At the end of the day, as our culture rapidly changes all around us, we must retain an unchanging message. That is non-negotiable. But we can be open to new methods – at least to SOME new methods. But even here real care and prayer is needed as to the best way to proceed.
Some things change in life. Some things do not change. Knowing which is which is vital. As to the former, people change. Cultures change. Societies change. But as to the latter, God does not change. The Christian gospel does not change. Our fundamental need as human beings does not change.
So how does the Christian know how best to present an unchanging gospel to a changing world? At the risk of oversimplifying things, when it comes to the gospel and our presentation of it, there have been three quite broad options to run with. They are:
-Keep the message and the methods the same – fundamentalist Christians.
-Keep the message but change the methods – evangelical Christians.
-Change the message and the methods – progressive Christians.
Others have made use of this threefold scheme, and all three of these positions need to be teased out more fully to do them justice. But roughly speaking, that is sort of how things have panned out in the West over the past few centuries. And the three Christian camps also need to be discussed a bit further. So let me seek to unpack all of this.
The term “fundamentalist” gets a bad rap today, and it is usually used as a term of derision. And it does not help when Christians who can be described as fundamentalists are put in the same category as fundamentalist Islam. The term arose over a century ago when believers chose to affirm the fundamental truths of the gospel, and oppose the liberal theology and social gospel of the day. See this article for more: https://billmuehlenberg.com/1999/07/26/what-is-fundamentalism/
Evangelicals in part sprang out of the fundamentalist camp (but go back before that as well) and they too strongly champion unchanging biblical doctrines that can never be jettisoned nor diluted. Thus the Trinity and the deity of Christ are must-believe core doctrines that of course go back to the early church creeds. See more on them here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/03/19/what-is-evangelicalism/
Progressive Christians tend to be those of the religious left, who not only embrace various political and social agenda items usually championed by the secular left, but tend to have a very weak view of biblical basics as well. In fact, most are quite happy to insist that we must reject or radically redo most basic Christian beliefs. I explain this in more detail here: https://billmuehlenberg.com/2011/01/23/progressive-christianity/
Gospel and Method
As to the three main ways to present the gospel, let me look at how the three groups might proceed:
Fundamentalists are quite right to not want to change the core gospel message. But they might be wrong when it comes to how we present the gospel. For example, they might resist such things as newer and more easy to understand Bible translations, perhaps insisting that one can only use the KJV.