by R. Albert Mohler
Who is and is not an evangelical? With whom should evangelicals cooperate in Gospel efforts, and who not? What theological expressions are truly evangelical, and which are beyond the pale?
These questions are central to the ongoing crisis of evangelical identity. In 1989, Carl F. H. Henry spoke to the urgency of answering these questions:
The term “evangelical” has taken on conflicting nuances in the twentieth century. Wittingly or unwittingly, evangelical constituencies, no less than their critics, have contributed to this confusion and misunderstanding. Noting could be more timely, therefore, than to define what is primary and what is secondary in personifying an evangelical Christian.
But, just a year after Henry offered those words, Robert Brow called for a complete transformation of evangelical theology – and did so within the pages of Christianity Today, the flagship periodical once edited by both Carl Henry and Kenneth Kantzer. Brow’s manifesto was a clarion call to abandon the Augustinian-Reformation model in favor of a new Arminian and postmodern model. Brow declared that the intellectual context of postmodernity made such an exchange necessary. He argued that doctrines such as the omnipotence, omniscience, and sovereignty of God would have to be radically reinterpreted in light of current thinking. He explicitly rejected doctrines such as the substitutionary atonement, a penal understanding of the cross, forensic justification, and imputed righteousness. With remarkable boldness, he called for the rejection of the traditional doctrine of hell and he denied both a dual destiny after judgment and the exclusivity of the Gospel. As he made these demands, he informed his readers of the inevitability of an evangelical “mega-shift” because, “a whole generation of young people has breathed this air.”
In short order, Brow was joined by Clark Pinnock and a corps of fellow revisionists who called for a thoroughgoing reformulation of evangelical theology from top to bottom. Pinnock would call for the embrace of what he would call the “openness of God” – his own version of a radical reconstruction of theism. Pinnock argued that the traditional evangelical doctrine of God is overly dependent upon Greek philosophy. In the style of Adolf von Harnack, Pinnock attempted what he styled as a radical de-hellenization of Christian doctrine. He explicitly denied the omniscience of God by arguing that God cannot know the future decisions of free human creatures.
With Brow, Pinnock called for the affirmation of “creative love theism” in the place of traditional theological frameworks. This new model of theism would redefine all doctrines in terms of a radical human libertarianism and a denial of any direct mode of divine sovereignty. They replaced the traditional understanding of divine sovereignty with an affirmation of divine “effectiveness” – an “ad hoc sovereignty.”
Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr., serves as president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary — the flagship school of the Southern Baptist Convention and one of the largest seminaries in the world.