, then, is that of apologetics. Ought we to do apologetics at all? Many evangelicals have invested very heavily in apologetics. But to what end? Are the models of apologetics - evidentialist, presuppositionalist (does anyone actually understand what presuppositionalist apologists are saying?) - enough for the needs of the day?
10 - church
Evangelicals have always prided themselves on being ecclesiology-lite. They have achieved far more in terms of ecumenical co-operation than other forms of Christianity as a result. Ecclesiology is secondary. However, there are numerous settings where this needs to be revisited, given the rapid realignment of denominations and the retreat of Christendom. So you see some pretty heavy church-speak from evangelicals these days: the Nine Marks ministry says some pretty particular things ecclesiology-wise. The Federal Vision movement is likewise (though very different) heavy on sacraments and covenant/church talk. This is not an isolated trend.
11 - hermeneutics
I don’t mean hermeneutics in the sense of perspectival readings etc, but in the sense of asking the question: what makes the bible a unity? In what does a richly theological reading of Scripture consist? There are some very exciting developments on this front, building on the work of a previous generation - biblical scholars now collaborating with theologians on the matter of scriptural interpretation.