Shall We Retire the Term “Evangelical”?

I call myself an evangelical. What does that mean? “Evangel” means good news; an evangelist is someone who spreads good news; evangelicals, therefore, are those who believe in spreading the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So I like the term.

Yet it has come under scrutiny lately within the church because it seems to be losing its original meaning. Some are questioning whether it ought to be dropped as a description of those who follow Christ.

Most of that questioning stems from political developments. Evangelicals are now considered one of the “interest” groups in elections. Commentators examine their political clout and try to figure out how they will vote.

The problem, however, is the number and type of people who are lumped together under the name “evangelical.” They include those were who raised in the church but aren’t really faithful Christians. Many simply relate to the word evangelical because it’s part of their family tradition.

The word, then, has lost its real definition.

Let’s look at history for some guidance.

In the first half of the nineteenth century, the US experienced what historians describe as the Second Great Awakening. This revival of Christian faith spawned groups of believers who were tired of the division of Christians into denominations. They sought to get back to how they perceived the first-century church operated.

One group decided simply to call themselves Christians, as distinct from Congregationalist, Presbyterians, Lutherans, etc. Another took the name Disciples of Christ in an attempt to identify as Christians only, without any denominational tag.

They even said they would not become official denominations; they were merely movements of like-minded Christians. Well, no matter the original intent, they coalesced into identifiable denominations regardless; it was a natural development.

So the attempt to be just “Christian” without any further label wasn’t wholly successful.

Toward the end of that century, with the new higher criticism of Biblical authority threatening to undermine basic Biblical doctrines, those who rejected that criticism called themselves “fundamentalists” because they were declaring their allegiance to the fundamentals of the faith.

As theological liberals who denied Biblical teachings such as the virgin birth of Christ began taking over the seminaries, the fundamentalists set up their own Bible colleges and seminaries to counter that denigration of the true faith.

Unfortunately, too many of the fundamentalists became rather rigid in their practices while simultaneously withdrawing from meaningful interaction with the world, avoiding politics, education, etc., and thereby losing influence in the culture.

Those who agreed with the concept of maintaining the fundamentals but who didn’t wish to be viewed in the same light as those who claimed that label, migrated to a new term: evangelicals.

The shock of the cultural changes of the 1960s-1970s, spurred by events such as Supreme Court rulings relegating the Bible and prayer to the periphery of social life and opening the floodgates of abortion led these evangelicals to get involved in the political arena to hold back—and hopefully reverse—that cultural tide.

In my opinion, evangelicals have tried their best to carry out that endeavor without rancor and in the hope of drawing people to the Truth, not only about personal salvation, but also about how the Christian faith ought to impact all aspects of our society’s culture.

Evangelicals, in the last election, eventually attached themselves to Donald Trump. Some did so reluctantly, knowing his many flaws, but unable to countenance the alternative. Others did so with genuine fervor, seeing Trump as God’s anointed/political savior, not only minimizing his history of poor character but actually applauding his in-your-face persona.

I have to admit that’s when I started wondering whether the word evangelical had lost so much of its flavor that it needed to be retired.

Yet, despite the watering-down of the term, the original definition remains. An evangelical is someone who knows the truth of the Gospel message and is determined to see that truth disseminated so that the chasm between God and man, created by our own sins, can be bridged through repentance and faith in what Christ has done for us.

Therefore, I’m not retiring the word. I’ll continue to use it to describe who I am. The evangel of God is the good news; I’m to be an evangelist of that good news; I am an evangelical.

Political or Spiritual?

Christians & PoliticsMy last post was my best attempt to explain why Christians have a responsibility to engage in politics and government, and that by doing so we are not diluting the Gospel. I received an e-mail response from a friend who has worked diligently in the public arena for many years now. He pointed out one very significant fact I failed to emphasize, one that I wish I had included. So, with his permission, here is his response. Read for edification:
As someone who is regularly criticized by my fellow followers of Jesus Christ for daring to apply my faith in the political arena, I thank you for your blog post.  It’s not that I need affirmation, but it is always good to read something insightful about what God has called me to do.
 
I would add one comment to your post.  When I am chastised for being involved with “political issues” that “drive people away from Jesus,” I always ask to which issues they refer.  Of course, the common responses are abortion or marriage or both.  To which I respond: No, I asked which political issues. Those aren’t political issues, they are issues of fundamental Biblical principle concerning who God is, who we are, His design for us and for social order.  Yes, they happen to be debated within the political realm, but that doesn’t make them political issues.  I believe Christians fall for that trap all the time.  We allow that which is spiritual in nature to be labeled as secular (or political) only to find ourselves then on the defensive when in fact what we are discussing is spiritual. 
Of course, the dichotomy is in and of itself, for the believer, a false one anyway, since there is nothing “secular” to God.  But good luck explaining that concept to most believers! 
 
