When I read Pete Enns on evangelicalism, I sense that he thinks of it as if it were the PCA (or the OPC), that these are really “evangelical” denominations. That is, he sees in evangelicalism a narrowness and uniformity that would make sense if, as Roger Olson sees the world, Reformed Protestants really did dominate evangelical institutions or as if Edwards and Whitefield were still the dominant flavor and Finney, New School Presbyterians, Wesleyans, Baptists, dispensationalists, charismatics, and even Mennonites, Brethren, and Quakers never happened. Enns also seems to think that evangelicalism actually has mechanisms admission and discipline (though he’s not in favor of the latter) that denominations have. He reflects an attitude that was dominant at Westminster Seminary in the 1980s and 1990s when administrators and faculty were in active pursuit of an evangelical niche in the seminary market. (How exactly Westminster, the seminary that Machen the separatist founded, was going to compete either with Gordon-Conwell or Fuller was a mystery.) That attitude took a significant turn during the Enns controversy. But Enns himself does not seem to have abandoned it. He recently wrote:
A common characteristic of Evangelical ecclesiology is the view, either explicit or implicit, that Evangelicalism is in some meaningful sense the clearest and most faithful expression of the Christian faith—which implies it is the version God most approves of. Other traditions are often looked down upon as either compromising “the clear teaching of Scripture” or lacking in some other crucial way.
The challenge to maintain some sort of Evangelical identity amid ecumenical discussions is a real one, but not necessarily impossible to pull off. How that might work itself out is not for me to say, but, in our ever-shrinking world, Evangelicalism cannot afford to be seen as anything other than in serious dialogue with other Christians communions. The global Christian faith must work toward a deep unity in basics amid diversity of various local and ecclesiastical traditions.
Evangelicalism is not a church and has no ecclesiology. Hello. And that is both its genius and its curse. It can keep an institution like Wheaton College going even while its boundaries ever shift to incorporate those who have Jesus in their hearts. It’s experience, not Scripture; it’s experience period. What’s the church?
This means that evangelicalism is precisely the ecumenical conversation for which Enns longs. He has found his home. The dialogue and openness are happening all around him. And yet, he keeps thinking that evangelicals are out to get him in the same way that conservative Presbyterians took issue with his views on Scripture.
His desire for “Openness to Different Ecclesiastical Traditions” should include a willingness on his part to let Presbyterian Church Americans or Orthodox Presbyterians to be exactly what they are — communions of Reformed Protestants. If he’d regard evangelicalism as loose and conservative Presbyterians as narrow, he could revel in the melting pot that evangelicalism is. And if he did that, he might understand that the OPC and the PCA are not really evangelical (since they cannot incorporate evangelicalism’s girth). And that might also allow Enns to recognize that he was always an evangelical who was not a good fit at an institution founded (even if confused about) to be Reformed.