Now is Not the Time to Abandon “Evangelical”

Now is Not the Time to Abandon “Evangelical” March 18, 2016
Wikipedia Commons
Wikipedia Commons

Much of my inbox is filled with Google alerts notifying me of yet another news anchor or political pundit bemoaning Evangelicals’ support of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump. It’s depressing to watch as self-described Evangelicals and political commentators twist the term into a cultural Christian voting bloc supporting a less virtuous candidate. The media has aided shallow theology in creating big misconceptions about the very meaning of an Evangelical. But for these reasons, I’m reminded why now is definitely not the time to give up on the term “Evangelical.”

Let me say, I absolutely understand and empathize with the frustrations of faithful Evangelicals who want to “redefine” the term or have stopped using it altogether.

Dr. Moore makes a good case in the Washington Post for why he hesitates to use the term at this time. “The word ‘evangelical’ has become almost meaningless this year, and in many ways the word itself is at the moment subverting the gospel of Jesus Christ,” writes Dr. Moore who opts instead to call himself a “Gospel Christian” for now. After the election he then plans to rectify the term “Evangelical” from its place of exploitation.

Since Dr. Moore is a sort of distant spiritual father in my house, it saddens me to read of the frustration he is feeling. His decision to temporarily relinquish the term “Evangelical” is understandable. I get it. I just don’t fully agree with it, for reasons I’ll explain.

To me, the massive mistreatment and misuse of the term “Evangelical” indicates a whopping amount of lost or confused souls in America—in America’s churches—who think they’ve got Christianity figured out. In my small town, a whole bunch of my neighbors define themselves as Evangelical followers of Christ without understanding what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus, or uphold the authority of Scripture, or recognize the urgency of sharing the gospel with the lost. Many float in and out of sanctuaries yet don’t know the basic tenets of the faith. For some, this stems from a lack of discernment among Evangelical Church leaders. All this just breaks my heart and reminds me that evangelizing doesn’t stop just because someone refers to themselves as an Evangelical.

Liberal Baptist ethicist David Gushee and I probably disagree on several church-related issues. But I think he gets some things right in his latest column on self-described Christians who float in and out of local churches. Gushee asserts that multiple factors including, social media and decreasing church services, have aided in the creation of the “half-churched” Trumpvangelicals.

[I]t’s not just that the [church] doors are open less often. It’s that a smaller and smaller percentage of church members seem to be in church on the average Sunday morning. Regular church attenders are now defined as those who attend once or twice a month on a Sunday morning. The flock looks different every week because it is in fact a different group every week, a combination of die-hard weekly attenders, numerous sometime-attenders, and a steady flow of visitors.

He continues on:

This is about more than the mobile nature of US society. It’s about a weakening sense of what commitment to a church means, and must also be about failures on the part of many churches to be “sticky” enough to catch and hold people for any length of time.

There is certainly a disconnect between a lack of theological seriousness and cultural Evangelicals who support Trump’s politics. According to my handy Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, the definition of Evangelical is someone who proclaims:

[T]he good news of salvation in Jesus Christ with a view to bring about the reconciliation of the sinner to God the Father through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit.

No, this definition doesn’t always look like a Trumpvangelical. So while surveys and poll data might tell me we share the same label, I know there are some significant differences. None worth causing me to abandon the word and its powerful meaning.

It’s the same reason why I don’t abandon the term when “progressive Evangelicals” or the “Evangelical Left” apply it to themselves. Many among the Evangelical Left and I disagree on some key theological matters. Take the sacrament of marriage, for example. We disagree about God’s establishment and purpose for marriage between one man and one woman. But just because others identify with the term “Evangelical” and not orthodox theology, doesn’t cause me to abandon the label altogether.

Look, what if my husband Eric came home one day and asked me to please start referring to him as “man spouse” because he’s discouraged by the Supreme Court’s marriage ruling and society’s abuse of the term “husband”? Excuse me? Ditching the label doesn’t fix society’s bigger problem. No, I’d tell Eric to lead by example and live out what it means to be a godly husband well. Society will eventually take notice once more.

So instead of abandoning or trying to redefine the term “Evangelical,” I urge us to reclaim it now by living out Evangelicalism well! Trumpvangelicals will eventually take notice.

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