Anyway, I say all that to say simply that I don’t deal with political issues.  I deal with spiritual issues that are being debated in the political sphere.  But, of course, if they are “political,” then they are open for debate and compromise.
He is absolutely correct, and I appreciate his amendment to what I wrote. The murder of innocent children is first and foremost a spiritual issue because it is blatant immorality. Marriage, as I noted, is a God-ordained institution, so any tampering with it is tampering with God’s order of things. Both are political only when politicians try to alter eternal right and wrong. Christians, therefore, cannot be silent when moral atrocities become ever more prevalent and accepted by society at large.
 
God simply calls us to be faithful and to take His truth into every corner of the world, even corners we would like to avoid.
 

Christians & Politics: My Statement of Faith

Biblical WorldviewI sincerely hope the thoughts I share on this blog can be seen as coming from a heart of deep concern for the truths of the Christian faith, the edifying of believers, and the instruction of those who may be outside that faith. I skewer whatever deserves to be skewered, seeking to do so in the same manner as Jesus cleansing the temple of those who made a mockery of real worship.

Therefore, I try to be charitable toward those who may disagree with me, and I don’t want to be a source of disunity in the Body of Christ. Yet I must speak up with respect to those things that make us ineffective and/or disconnected to the reality of the political and governmental realm. I’m going to disagree today with some brothers and sisters who don’t like Christians getting involved with politics, but I won’t name any names. This is not intended as any kind of a personal attack on those who are in disagreement.

The spark for today’s commentary is the increasing number of articles, blog posts, and passing comments on social media warning Christians not to be tied to a conservative political agenda. Those of us who write or speak out on political issues are being taken to a verbal woodshed by some, and being accused of putting politics ahead of the Gospel.

God & GovernmentI hope regular readers of this blog will recognize my constant reminders that the basic problem in the world is man’s broken relationship with God, a divide that can be healed only through the cross of Christ. There is nothing more important than leading people to that truth. Neither have I placed any false hope in government; it never will be our savior. Politics is definitely a dirty business, but then so is the running of a corporation at times, being involved in a labor union, or any other human endeavor.

Politics, however, and the potential power of government to dictate our lives, affects us all. It can be a hindrance to the Gospel and to individuals who want to live in accordance with the Lord’s commands. It can penalize believers who want to operate their businesses on Biblical principles. It can restrict the interchange of ideas and beliefs. A climate of intolerance—in the name of tolerance—can seek to make everyone conform to what a government concludes is “right” thinking.

This is why I’ve always contended that Christians need to be involved in political affairs, not to set up a theocracy, but to safeguard the religious liberty bequeathed to us by the Founding Generation.

Whenever I speak to any political group, I make it clear that my political beliefs are grounded on my understanding of the Christian worldview as explained in the Bible. I am a Christian first and foremost; if my views line up with a certain political stance, it’s not because I’m a slave to a political party or movement; instead, I align with a party or movement to the extent that it reflects my Biblical beliefs and values.

One well-known pastor recently said he was concerned that evangelicals are turning people off to the Gospel because of our perceived political stance. What stance does he mean? If he means we are against abortion, so be it. If he means we continue to believe homosexuality is a sin and that there is no valid “gay” marriage, I can live with that. With the former, I am arguing against the mass murder of innocent children. With the latter, I am standing up for a God-ordained concept of sexuality and family. What are we supposed to do—apologize for those views? Run away from them? Hide them so as to not offend people?

PersecutionLet’s be clear. Jesus offended a lot of people. He told us that the Gospel message would lead to persecution and would divide families. His message led to His death because He challenged the religious/political establishment of His day. The apostle Paul said that all who desire to live godly lives would most certainly be persecuted.

Who are we? What do we have to offer as a church? Is our goal to make people feel comfortable in their sins?

Here’s what concerns me more than any political chicanery or threat to religious liberty: that the church in our day either minimizes or excuses sin; that we redefine sins such as homosexuality as just another alternative lifestyle and God accepts everyone; that we don’t really call sinners to repentance because we don’t want to damage their self-esteem; that we’re so focused on being liked and accepted in the mainstream of society that we will change the Gospel to fit current trends.

To those who are airing warnings against political activity, let me assure you that most of us on this side of the divide understand the potential dangers. Yes, some people seem to equate patriotism with being a Christian. Yes, some may come close to thinking that there can be a political solution to our crises. But I contend they are a minority.

Can you see the other danger? Too much concern about political involvement may be based upon a dichotomous worldview that separates religious faith from the so-called secular arena. It then allows the ungodly to run those “secular” entities and just hopes for the best. Some may call that trusting God, but I submit that it may instead be running away from a godly responsibility.

Salt & LightI realize some who are sounding these warnings are doing so from a good heart and simply want the Gospel to be primary. I argue that making the Gospel primary means the Good News affects all aspects of our lives and that we take that message into every realm of our society. We are not lights to be put under a bushel; we are not to be tasteless salt. We are to help preserve that which is good in society and shine a light to show people the way out of that which is evil.

Of course that requires a clear understanding of good and evil. We must never change God’s standards. We must stand for His truth even in a culture that is spiraling out of control away from His truth. We need to encourage one another to stand firm and to be the best representatives of His love that we can be. That begins with a strong denunciation of sin, the absolute requirement of repentance, and the offer of unbounded forgiveness to all who will repent of their sin. That is the Good News; that is the Gospel.