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  • Revd Dr Justyn Terry

Guarding Evangelical Identity

Justyn Terry puts forward six distinctives of Evangelicalism to keep the brightness of this inheritance alive and well.

When John Stott was ordained and became Curate of All Souls Langham Place, London, in 1945, J.I. Packer was still a student at Oxford University who had recently committed his life to Christ. Evangelicals in the Church of England were at a low ebb at that time. Much of their emphasis had to be on preserving their distinctiveness, like guarding a flickering candle on a windy day.


Since then, the Evangelical movement has grown remarkably, becoming a major part of the Church, and a significant voice in the academy. Conservative, charismatic and other expressions of Evangelicalism are to be seen in many places, doing remarkable work for the gospel. The fear of the Evangelical flame being blown out has receded, but the danger of it losing its brightness, as variations on the Evangelical theme proliferate, has increased. How are we to maintain this precious inheritance?


I have been thinking about that over the summer and have come to the conclusion that we need to focus more on what it means to be an Evangelical. So, what exactly do we stand for?


J.I. Packer(1) has suggested six distinctives of Evangelicalism that have been endorsed by John Stott and Alister McGrath, giving them a particular value in this quest:


  1. The supremacy of Scripture as God given instruction, a sufficient, self-interpreting guide in all matters of faith and action;

  2. The majesty of Jesus Christ our sin-bearing divine Savior and glorified King, by faith in whom we are justified;

  3. The lordship of the Holy Spirit, giver of spiritual life by animating, assuring, empowering and transforming the saints;

  4. The necessity of conversion, not as a stereotyped experience but as a regenerate condition, a state of faith in Christ evidenced by repentance and practical godliness;

  5. The priority of evangelism in the church’s agenda.

  6. The fellowship of believers (the faith-full) as the essence of the church’s life.

These distinctives make clear that Evangelicals give special prominence to the Bible, the saving work of Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the need for conversion, the importance of evangelism, and the role of the church in God’s mission. Stott points out that the first three are convictions about God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, which lead to the second three, that are responses to God, in conversion, evangelism and corporate discipleship to cultivate holiness. So, if we wanted to bring all this into one sentence, we might say Evangelical identity is seen in biblical preaching and teaching that calls for conversion to Jesus Christ, which cultivates in holiness of life. That is where we see the distinctives of Evangelical convictions in action.


If we are to maintain and pass on the Evangelical tradition, it is important to have some sense of what exactly it is that we stand for. Otherwise, there is likely to be mission drift, especially with all the pressures of the world and the Church to mould us into other shapes. The Evangelical flame may not go out, but it may become so diffuse as to cast little light into the darkness. Let’s keep the focus on biblical preaching and teaching that calls for conversion to Christ, not just as a momentary decision, but as part of a lifetime of pursuing the path of holiness, so that the gospel of Jesus Christ may not only be heard but also seen in the lives of the people of God.


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Justyn Terry is Vice-Principal and Academic Dean at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. A fuller version of this blog is due to be published in the Cranmer Theological Journal, Vol. 1, No., 1, early in 2024

Views expressed in blogs published by the Latimer Trust are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Latimer Trust.


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