Category Archives: Evangelicalism

Evangelical: One Word, Too Many Concepts

In the latest article on the amorphous term “evangelical,” Phil Johnson complains that “everybody seems to have their own concept of what it means.”

Is it about changing the world by good works?

A few years ago, best-selling author Rob Bell defined (to The Boston Globe) “evangelical” as a belief in working together for change in the world, caring for the environment, and extending generosity and kindness to the poor.

Is an “evangelical” someone who proclaims Jesus over Caesar?

And most recently, Rachel Held Evans, who has gained media attention for her book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, defined the term as a follower of Jesus who is committed to proclaiming the good news that Jesus is Lord and Caesar is not.

Maybe the confusion is the fault of the secular media:

…”I think probably the greatest corruption of the term ‘evangelical’ has come in the past 20 years or so because as that term has been more and more used in the secular media, it’s become more and more associated with a political perspective and it never was intended to be a political point of view,” said Johnson.

Or, Johnson tells us, it could be self-inflicted confusion:

Too many evangelicals have become too focused on political issues and because we don’t teach doctrine anymore, we don’t proclaim the Gospel the way we should, the message the world hears from us is a political message.

Whatever the case, “evangelical” remains a word that is as hard to define as it is to replace.

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Evangelical: A Word Racially Divided

For its recent article Lift every voice [sic], The Economist polled those who call themselves “evangelical” in a nimble and probably well-advised move to avoid actually having to define the term themselves.  In a predominantly political piece, we learn some things we already knew, like “fully 70% of white evangelicals consider themselves Republican.” Then we learn that the writer may not fully understand evangelicalism when we read of a “waning of evangelical institutional authority,” as if regard for institutional authority of the ecclesiastical kind ever was a feature of evangelicalism.  

But the more striking observations were along racial lines, Continue reading

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When the Marketplace Defines Religion

Now even the USA Today wonders what “evangelical” means. Fortunately, they’ve played right into my hands by providing yet another opportunity to paralell blues and religion:

Mattingly, director of the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, expands the definition further, saying “evangelicals have always been a cultural niche/commercial product kind of thing. No set doctrines.”

The angle here is the role of the marketplace in producing the word. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Does Worldview Deliver Presidents?

Worldview, promoted as a necessary and transforming enrichment of Bible-believing Christianity, has itself been transformed over the years. What started with Abraham Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and others from the Dutch Reformed perspective has become property of the Evangelical church through people like Francis Schaeffer, Charles Colson, Nancy Pearcey and Focus on the Family. Then of, course, numerous small groups and Sunday School classes explain Christian Worldview tinted by the perspectives of individual churches.

So rather than consider an academic explanation of Christian Worldview, it may be more helpful to consider an explanation by an actual, non-academic (as far as I know) pastor. One such pastor describes it as follows:

As the Reformed Christian looks at life, he does not make a dichotomy between sacred and secular. All of life is sacred and to be lived under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Believing not only that the Scripture is authoritative for one’s life individually, the Reformed Christian proclaims that the Scriptures inform all areas of life

…Any gospel, however, which does not affect the political and social structures in which it is proclaimed is a truncated gospel. The Christian’s job is to proclaim the gospel of Christ in the political, social, and cultural issues of the day. The Christian must proclaim that one cannot solve social problems apart from the redemptive work of Christ.

…many Christians speak of certain areas being amoral or neutral. If God has created all things, then all things have moral implications.

If this is popular worldview, then worldview consists of 1) a rejection of the sacred/secular distinction, 2) an assertion that the scriptures inform all of life, 3) a declaration that Christ’s redemptive work applies to political, social, and cultural matters, 4) a call for the Christian to transform politics and culture based on the scriptures and, related to but distinct from #2, 5) everything has a moral implication. No doubt there is more to it, but for now we can call these the Five Points of Worldviewism.

People who call themselves Evangelicals tend to have a bit of a bandwagon mentality – in part because of their self-perception of belonging under the Evangelical tent – and they may have hopped on board the Worldview Express with the general idea of living Christianly when, really, the worldview commitment is more specific and theologically loaded than that.

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Was Machen a Fundamentalist? Are His Heirs Evangelicals?

Joel Osteen and J. Gresham Machen: Fellow Evangelicals?

Journalists rarely understand religion so it’s no surprise that J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937) was described as a “Fundamentalist” back in the day. He did oppose liberalism and he did support the initial “fundamentals,” so it was a mistake waiting to happen. But one journalist – H. L. Mencken – knew Machen was no such thing:

The generality of readers, I suppose, gathered thereby the notion that he was simply another Fundamentalist [Evangelical] on the order of William Jennings Bryan [Joel Osteen] and the simian faithful of Appalachia… Dr. Machen himself was to Bryan as the Matterhorn is to a wart. His Biblical studies had been wide and deep, and he was familiar with the almost interminable literature of the subject. Moreover, he was an adept theologian, and had a wealth of professional knowledge to support his ideas. Bryan could only bawl.

In matters of theology and culture, Machen had a different spirit than the Fundamentalists. Continue reading

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A Word We Need To Phase Out: “Evangelical”

Some words have died because, like “hepcat,” they were a passing fad.  Other words, like the “n-word,” were intentionally killed because of widespread conviction that there is no profitable use of the word.  A similar but distinct class of words are those that should be abandoned because they conceal more than they reveal; an example of this is “evangelical.”

The Association of Religious Data Archives includes as “evangelical” denominations as diverse as the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Allegheny Wesleyan Methodist Connection, the American Baptist Association, the Assemblies of God, the Mennonites,  the General Association of Regular Baptists, the Hutterian Brethren, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, the Pentecostal Church of God and The Primitive Baptist Church, among others.  Do you see the common ground? I don’t, or at least I don’t see much.

But let’s play it out:  what do you know when someone tells you he is an evangelical? Continue reading

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