Now a Broader Definition of “Evangelical”?

Always tenacious in following permutations of “Evangelical,” PresBlue has found someone who thinks the word is not broad enough.  Dr. Gene Davenport, Professor Emeritus at Lambuth University, starts off with “Because of its many uses around the world, however, it is difficult, if not impossible, to give a definition of the term that would fit all users.”  He then traces the word from its Greek etymology (“good news”) through its application to Lutherans in the 16th century over against the Roman Catholic Church. Ultimately his definition of “Evangelical” is

to embody the love for others that Jesus himself embodied. It is to engage in a life of service to others, putting our own desires and needs last.

In other words, he would re-define it by emphasizing a kind of attitude and way of living.

He then concludes with the following:

Unfortunately, mid-20th century Christians from all across the Christian spectrum allowed a small group of fundamentalists to gain wider social acceptance by stamping their spiritual trademark on the word “evangelical.” Granted, it was an honest way to continue holding onto fundamentalist views of the Bible, Jesus and other theological views while becoming more liberal in social and in cooperation with other Christians. Billy Graham was an example of this new stance. But they co-opted a term that anyone who follows Jesus — whatever their theological label — can legitimately wear. And I, for one, refuse to allow them to tell me that because I do not agree with some of their theology I am not a genuine evangelical.

It’s not clear to me why Dr. Davenport wants the label so much. For what it’s worth, he’s an Episcopal who lives in Tennessee; maybe the word opens doors in that part of the country.  Or maybe “Episcopal” shuts doors in that part of the country. Whatever the case, I’m guessing that if Dr. Davenport simply called himself an Evangelical, said he was from the “Evangelical Episcopal Church,” and used “gospel” as adjective he might just pull it off.

While we’re on the subject, here’s an update on how I’m using the word(s):

Evangelical: someone who calls himself an Evangelical.

Politico-Evangelical: someone who calls himself an Evangelical while doing right wing politics.

Warrior-Evangelical: someone who calls himself an Evangelical who gets angry when someone says “Season’s Greetings.”

Eeevangelical: Joel Osteen. Contemporary Christian Music. You know it when you see it. And hear it.

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Filed under Evangelicalism, Presbyterian Vocabulary

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