6 People Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism (Or, A Lesson In Consistency)

6593922893What does it mean to be “evangelical”?

What must you believe?

What must you reject?

Can you be an evangelical Christian and believe…

…in evolution?
…that Hell is only temporary?
…that all people, even those in Hell can/will eventually be saved?
…that people from other religions can be saved without even knowing it?
…that the atonement is not about God’s wrath being poured out on Jesus in our place?
…that Scripture is errant?

I think many evangelicals would say “no” to most—maybe even all—of these. That’s why, in an attempt to protect the name of evangelicalism (or, more accurately, to keep certain ideologies in power), some of the most prominent leaders within evangelicalism have made it their responsibility to publicly denounce those with whom they disagree on issues like these.

To be clear, I have no problem with publicly denouncing ideologies (that is, after all, what I’m doing right now). I also believe it is, at times, necessary to publicly call out false teachers. However, one must fully consider whether they promote a different gospel before coming forward with such a bold claim.

But, I’m not talking about denouncing ideas or exposing real false teachers. I’m talking about needless schisms and inconsistent, prideful exclusivism.

Self-appointed gatekeepers of evangelicalism tear apart what could be a noble, diverse movement of the Spirit. In what critics have affectionately named, “excommunitweets,” these gatekeepers take it upon themselves to pronounce who is “in” and who is “out” of orthodox Christianity.

In a previous post I’ve listed a few of the people tossed out of the evangelical community for their slightly-divergent-yet-still-completely-orthodox beliefs. As a moderate evangelical, I’ve found myself on a few occasions, directly or indirectly, accused of not following Christ and even heresy.

By the standards of these gatekeepers, the definition of “evangelical” is becoming so narrow that it really doesn’t describe anyone but themselves. As I’ve said before, evangelicalism is shrinking, and pretty soon even the gatekeepers will have to bid themselves “farewell” due to their inability to meet their own standards.

That, or they will continue to reshape the definition so that it will describe exactly (and only) what they believe.

(Probably the latter.)

So, if we are going to be consistent, then I think it’s time to weed out all of the heretics—especially those who have the most influence—not just Rob Bell, Rachel Held Evans, or World Vision.

For starters, I suggest these 6:

1. C.S. Lewis: Guilty of Inclusivism and rejecting the Penal Substitutionary Atonement theory

12877851623Perhaps the most celebrated Christian writer of the last century, C.S. Lewis is respected by most Christians, no matter what theological corner they occupy. And that’s what confuses me. Lewis was no evangelical by the standards of modern evangelical spokespersons. Lewis’ seven-volume, fictional masterpiece, The Chronicles of Narnia, reveals Lewis’ belief that it is possible for people in other religions to inherit the Kingdom of God without knowing it.1

Lewis also rejects the Penal Substitutionary theory of the atonement, which states that Christ “diverted” God’s wrath toward us and took it upon himself. Instead, in part three of Chronicles, Lewis describes what is called the “Christus Victor” view of the atonement, which holds that the cross is not an image of God’s wrath against us, diverted to his son, but it was the defeat of evil through an act of selfless love. Here is a video of Greg Boyd giving a good description of that view using Lewis’ imagery.

2. Martin Luther: Guilty of rejecting biblical inerrancy

Lucas_Cranach_d.Ä._-_Martin_Luther,_1528_(Veste_Coburg)Where would evangelicalism be without Martin Luther? He is the father of the Reformation and the champion of Sola Scriptura.

According to one evangelical leader, inerrancy, “…is the only position that is fully compatible with the claim that every word of Scripture is fully inspired and thus fully true and trustworthy.” To the dismay of every evangelical Calvinist (including the one who made the above statement), I fear I must be the bearer of bad news that Martin Luther apparently didn’t believe the Bible is fully inspired, true, or trustworthy.

Speaking of inaccuracies in the books of Chronicles, he states,
“When one often reads that great numbers of people were slain—for example, eighty thousand—I believe that hardly one thousand were actually killed.”2

With that in mind, maybe it’s time we vote Mr. Luther off of the evangelical island.

