In an earlier post, I asked “Why are you or why aren’t you an evangelical Christian?” I received some great, thought-provoking responses, and several people asked for some specifics about my answer to that question. So here goes!
- For me, evangelicalism means living a Gospel-centered life. The Gospel is the Good News that Christ died for our sins and rose again. It is the recognition and confession that Jesus is Lord and it is living out my life in light of that fact.
- For me, evangelicalism means living a life that is Christ-centered and cross-centered. Jesus stands at the center of Christianity and his atonement on the cross stands at the center of Jesus’ life.
- For me, evangelicalism recognizes the importance of the Bible. The Bible offers us invaluable wisdom and insight about our faith and God’s redemptive plan for humanity. We should take what it has to say extraordinarily seriously, seeking to properly understand the messages contained in its pages.
- For me, evangelicalism means cultural engagement. Christians are not generally called to live separate, cloistered lives, nor are they supposed to live at antagonistic odds with society. Rather, we should strive to be an active part of culture and society. Our faith should inform who we are and how we interact with others.
- For me, evangelicalism is mission-oriented. We are called to act. Not to sit idly by, not to only look out for ourselves, but to act in the world, expressing God’s love wherever we can, caring for the sick and the poor and the downtrodden, proclaiming the gospel through our words and our deeds.
I understand how all of these facets can be taken to unhelpful and even dangerous extremes. I realize that American evangelicalism has often been particularly negligent in that regard and regularly expresses hate and judgment in place of compassion and grace. But, for me, the characteristics I outlined above stand at the very heart of Christianity — every use of the word “evangelical” can be changed to the word “Christian.”
That’s how I understand evangelicalism. But … that’s clearly not how many others understand it. For them, evangelicalism has to do with forcibly evangelizing, with drawing up battle lines, with defining in and out groups, with rooting out heresy, with condemning others to hell, with vehemently opposing abortion and homosexuality, with standing up for gun rights and with supporting a generally Republican agenda. For many, the term evangelical is a synonymous with a “brand” of Christianity that bears little, if any, resemblance to the Christianity that I believe in.
I’ve always self-identified as an evangelical because that was the tradition I was brought up in and because it seemed to me to best fit my understanding of what I believe. But identifying as such puts me in the same room as many other self-proclaimed evangelicals with whom I share very little theological common ground.
To the extent that this discussion is about arbitrary theological delineations, it is perhaps a futile undertaking to try and pin down any specific meaning for the term evangelical. But this has very practical implications for me: I do get asked what religion I am, I do get asked what kind of Christian I am. I don’t need or particularly want to place myself in a box with clearly defined borders. But I do want to respond to those sorts of questions in the most honest and accurate way possible. It’s becoming increasingly obvious to me that “Evangelical Christian” is perhaps not a useful term of self-identification, at least not without a great deal of potentially tedious explanation.
On the other hand, I think that self-identifying as evangelical while making it abundantly clear that my stance on a number of controversial issues falls to the (far?) left of the ideological spectrum potentially offers a powerful witness about the compatibility of Christianity with overt support for traditionally “liberal” issues. From my perspective, there isn’t necessarily any conflict between a deep love of the Jesus and the Bible and support for gay rights, women’s rights and a slew of other issues.
Am I an evangelical? Yes! What exactly does that mean to me and to you? Let’s sit down and have a conversation about it …