Here is another thought provoking book that deals with one of the most important issues facing the church today. How much latitude do we have in coming together with Christians who are not of the same theological stripe? Can we develop a unity in the body of Christ that transcends our particular denominational or theological persuasion? Can we do that in a way that does not finally compromise our theological integrity?
J. I. Packer, a noted theologian within the reformed tradition, and Thomas Oden, of Wesleyan Methodist lineage, have attempted to make an effort to define evangelicalism today. Is there a point of convergence where the ideas presented by the two authors come together in a meaningful way? One Faith answers that question in depth. I have had the privilege of participating in some of the conferences mentioned from which covenants and manifestos were drafted. These documents set the basic doctrines of the Christian faith together in a missional motif that could unify diverse groups of people.
Obviously, the concern is whether or not our Christianity, especially within the broader evangelical setting, is causing us to fragment into smaller and more isolated groups. On the other hand, are we coming together in ways that will allow us to express a common commitment to basic tenets of the Christian faith while allowing the freedom to adhere to our own theological and denominational distinctives?
Both authors write on the premise that there is a common theological consensus that draws us together into the broader movement of evangelicalism. They seek to develop a framework or foundation upon which the broader evangelical world can come together in a way that will give rise to a new ecumenical consensus. They cause us to identify what we are willing to give up to accomplish this.
Packer and Oden divide the broader evangelical community into two rails of the track. The Calvinists, Lutherans, and Baptists are on one part of the track while the Arminian, Wesleyan, Holiness, Charismatic and Pentecostals are on the other side. The purpose of this book, according to the authors, is not just to share information but also edify and determine whether there can be enough agreement to transcend those differences. “We decline to discuss secondary matters on which disagreements surface, such as variations on polity, modes and subjects of baptism, glossolalia, millennialism, theological epistemology and specifics of exegesis.” “This book celebrates the work of God in bringing evangelicals together in fundamentals, and that is the reality on which we labor to keep all eyes trained.”
One might be tempted to read up to this point and debate whether such a consensus could or should exist. However, whether we like it or not, we cannot dodge the issues raised in this book. If the question is not about us but about God, how much energy and effort does God want us to expend in focusing on the unity that transcends our particulars?
The authors begin by describing evangelicals as, “Those who read the Bible as God’s own Word, addressed personally to each of them here and now; and who live out a personal trust in, and love for Jesus Christ as the world’s only Lord and Saviour.” From there they state “historians categorize evangelicals as people who emphasize (1) the Bible as the Word of God, (2) the cross as the place where salvation is won, (3) conversion as a universal need and (4) missionary outreach as a universal task”
A plus of this book is it brings together in one place many of the statements, covenants, and declarations of the 20th century. These statements are in the missional genre, underscoring the global aspect of Christianity. Though they were produced in a missional setting, they challenge us to realize we are part of the one body of Christ worldwide and through all the ages.
The book contains sixteen chapters on the doctrines the authors believe are commonly held by evangelicals. They connect these doctrines to documents produced by the various evangelical movements of the 20th century, particularly the later part of that century. Naturally, they point to Billy Graham as the main catalyst behind the various movements within evangelicalism.
This book will push you out of your comfort zone at places, challenge you to focus on unity within the Body, and cause you to think seriously about how to experience and express our diversity and unity while respecting both. There is a wealth of information in this concise volume.