3. St. Augustine: Guilty of rejecting a literal reading of the Creation Story

In his work, The Literal Meaning of Genesis, Augustine (to put it bluntly) thought Christians who took the Creation Story literally were a laughingstock and looked like idiots among non-Christians because they denied science and reason. This is Augustine, people…the one to whom we can give credit for the doctrines of original sin and Hell as eternal conscious torment (which are at the core of reformed theology).

Augustine_LateranHere is his statement:
“It not infrequently happens that something about the earth…may be known with the greatest certainty by reasoning or by experience, even by one who is not a Christian. It is too disgraceful and ruinous, though, and greatly to be avoided, that he [the non-Christian] should hear a Christian speaking so idiotically on these matters, and as if in accord with Christian writings, that he might say that he could scarcely keep from laughing when he saw how totally in error they are. In view of this and in keeping it in mind constantly while dealing with the book of Genesis, I have, insofar as I was able, explained in detail and set forth for consideration the meanings of obscure passages, taking care not to affirm rashly some one meaning to the prejudice of another and perhaps better explanation” (emphasis mine).3

Few are the pulpits he would be allowed to fill among conservative churches in our day.

4. William Barclay: Guilty of Universalism

I’ve seen William Barclay’s iconic little blue commentaries on the shelves of many pastors. I find it odd, however, that Rob Bell would be utterly rejected for holding essentially the same belief as this celebrated theologian.

Barclay writes,
“I am a convinced universalist. I believe that in the end all men will be gathered into the love of God…the choice is whether we accept God’s offer and invitation willingly, or take the long and terrible way round through ages of purification.”4

In that work, Barclay also lists early church fathers, Origen and Gregory of Nyssa, as two other Christian Universalists.

5. John Stott: Guilty of Annihilationism

8658113460John Stott is one of the great evangelical Christian thinkers of the last generation. Stott rejected the view that Hell is eternal conscious torment of the wicked and suggested, instead, that the unrepentant cease to exist after enduring the penalty for their sins.

He wrote,
“I believe that the ultimate annihilation of the wicked should at least be accepted as a legitimate, biblically founded alternative to their eternal conscious torment.”5

6. Billy Graham: Guilty of Inclusivism

Billy Graham is, perhaps, the epitome of the evangelical identity.

Or, so we thought…

Like C.S. Lewis, Graham believes that those who do not hear of Christ may, indeed, be saved without explicitly confessing him as Lord.

In a 1997 interview with Robert Schuller, Graham said,

Billy Graham“I think that everybody that loves or knows Christ, whether they are conscious of it or not, they are members of the body of Christ. . . . [God] is calling people out of the world for his name, whether they come from the Muslim world, or the Buddhist world or the Christian world, or the non-believing world, they are members of the Body of Christ because they have been called by God. They may not even know the name of Jesus but they know in their hearts that they need something that they don’t have, and they turn to the only light they have, and I think that they are saved and they are going to be with us in heaven.” (This statement starts at 1:18 in this video)

#####

After we finish with these most important aspects of what it means to be evangelical, we can focus on weeding out people for less important things, such as their immorality: George Whitefield’s lobbying for slavery, Martin Luther’s hatred of Jews, John Calvin’s approval of burning heretics at the stake, etc. etc.

Now, I’m sure you, as well as I, find it ridiculous to reject these great and godly people. Which is why it’s amazing to me, the things we ignore in order to protect ourselves from the truth. We want our “heroes of the faith” to be perfect in theology and conduct, so we ignore or justify the parts we don’t like.

We all do it.

So, maybe it’s time to extend a bit more loving kindness to the evolutionists, to those who reject inerrancy, to those who take the Bible literally when it says that God will redeem all people to himself, to the Rob Bells and the World Visions.

