Thursday, January 3, 2013

An Evangelical Quadrilateral, or musings with Brandan Robertson

I have never met Brandan except via scattered facebook and blog comments, but I get the impression that we'd be jovial friends with the occasional friendly jab. He wrote a post about the spectrum of Protestantism and it attracted some pretty hefty flack, including a response by Dan Kimball.

Unfortunately, I haven't had time to read the comments on the blog or check out any additional response Brandan may have offered. So I'm shooting from the hip on this one.

Here is the picture that started it all (in a good way):
I confess, I find this compelling for the most part. I think I agree with the majority of placements on here (saving Tim Keller in the Neo-Evangelical category) so for the sake of argument I won't push much on this.

But here is my big question(s):
What determines the label "fundamentalist?" Or "Reformed Evangelical?" Why distinguish between Reformed Evangelical and Free Will Evangelical?
Is it a belief in Dispensationalism? Exclusive male hierarchy? Elder only board? Inerrancy?
 In many ways, I feel this graph is part two of a series, and we've somehow skipped part one. The labels themselves need to be defined more specifically. I know DA Carson got after Bebbington and Noll for defining evangelicalism sociologically, but I think there should be more put into this. The subjective nature of labels does blur the lines of an already postmodern society.

So how should Brandan, myself and others defines these terms? The terms change with each generation and what was progressive back in the day (an example is Paul K. Jewett's advocating the ordination of women in the 70s while at Fuller, causing a big stir. Or Edward John Carnell being "soft" of Barth when they met for a session discussing inerrancy). Karl Barth wasn't a fan of liberal theology the way he knew it, yet today he's considered a liberal by many (not necessarily by me, as I'm only 6 pages into his Church Dogmatics).

Please don't misunderstand, I do not consider a definition of labels to be necessarily an exclusion of an individual or group. Rather, I would prefer to see an objective (within reason) form of looking at the way people labels themselves but also the way we label them. This should include some method of evaluating the belief systems and where the chips fall.

So, in essence, this chart is an excellent one, but I believe it is incomplete and a lot of people may be left scratching their heads. I know I was when I saw Tim Killer in the neo-evangelical category. However, I look forward to dialoguing with Brandan about this, as I too am fascinated with labels, being one who rejected labels for some time. Especially when I was just beginning my journey. Brandan is a forward-thinking soul and I am glad to be a part of this discussion.

For the record, I consider myself, according to the chart to be Neo-Orthodox. :)

Here is Brandan's original post.

God bless.



  1. many people still use "fundamentalist" in the classical sense, so the more modern use that refers to an ethos is in my opinion blurring the lines too much. technically, you and i are classical fundamentalists.

    it would be better to use a different term for the modern use of "fundamentalist"... we could just start referring to them as the "radical right" instead.

    1. I wonder if it boils down to attitudes or doctrine? Or both.


    2. Hey Nick-

      Thanks for this. I'll start by just answering your big questions:

      1. Fundamentalists are those who are radically right winged theologically and socially and tend to reject anyone not like them as heretical or unchristian. That includes a lot of people, I know. But that's how I was defining them.

      2. The Neo-Reformed movement is large enough that it deserves its own category. Free-Will Evangelicals could be in any category under evangelicals (save neo-reformed itself) because they are not a unique definable movement.

      3. Nope. Many neo-reformers, like John Piper, are dispensational. All neo-reformers are complimentarian or even patriarchal. All of them hold to inerrancy. But not all of them are Presbyterian (elder-run) in Church government.

      You're right. This post was not thought out at all and was actually something I thought about in the shower, typed up, and expected to fade into oblivion. To my surprise, over 4,000 readers in 2 days found it compelling. So I am really working now to develop this. I think youll find the next post much more complete and helpful.

      I would love to see an objective form of looking at labels too. But that seems like a pipe dream, sadly :(

      I privately was chatting with Dan Kimball and we determined that Tim Keller is NOT the typical conservative or neo-reformed Evangelical. He is very lax on complementarianism, an evolutionist, and huge on social justice. So while he may line MOST with neo-reformed, I do think he is, at least partially, neo-Evangelical like Kimball, McKnight, and myself.

      Thanks for your support. I look forward to MUCH more discussion to come in the next week or so. I really appreciate you and your blog, Nick!

      And neo-orthodox? I thought you were a classic liberal.... ;)

      Grace and Peace-

    3. Hey Brandan! Thanks for your response. :)

      "1. Fundamentalists are those...but that's how I was defining them."

      I get that, and I sympathize. However, I do think their view of orthopraxy is directly influencing their right-wing theology. So I would add "attitude" or "conduct" to this section.

      "2. The Neo-Reformed movement is large enough...they are not a unique definable movement."

      Again, I believe I sympathize. I do wonder, however, if Reformed and Free Will should be included as a subcategory beneath mainline. Or, perhaps, beneath another new category. Say, "Traditional mainstream" or something. Just typing out loud. :)

      "3. Nope. Many neo-reformers...(elder-run) in Church government."

      My mistake, I wasn't trying to tie all of those views into one specific category. My attempt was to say where do these views fit into each label, or what labels exclude such positions. One can be a Progressive Evangelical and be PCUSA, like many at Fuller.

      "You're right. This post was not thought...I think youll find the next post much more complete and helpful. "

      I hope I didn't come across as rude, so I apologize if that is the case. I think the post is too general, but it has enough there to warrant a far deeper involvement. So, I hope my comment came across as a complement rather than anything else. :)

      "Thanks for your support. I look forward to MUCH more discussion to come in the next week or so. I really appreciate you and your blog, Nick!"

      Dude. Same to you as well. Hit me up on Facebook so we can chat more often! I'd love to be more involved in your planning. :)

      "And neo-orthodox? I thought you were a classic liberal.... ;)"

      You crazy. :)