Is Jimmy Dunn an ‘evangelical’??

I came across an interesting ‘scholar profile’ in Epworth Review (2000) of James D G Dunn (written by friend Graham Stanton). One of the things Stanton briefly discussed is Dunn’s relationship with evangelicals. He asked Dunn if he is an evangelical. Dunn neither denied being one nor claimed the title. Dunn, as the article made clear, abhors labels like ‘evangelical’. That does not mean he does not have any common interests. He ended up phrasing his response in terms of how ‘welcome’ he would be among evangelicals. He said that the evangelicals on the most conservative side are quite hostile towards him. But, he said that he would probably feel welcome among the faculty at a place like Fuller.

I have much respect and admiration for Prof. Dunn and my few conversations with him have been pleasant. When I told him I was interested in cultic metaphors in Paul, we ended up talking very practically about what this means for the life of the church and the view of ordination and priesthood (Dunn is very concerned with the modern clergy/laity divide in many denominations). I am disappointed with conservative evangelicals who treat Dunn like a heretic. Many of these people, I fear, are doing damage to the church by attacking a man who takes the Bible very seriously and orders his life according to the gospel in the best way he knows how. If the evangelical academic community is so heavily critical of Dunn, why do they keep training up seminary students who go and study at Durham (like me :) )!

So, is Jimmy Dunn an evangelical (according to American standards)? Probably not (or if so, at the very outskirts). But I think he should be treated as a great model of the scholar who wants to see the church conform to the gospel. He should be treated, I think, by evangelicals as a kindred churchman.

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5 thoughts on “Is Jimmy Dunn an ‘evangelical’??

  1. Per your suggestion a while back–related to the free iTunes lectures–I listened to (both of) Abraham Malherbe’s talk about Paul’s intermediaries. (Great tip, by the way)

    I believe it was in the second lecture, but Malherbe made the interesting observation that, outside of Philippians, Paul never tells his people to preach the gospel–i.e., to “evangelize.” Malherbe does say that the life of the believer is to be the message itself–or at least a confirmation of it.

    I think this speaks to how evangelism is primarily to be done–hence, the adage commonly attributed to St. Francis: Preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words. The life of the faithful believer should be so evident–so distinctive from the world–that it compels people to ask (cf. I Peter 3.15).

  2. From what I’ve read about Dunn’s Christology I would have trouble putting him in the Evangelical camp. Though I’m not sure why that is a real badge of honor anyway. I don’t blame him for not liking labels like evangelical (or anything else) especially when it pigeon-holes you or puts expectations on you to skew your research in a particular direction.

    Bryan L

  3. Certainly Dunn’s views on Christology are staunchly opposed by evangelicals, and I also disagree with him on that. But I think he is really committed to God’s Word and interprets the text in a sensitive way. The label ‘evangelical’ is hard to pindown. It is not really just about certain doctrines. The reason we (as evangelicals) are so many is partly because of the elasticity of the term.

    As far as the term and its being a ‘badge of honor’ – I was just speaking as an evangelical with an eye towards other evangelicals that grill Dunn and try to keep him at a distance and label him as ‘one of those kind of scholars’. In terms of the issue, why ask if Dunn is an evangelical or not (i.e., who cares about the label), well…I guess you’ll have to ask Graham Stanton why he brought it up in his interview and profile of Dunn…:)

  4. Could I ask a more pertinent question what makes a `Evangelical`. If it is following the `evanglium` the Gospel of Christ then surely all Christians are included. I know this is a perennial question. I feel it is more a question of where a person sits within those events of the 16th Century. In label choosing this may be the case. However as a practising Catholic Christian who repects all Churches from the Orthodox to the Metropolitan Community Church perhaps it may be more appropriate to begin to find alternative choices of words. As stating my ecclesiological allegiences I am happy to be called an evangelical. I am sure that there will be some who reject my assertion of this title. I hope that this is helpful.

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