For those of us on the moderate-progressive side: maybe we can find it in ourselves to turn the other cheek and forgive those who wish us gone. Then, when we find someone who will accept us–“heresy” and all, let’s embrace and learn from them.

For fun: Here is a list of universalistic quotes from our early church fathers. 

 


  1. See the conversation between Emeth and Aslan in “The Last Battle” in The Chronicles of Narnia (New York: HarperTrophy, 1984), 204-206. 
  2. As quoted in Marcel Sarot, “Christian Fundamentalism as a Reaction to the Enlightenment as Illustrated by the Case of Biblical Inerrancy”  (2011), http://www.academia.edu/4006242/Sarot_M.2011._Christian_fundamentalism_as_a_reaction_to_the_Enlightenment (Accessed April 16, 2014), 5. 
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allegorical_interpretations_of_Genesis#cite_ref-17 
  4. William Barclay: A Spiritual Autobiography, pg 65–67, William B Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, 1977. (Read excerpt here
  5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annihilationism#cite_note-40 
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57 responses to “6 People Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism (Or, A Lesson In Consistency)

  1. Pingback: The Island of Misfit Christians | Christianity For the Rest of Us·

  2. Pingback: Really Recommended Posts 5/30/14- the Cross, Arminianism, “banned” evangelicals, and more! | J.W. Wartick -"Always Have a Reason"·

  3. Pingback: On the Radio, Discussing Six “Heretics” | Tylor Standley·

    • Very interesting critique. I have a couple comments in response.

      1) You explain, that with each of the 6 people in question, there is more to the story. With most of them, you provide the context in which my quotes were taken, and I appreciate you going through that trouble. Actually, I believe it serves to prove my point even better than my post. You were willing to find out exactly what these people said, why they said it, and what methods they used to come to their conclusions. You were then willing (with most of them) to say (if I may put it in my own words, and please forgive me for oversimplifying your points…it was a lengthy post and would be difficult to give a succinct response without simplifying): “I disagree with their conclusions, but I think that their approach to the issue was very evangelical.”

      That’s exactly what this post is pointing out. We are willing to justify, clarify, excuse, and even to research the methodology of the beliefs we don’t like in our heroes, but we are unwilling to do the same with people we don’t like in our own day. Would you be willing to research why Rachel Held Evans comes to her beliefs? If she comes to them through searching the Bible, combing through church history, and yielding herself to Christ and to what she truly believes Scripture teaches, is she not an evangelical? If Rob Bell comes to his conclusion through study of Scripture and a decision to believe the numerous verses that say God will redeem all people, why can we not say as you did with John Stott, “we strongly disagree with his conclusion, but he came to it because he wanted to submit himself to Scripture, and that is a very evangelical thing to do”?

      2) This brings me to my second point…I’m not a Christian Universalist, and you read WAY too much into my mention of Bell. Perhaps it is my own fault for unintentionally misleading you. This post has nothing to do with defending Universalism (at least, not explicitly). I am very sad that that is your main takeaway. I really just used Bell as an icon–that is, for me he represents a large number of people (from a large spectrum of differing beliefs) who have been ostracized by those whom I have called “gatekeepers.” When someone thinks of a modern “heretic” they think of Bell…so I thought he would be a good representation of the whole. I apologize for not being more clear in the post about the reason I chose to use Bell’s name. I hope that makes sense.

      In the end, you admitted that within the evangelical world (of which I am a very proud part) we can be too “trigger happy” when it comes to disagreement. You then state, “If these were Standley’s criticisms, there would be no argument from me.” From the metaphorical horse’s mouth: these are my criticisms. I think that you and I are in more agreement than we both realize.

      In all honesty, thank you for your willingness to engage with my post and to do so without resorting to slander (as some have). Blessings to you, brother.

      • Tylor, thank you very much for your kind and irenic reply. I believe there is certainly something to your suggestion that we may be more in agreement than we both realize. And I hope we can find those areas and that they will be many. Just a few quick responses to your comments.

