It seems that there is a bit of confusion when it comes to the word evangelical. Is it an old word with a modern political context? Should those that follow Christ throw in the towel when it comes to whether or not we should keep using it to define who we are and what we are about?
I just finished reading What is an Evangelical, by D.M. Lloyd Jones, published by Banner of Truth in 1992, a little book I picked up at a Ligonier conference at the beginning of last year, not knowing that the word “evangelical” was going to come under attack by the end of the year.
For some reason, I feel really offended when professing Christians, on both sides of the political spectrum who give their voice and opinion on this word “evangelical”, misuse it or neglect understanding the origin and premise of the word. One side will akin this word with white supremacists ideology and use it to defend their ridiculous superiority complex and the other side, with angered or hurt blinders on, will dig their heels in the sand in rejection of the word, assuming that its use is only for white folks in the church.
All of this is done without any regard or consideration that the majority of Latino or Hispanic evangelical Christians who use this word, do so in order to differentiate themselves from the majority of Hispanics or Latinos who are Roman Catholic, who typically don’t evangelize, and are content to just “do” religion according to their deep rooted traditions.
It’s ludicrous for those that promote white superiority to use this word exclusively as their own label and term in order to define their own “tribe”, sinfully using Christ as a scapegoat to justify their evil.
In reaction to the above scenario, for all those that want to abandon or divorce themselves from the word, it’s also irritatingly presumptuous, in an attempt to speak for all the “brown” Christians who call themselves evangelicals, the millions of us in this country alone, not counting the Latino’s who call themselves evangelical in Mexico, Central or South America, to demand that we stop using it.
As a Latina “evangelica”, it’s disheartening to see the black and white controversy over this word, as if Latino’s in this country are non-existent to the black and white church as a whole. According to an article written last year in Christianity Today, there are 6 million Latinos who call themselves evangelical, and their main objective is succinctly stated by Gabriel Saguero, the founder of the National Latino Evangelical Coalition (NaLEC) and a pastor in Orlando, FL. He says:
“the term ‘Evangelical’ cannot be reduced to a political definition. Evangelicalism is first and foremost tied together by three strong convictions: A strong belief in salvation through Jesus Christ alone, a high view of the authority of scripture in faith and Christian practice, and a commitment to sharing our faith and discipling people”
It seems as though the term “evangelical” is being hijacked by both blacks and whites to defend their own agenda. So it seemed prudent to explain the word, without any motive or agenda of my own, other than to define the word and explain it’s usage. After learning about and coming to a knowledge of a proper understanding of the word “evangelical”, it will become clear that those that use the word evangelical, really have no right to call themselves evangelical. We also need to stop giving the main stream media permission to create caricatures of the word “evangelical” in order to push their own non-God glorifying agenda.
Where did the word evangelical come from?
Evangelical comes from the word “evangel” (Latin – evangelium) which hails from the 14th century to denote the “good news” of the Gospel.
The word evangelist has roots in Latin and Greek and is used for one that preaches the gospel, or literally, “bringer of good news” or messenger of good news and is used three times in the New Testament as a noun, Acts 21:8, Ephesians 4:11, 2 Timothy 4:5.
By the 3rd century A.D, the authors of the four Gospels were appropriately named evangelists because they each tell their respective “evangel” accounts of Christ’s life, death and resurrection.
As a verb, when used to describe the action of sharing the good news of the Gospel, evangelist occurs more frequently. Jesus Christ, while being the embodied “Good News”, still did the work of an evangelist when He preached the gospel (Luke 20:1). Paul was an evangelist as well as an apostle (Rom. 1:15). Philip, who was a deacon, was also called evangelist (Acts 21:8). Timothy, being exhorted by Paul, was called to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5), as well as the early disciples, who after being driven out of Jerusalem, continued to go about “preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
We begin to see the word “evangelical” take shape in 1530 to describe not only a person who announces the Good News or to describe the work of announcing the Good News, but also as an adjective to refer to anything pertaining to the good news of the Gospel.
Significantly, by the mid 18th century, the word evangelical is used to point out any school of thought that promotes the idea that conversion and salvation is brought about through faith in Christ, which includes the totality of the sacrifice of Christ’s life, death and resurrection, as well as for those that live a life that reflects conversion and lived out faith.
