Scot McKnight has started working through David Fitch’s massively titled book The End of Evangelicalism? Discerning a New Faithfulness for Mission: Towards an Evangelical Political Theology (Theopolitical Visions). I strongly recommend following him if you’re interested in the future of modern American evangelicalism.
My own feeling is that an evangelicalism that understands itself according to the standard definition of Bebbington and Noll, which Scot cites, does not have much of a future. On the one hand, I agree that evangelicalism has become largely “an empty politic”. On the other, the standard definition provides us with, at best, a severely emaciated account of how the idea of “gospel” or euangelion works within the biblical narrative. The two failings, of course, are not unrelated.
The standard definition makes evangelicalism a movement within Protestantism shaped by four main beliefs—in Scot’s wording: 1) the centrality of the Bible; 2) the centrality of the atoning death of Christ; 3) the centrality of the need for personal conversion; and 4) the centrality of an active mission to convert others and to do good works in society. Partly goaded into this by Jim Hoag (not for the first time), I thought I’d try and sketch a narrative-historical alternative. Or to put it bluntly, what would a biblical evangelicalism look like? The following four statements roughly correspond to the four beliefs of the standard definition:
1. the centrality of the biblical narrative—as opposed to the biblical text—as an account of how the tribal God of Abraham established his rule over the gods of the pagan empires;
2. the centrality of the transformative set of events through which the localized people of Israel became the means by which the God of Abraham asserted his sovereignty over the pagan nations in Christ (cf. Phil. 2:-11);
3. the centrality of the summary announcements—a dynamic and contextualized rather than fixed or static “gospel”—regarding the sovereign action of the Creator God with respect both to his people and to the nations;
4. the centrality of the post-eschatological “mission” of the people of God to be a concrete, corporate sign, both actually and proleptically, of new creation in the midst of the nations and cultures of the world.
A biblically constructed evangelicalism, however, is not necessarily exactly what we need today. Just as modern evangelicalism was a reaction to a particular state of affairs within Protestantism, so a post-modern evangelicalism must rediscover a biblical identity—a relationship to the narrative—under the particular circumstances of the collapse of Christendom and the failure of Christian modernity. So while the biblical narrative remains pretty much the same (the first two statements), “gospel” as an announcement of divine intention would need to be restated, and the practical and prophetic existence of the church as new creation would need to be imaginatively developed.