I've just come back from attending a conference on Methodist Identities at Cambridge.
One of the presentations I found very interesting was given by the Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, a research fellow at the conservative evangelical Anglican think-tank Latimer Trust. His paper was on the objections of both Methodist and Anglican Evangelicals to Anglican-Methodist union in the 1960s.
As a non-cradle Methodist, one of the most interesting revelations to me from this presentation was the fact that Methodist Evangelicalism and Anglican Evangelicalism were not historically the same thing.
For various reasons, I think that I have always tended to view Evangelicalism in the 'Anglican manner'. With apologies to Atherstone, I was not able to copy down the characteristics of Anglican Evangelicalism that he rattled off rapidly by heart, but in my own definition of 'Evangelical' in the 'Anglican manner', I've seen belief in penal substitutionary atonement and belief in the bible as God's infallible revelation to humankind as being two big hallmarks of evangelicalism.
My reluctance to see the bible as infallible revelation and to affirm penal substitutionary atonement as the central and most important doctrine of atonement have made me want to demur in calling myself an 'Evangelical'.
I now come to find out that, historically, this has not been the definition of 'Evangelical' within British Methodism, although a number of the participants expressed the opinion that the Anglican definition may be currently gaining a foothold in Methodism. Atherstone reckoned that the British Methodist Church during the late 19th and early 20th centuries was decidedly theologically liberal and that Methodist Evangelicals were simply Methodists who were commited to evangelism.
I asked Atherstone after the session whether this wasn't simply the old battle between Arminianism and Calvinism. Wouldn't a conservative Calvinist view Arminianism as theologically 'liberal' by definition? Atherstone agreed with me on this point: that Arminianism is 'liberal' by evangelical Calvinist standards.
I found this interesting because I think it explains some of my confusion when Methodist friends who appear to me to be decidedly theologically moderate insist that they are 'Evangelical'. I do fear, however, that the Anglican form of Evangelicalism is creeping into Methodism. That, of course, is my own bias.