        (1) I disagree that my provision of the fuller contexts for your examples helps the case you were making. This is because, as I pointed out in the article, I think there is a significant qualitative and quantitative difference between the examples you provided (except for Barclay) and the case of someone like Rob Bell. Nor is it a matter of past versus present. Conservative evangelicals would have problems with Bell’s views no matter what time period they had been expressed. They (we) rightly regard them as simply old liberal views in a new dress. By the way, perhaps you’re already aware of it, but I only became aware of this article yesterday, and I think it serves to demonstrate the differences pretty well: http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2011/11/why-do-we-love-c-s-lewis-and-hate-rob-bell/

        (2) Again, one of my major concerns with your article is still its inaccuracy. As someone else pointed out, you seemed to be reliant on secondary literature, and sound bites in the secondary literature at that. So, it really was misleading with regard to Lewis, Stott, and especially Luther. I think more rigor is necessary in the writing of critical articles.

        (3) With regard to your two examples, Evans and Bell, yes, I would be willing to research as to why they come to their beliefs. For Rachel Held Evans, I am not nearly as aware of her views as I am for those of Rob Bell. The times I have I have had my attention called to her blog, I have not been very impressed. First of all, she, too, seems to have this sound bite quality to her writings. And what really disappointed me was her assigning of motives. For example, during that whole World Vision incident, she stated and underlined on her blog, “I had not realized the true extent of the disdain many evangelicals have toward LGBT people.” That was just incredibly stupid, and demonstrated, to me, an unwillingness to listen to the other. Moderate evangelicals can also be trigger-happy and act as self-appointed gatekeepers. As for Rob Bell, I think I have in fact researched his stuff pretty well, and I seriously do not believe he has come to his views as a process of serious investigation of Scripture. His writings do not give the impression, like you would find in Stott, of submission to Scripture. Rather, they very much seem to evidence that he has developed his views independent of the text, and then has come to the text with a willingness to distort what is there to make the text fit his views. And, again, there are not numerous verses that say God will redeem all people.

        (3) I appreciate your point about universalism not being the thrust of the article, and that you are not a universalist yourself, and, yes, your paragraph made sense; so thank you for that. At the same time, you did refer to Bell three times in the article, so he was, in at least some respect, serving as your contemporary benchmark example, regardless of the universalism, which was not my main point either. I just don’t think Bell served your case well as an example of an ostracized evangelical. I don’t think he does qualify as an evangelical. Heretic? He’s certainly playing on the edges.

        Well, this response is overly long already. But, again, thanks for the opportunity to engage. Blessings.

      • I certainly do not wish to appear antagonistic in this because I do not have the authority to be dismissive toward either you (Tylor) or your objector(s), but I do think Jerry has point the first few remarks about Lewis, i.e., that if Lewis was not “evangelical” in the sense we often hear it used, he cannot be “banned FROM evangelicalism.” That is easy to see. I cannot be kicked out of a school I never attended.

        I think (and some may disagree) that the word evangelicalism has become increasingly ambiguous in our day. The result of this seen not only in the amount of disagreement within “it,” but also the confusion about particular theological stances within “it.”

        I don’t think there are many scholars who would argue the fact that Lewis held Christus Victor in higher regard than Penal Substitutionary, but they certainly woudln’t go on to say he rejected PS.

        Most Anglicans (noncalvinist), Orthodox, and Catholics would emphasize CV over others while not necessarily dismissing them, as would I.

        To my estimation, that point of Jerry’s is well made.

  4. Pingback: One Very Misleading Article About Six “Heretics” Who Should Be Banned From Evangelicalism If Evangelicals Were Consistent | The Recapitulator·

  5. I may well be labeled as being too simplistic after all I was only a fifth-grade teacher. Well I do think I have good company because Jesus said I am the way the truth and the life no man comes to the father but by me. He also said you must be born again or was this only for Nicademus? I do think that you intellectuals make it too complicated as a simple Gospel ! Ronald freezing… Or when hell freezes over?!?
    Friesen Manheim, PA

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