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What Donald Trump is Teaching Evangelicals (Part 2)

March 13, 2016
March 7 Blog

Some time ago, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada published a document intended to answer the question, “What is an Evangelical?” They quoted the work of David Bebbington who identified four characteristics of evangelical belief. These included:

1) Biblicism: there is some kind of devotion to the Bible as God’s Word.
2) Crucicentrism: the cross of Jesus is central to teaching and preaching.
3) Activism: there is a cooperation in the mission of God through evangelism and charitable works.
4) Conversionism: people must turn from their sin and believe in the saving work of Christ. They must commit themselves to a life of discipleship and service.

Based upon these four characteristics of belief, the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC) estimated that 8-12% of Canadians cannot be safely considered as evangelicals. If one considers only Protestants in this grouping, the EFC maintains there are some 4 million. If one includes those who are “evangelically aligned,” and Roman Catholic, the EFC is happy to inform that the number of evangelicals rises to as high as about 19% of Canadians. Given that, some of the immigrants to Canada fit into that category. Hence, there is, in this country, a healthy and growing dynamic called evangelicalism. I am not suggesting that Bebbington’s four categories are used to describe the term in the U.S. However, it seems to me that the categories we use in identifying the term “evangelical” have been broadened sufficiently, so that the movement is made to encompass a great deal of diversity. We have become proud of our numbers. And even while Canadian evangelicals are far less likely to be as politically driven as those in the United States, still, evangelicals in both countries are delighted to count the numbers as significant.

And then along came Donald Trump. He believes in the Bible, and knows it to be God’s Word. He just can’t recall a single Bible verse when asked to recount one. He believes in the cross. It’s just that he doesn’t like confessing his sins, and he doesn’t like blessing his enemies. He is an activist, in that he does contribute generously to charitable works. And he does care about conversionism. So much so, that he proudly calls himself a Christian, and opposes the advance of Islam. Using Bebbington’s list, I think we can make Donald Trump out to be an evangelical. Now, as a Bible teacher, I find Bebbington’s categories hopelessly inadequate.

Consider what is lacking, first in terms of belief, and second, in terms of practice. Let’s start with belief. For starters, how about justification by faith, and by faith alone? Or, how about a conviction that the one who died is both from all eternity fully God, who in the fullness of time, has become fully man? What of the substitutionary atonement of Christ as the central meaning of the cross? What of the second coming of our Lord to judge the living and the dead? I could go on.

But the point I am making is that the term evangelical does not require adherence to any historic Christian creed – neither the Apostles creed, the Nicene creed, or even the historic confessions of the reformation. And then there is the matter of practice. What of sanctification? What of seeking first the kingdom, and His righteousness? What of commitment to a local church? What of the life of faith, of prayers, and of service? Again, I could go on.

In one sense, I think Donald Trump was sent by God. He has exposed that the term “evangelical” has become hollow. We have counted our numbers, and have not concerned ourselves with the nature of faith, or the character of faithfulness to our risen Lord. Perhaps it is time for a new movement, committed to Jesus.

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld

Dr. John Neufeld is the national Bible teacher at Back to the Bible Canada. He has served as Senior Pastor, church planter, conference speaker and educator, and is known both nationally and internationally for his passion and excellence in expositional preaching and teaching.


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