What’s important to an evangelical?
Preserving, promoting, and declaring an accurate historical presentation of the Gospel are the main characteristics of an evangelical. They are not typically hard nosed traditionalists. Although, some hold on to their denominational traditions with a tight fist, subsequently holding hostage the good news of the Gospel. Authentic evangelicals recognize secondary issues for what they are and successfully navigate the murky waters of denominational affiliations unscathed and undeterred, holding the Gospel primary.
Evangelicals are an inclusive people, as long as in that inclusion, it does not propel one to lose sight of the primacy of the Gospel, its principles or specific landmarks that are expressed or evidenced in how one lives. This is where it seems that many who call themselves evangelicals can stop doing so because they don’t want to be inclusive of others. They would rather be inclusive with those who have similar outward characteristics, primarily skin color, social class, education, or other defining trait that oftentimes brings secular people together.
Being an evangelical means that one is going to accept and be inclusive of other brothers and sisters in Christ, solely and because of Christ, regardless of political or denominational affiliation or any of the above mentioned characteristics that we often use as comfortable familiarity.
What are the landmarks or principles of being an evangelical?
Unity is one of the major characteristic to being an evangelical. One who strives for unity seeks to be united in spirit and in truth, seeking peace. This tends to envelope the entirety of one’s attitude concerning thoughts, actions, reasoning, convictions, will, desires, feelings, as well as how one views self and world along with self in world.
Evangelicals care about Biblical accuracy, preserving and contending for the faith, while mimicking the first evangelists depicted in the New Testament, which includes Christ himself, Paul, Philip, Timothy, and the authors of the Gospels, Mathew, Mark, Luke, and John.
The main objective for evangelizing is simply to see God change hearts through the preaching of and sharing of the good news of Christ, hence why proclaiming the Gospel accurately and historically is vital. The duty of an evangelical is being used as a vessel or implement of God to till the ground, plant and water seeds of faith, so that God can do the work of conversion, which will bring others from death and darkness to light and life in Christ. This is not to insinuate that God needs humanity to change the hearts of people, however, God’s method to implement his will in the world has always included using his people to prepare hearts for conversion, which is evidenced in both the Old and New Testament.
The primary method used by an evangelist is to rely solely on the Bible, also known as sola scriptura, which is a slogan adopted from the Reformation. Sola scriptura comes from two words, sola, which means “alone”, used to denote “base” or “ground” and scriptura, for “writings”, specifically the writings of the Bible. Sola scripture is meant to infer that the Bible alone is fully authoritative for lived out faith because it’s true and complete.
It’s also important to note that the use of “scripture alone” did not originate during the time of the Reformation, but actually, goes back to the life of Christ and the early church.
An evangelical’s sole authority is the Bible. He or she is a Bible person and submits every aspect of their lives to Scripture.
Another key component defining an evangelical is being fully aware that there were others who have gone before us that have lived out their faith, knowing full well that we are not that different from those in the past, regardless of the cultural distinctions of society that change with time. To not be aware of or not have a certain degree of respect or acknowledgement for those that have gone before puts us on a path where we are doomed to repeat historical failures.
Not fully recognizing the totality of history, globally, not just in our own country, causes one to take a particular stance on any given issue without any regard for why that stance exists. For example, currently its trendy in many social justice circles to see various American problems, like red zoning or certain disparities in poor areas in cities around our country and cast blame on the majority white demographic in order to create something to “fight for”, or “fight against”, or take a knee in response to perceived “white privilege”.
When one is fighting “white privilege”, it becomes quite easy to forget that there is extreme poverty and abuse of power in major cities across the globe where the white majority does not exist, nor do they control the government or establish cultural norms, also known as “cultural colonization”. Slums and poverty are not indicative of the majority white establishment keeping people “in their place”. An evangelical recognizes that the majority demographic is not solely responsible for the oppression of others but rather, and exclusively, a sin nature problem that comes from our first parents, a reality that is learned when one looks at the world through a sola scriptura posture and uses scripture alone to diagnose societal ills through that scriptural framework.
