Evangelicalism and the Priority of Parachurch Institutions

What evangelicalism in all of its forms typically does is prioritize parachurch institutions over and above the church.

What evangelicalism in all of its forms typically does is prioritize parachurch institutions over and above the church.

Whether we are talking in the United States of the National Association of Evangelicals or The Gospel Coalition, or in Britain of the Evangelical Alliance or Affinity, we are talking about coalition movements, and coalition movements by their very definition require broad statements of faith. These groups all have statements of faith; but they are statements of faith designed to keep in the tent all the various sects of which the clan chiefs approve.

Thus, matters that are vital to the constitution of actual churches (a clear position on baptism, for example) are typically left to one side, on the grounds that the parachurch leaders do not wish to exclude people because of such matters. The statements are therefore often brief and, compared to, say, the Belgic Confession or the Westminster, highly attenuated. This is not necessarily a problem, provided that nobody forgets that these groups are not churches and that they are therefore always to be subordinate to churches in the way Christians think about the practical outworking of their faith.

Too often, however, the impression is given that these groups, representing this nebulous phenomenon “evangelicalism,” consider themselves to be the higher synthesis and the context where the real action takes place. The culture that such an attitude reflects ultimately tends to send the message to Christians that issues such as baptism are of minor importance, and that the matters which divide denominations are trivial and even sinful in the way they keep Presbyterians and Baptists from belonging to the same church.

This is, ironically, not a million miles from the wider culture’s fear of exclusion and actually sets such professedly conservative evangelicals on an odd continuum with many of the emergents whom they would repudiate. The difference between the conservative evangelical and the emergent might be profound at the level of epistemology, but in terms of regarding doctrine as negotiable and traditional structures of church authority as practically irrelevant, the difference might not be as great as is often imagined.

Carl Trueman, The Creedal Imperative, 46-47