What Do We Mean by Evangelical? - Last year I was at a meeting for all of the denominational leaders who are part of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). We met right after the election. As a result, there was significant dialogue about how the words evangelical and evangelicals have had negative associations.
One denomination was even removing the word evangelical from their website because they didn’t want the negative publicity. Unfortunately, the word evangelical has continued to have negative associations with the rise of groups like the alt right movement, the extremely conservative racist group, some of whose members might claim to be part of the evangelical church.
One option for the evangelical community is to drop the word from our vocabulary entirely. This option would be difficult for ECO, and we’re not sure we want to have another name change right now. I think a better choice for us, and the idea that the NAE has embraced, is to reclaim the name, ensure we define it for our people, and exemplify it for the world. The NAE has given some resources on the history and meaning of the word evangelical and how it unites believers across many denominational and non-denominational streams.
It is sad (and ironic) that even though the root of the word evangelical means “good news” or “gospel,” it has often been seen promoting bad news and things that are antithetical to why Jesus came to earth. As I reflect on the Good News of Jesus and the tenets that are core to evangelicals, I would highlight four beliefs and why it is good news to be evangelical:
We believe in the centrality of God’s Word, the Bible. The Bible is the Good News! It is great news that God has provided a picture of Himself and His work and interaction with His Creation, an open invitation to a loving relationship with Him, and instructions for living in that relationship. In the midst of a world that has a constantly changing and competing understanding of truth, it is good news that God has provided us with His unchanging Word.
We believe in the necessity of saving faith in Jesus Christ. Every other major religion or philosophy believes that our temporal or eternal reward or punishment is based upon how good or bad we are. We know that our hope and security in life and in death comes from trust in Jesus and His amazing gift given to us through his death and resurrection. This again is good news! It is great news that our hope is not based on our performance and righteousness but in the work of Christ alone!
We believe the gospel unites believers into one family regardless of gender, race, socio-economic backgrounds and other earthly distinctions. We know that Jesus “destroys the dividing walls of hostility.” We know that “we are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:28). Unfortunately, we don’t often reflect that reality. I agree with Mark DeYmaz who shared with us a couple of years ago that credibility of our Christian message within society will be determined by how well we live out unity in our churches.
We believe that we are called to work for the transformation of society. God is at work in the world making all things new, and He allows us to partner with Him in this great work. In humankind’s fall recorded in Genesis, three things were damaged or lost: First was our relationship with God. Second was brokenness in human relationships and institutions. Third was the physical brokenness of the world. Therefore, we need to partner with God to bring about restoration in all three of these areas. We cannot relegate our transformative efforts to only one of the three areas, but rather work to bring the entirety of the gospel to our world.
Given the good news described above, my hope and prayer is that we in ECO would not shy away from being evangelicals, but that we would exemplify living as Good News people as we bring the light of Jesus Christ to the world. Would you pray with me towards that end?