Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed


Evangelical Tradition and Covenant Path Marking

posted by xscot mcknight

This is our sixth in seven installments on legalism, or covenant path marking.

According to Foster, the Evangelical tradition of the Christian life focuses on the Word. (Don’t equate this with the current raging debate about what an “evangelical” is; Foster’s usage is broad.) He uses three examples: Augustine, Peter, and Billy Graham (who will be interviewed Friday night on Larry King Live).

The Evangelical tradition is known for faithful proclamation of redemption and reconciliation, for the faithful preservation of the gospel, for the faithful interpretation of the gospel — and the delves here briefly into the creeds. The major strengths: call to conversion, missionary mandate, biblical fidelity, sound doctrine. The potential perils: fixate or the peripheral or non-essential, sectarianism, limitation of salvation to getting to heaven, and bibliolatry.

How does the Evangelical tradition of the Christian life develop covenant path marking? Whenever I am judged by how much I know about the Bible, or whenever I judge others for that. (Believe me, I’m a Bible teacher but…) Whenever Bible reading is more important than living properly, whenever a human is seen as nothing more than a potential convert, whenever sound doctrine destroys human relationships (be careful here for it is good to be sound but not in any way that destroys the other), whenever someone’s worth is measured by how close they are to you in your theology, whenever the gospel is reduced to getting to heaven, whenever the Church is equated with “only my own local church”, whenever the Bible is de-personalized, whenever theology is seen as more important than its goal to make us “perfect” or people who love God and love others.

For all the caveats about all these things, please give my other posts some attention. I don’t want to repeat all these all the time. But, let me add this in defense of those of us who see ourselves as Evangelicals: nothing in our concerns is bad; but what is good can be distorted to where it is no longer a good. I think that makes it clear.

Played golf today for the first time this year (had a decent round of 76), so I got a late start.



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John Frye

posted June 15, 2005 at 1:11 pm


Bob Webber points out that with the Reformation’s sola scriptura we went from a Person-centered faith to a book-centered faith, from personal encounter to propositional truth. The invention of the printing press and the availability of the Bible “to every plowman” seems to have spawned the “evangelical” stream. What was it called before the printing press and a Bible in every home?



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Gerald

posted June 15, 2005 at 5:20 pm


This isn’t my area, but I’m not certain that we should lay the blame for a “propositionally laden” faith on the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura. Christianity has in some sense always been expressed through propositions (the creeds, etc.) It seems to me that the doctrine of sola scriptura was more about whose propositions were finally and authentically Christian–magisterial teaching or the cannon of Scripture. Having said that, I agree that evangelicalism, along with many other expressions of historic Christianity, has often times made an end of the means, and has not always allowed the propositions to serve as pointers toward Christ. But the question is interesting and I too have wondered about the kind of faith that the average medieval Christian would have possessed. Surely authentic godliness was possible apart from daily reading of Scripture. Yet having said that, I can’t help but think (of course as a protestant) that the printing press and the wide distribution of the Scripture in the vernacular went a long way toward pulling the church back from the edge of the abyss. Even Catholicism had a very healthy and appropriate counter reformation that may not have occurred apart from the Reformed doctrine of sola scriptura.



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John Frye

posted June 15, 2005 at 7:27 pm


I take your comments, Gerald, to heart. I’m fascinated by these words: “Surely authentic godliness was possible apart from daily reading of Scripture.” If authentic godliness, i.e., the Jesus Creed lived out, was possible without daily Bible reading, what “path marker(s)” did they live by? And can we re-inject those markers today into the faith community to correct the evangelical stream’s tendency to demand “daily Bible reading” as essential to authentic godliness? demanding?



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Gerald

posted June 16, 2005 at 10:33 am


This is a great question. We need a historian. But I wonder if occurances of deep mysticism, prayer and contemplation were significant covenant path markers. If so, I would welcome a re-injection of this emphasis into evangelicalism (without abandoning daily reading of scripture and the more cognitive aspects of faith).I’ve done a bit of study on Augustine and it seems that he captures a good deal of both these ideals. He is a profound intellect and student of the Word, but he is also seems to foreshadow the coming medieval mystics.



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