There is a tendency to believe that our problems are unique and we need new solutions to current problems, forgetting that man sinning against one another is not new, but rather an ancient old problem that began with a serpent deceiving a woman and her husband, followed by the murder of one man by his own brother. An evangelical is fully aware that there is a serpent head crusher that gives hope to those who are transformed by hearing about the one that crushed the serpents head by dying on the cross and resurrecting from the grave.
An evangelical knows that we are not bound to history, slaves to history, nor should we dismiss history in its entirety. History is tool that simply points us to the one who is sovereign over all history.
One of the primary dangers of not holding history in its proper place is to begin to believe that we are in need of a “new” or a “fresh beginning” or platforms of social justice that paint with broad strokes, singling out certain demographics. Those “new beginnings” will cause us to pursue change by chasing after new movements or trends that help change policy on both social and political levels. It’s a false hope to think that political or social change has the power to create a utopian society where all things are equal, fair, and just. Christ did not step down into humanity to create equality and fairness for all. He came to break chains of sin and death by atoning for the sins invoked by sin and death. This effects people practically when one soul at a time is justified, regenerated, transformed and sanctified. That is how the Kingdom of God is seen. That is how the church grows.
Evangelicals also know that there have been historical events of the past that brought about significant faith movements that sought to change the universal church for the better, like the Reformation. However, evangelicals know that these movements should not be proponents of elevating those events above Scripture. We know that if we do, there is danger in turning our faith in Christ into hyper theoretical scholasticism or uppity intellectualistic expressions of faith that finds itself detached from practical applications of Scripture.
Evangelicalism contends for the faith in ways that the message of the Gospel is not necessarily heady or above those that never pursued higher education while at the same time uses intellectual methods for those that have. Evangelicals recognize that the Gospel message is for both the intellectual and the simple, the theologian and the construction worker, the professor and the home maker, and has the power to level class distinctions, ethnic divisions, gender distortions, and social disparities across the board.
It is quite easy for evangelicals to declare what they are for, in regards to adhering to Scripture, like pro-life or pro-heterosexual marriage. However, a true evangelicalism also lays out what they are against, which squashes any addition to sola scriptura. One cannot contend for the faith by adding to or subtracting from the Word of God. If one can say all the right things that sound very “evangelical”, but at the same time, leave things out they disagree with or cannot articulate what the Bible does not say, or add things to create extra burdens for others, that person might have to question whether they are an evangelist?
The Galatians were led astray by those that added to scripture. They believed right theology, promoted right theology and did not deny any aspect of the gospel. However in spite of getting so many things right, they wrongfully attempted to add circumcision to their theology in order to pass it off as the Word of God rightly applied. Evangelicals know what they believe and know what they don’t believe. Bible literacy is imperative in bringing clarity to what should be believed and what should not.
In a modern context, an evangelical approaches contemporary societal ills with caution and discernment, not loudly taking a stand, boldly taking a knee or voicing responses in anger, frustration or even hopelessness. They are careful not to attach the myriad of possible solutions to fix a broken world in ways that have the potential to trump the supremacy of the Gospel rightly preached, in essence circumventing God’s work in converting lost souls in kingdom building work. God grows his church and builds his kingdom in spite of a world filled with injustice, oppression, or supremacist ideologies that come in a variety of skin colors by using our ethnic cultures to draw lines in the sand in solidarity with those that look like us.
Christ came into that same kind of broken world during the height of Roman rule and reined supreme over all injustice, not by speaking against, standing up for, taking a knee with, or divorcing himself from terms or labels wrongly applied.
Evangelicals openly recognize and proclaim that Christ came exclusively to die as a sacrificial atonement for his bride, the multi-ethnic church that lives out of and through a Christ-abiding inclusive culture that will often clash with, but inevitably supersede and work with, not against, the culture one is born into. Sadly, many will mistakenly call this “white-washing”, due to an inability or possibly an immaturity to understand the totality of original sin evidenced throughout an ancient and contemporary historical timeline that affects every single ethnicity, people group and culture.
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh
In a nutshell, this scripture in Ezekiel is the heart of evangelicalism.
Ariel blogs at arielgbovat.com