I’m old enough to remember when “evangelical” was a bad word

According to Jesse Johnson “evangelical suffers from an ambiguity largely owning to its diversity. The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) is different than the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, yet members of both would sign the Manhattan Declaration. If you believe the gospel and the fundamentals (inerrancy, virgin birth, bodily resurrection, personal conversion, etc.), does that make you evangelical? There is no clear answer to that question.”  But what is clear says Johnson is that “an evangelical is someone who says with their feet that Catholicism and liberalism are wrong, but they just would never say so with their mouths. They leave the Catholic church on Sundays, but turn around and call Catholics our brothers in the Lord on Tuesdays. This is evangelicalism’s squishy middle.”

Does Jesse offer a solution to the confusion over how to better define evangelicalism? Is there a better word we could use? If so, what word would that be? Jesse Johnson shares his thoughts over at The Cripplegate. He writes:

 

If there ever was a word in need of a definition, it’s evangelical. While confusion with evangelical didn’t start two years ago, it was exasperated and exaggerated by the election of President Trump. More specifically, by the Pew exit poll declaring that 81% of white evangelicals voted for him. This led to much hand-wringing, soul searching, blame shifting, and guilt-casting about what exactly is wrong with evangelicals, particularly the white ones. (A side note—you might be an evangelical if you are naive enough to believe an exit poll).

Many called “white evangelicals” to repent of their love affair with presidential politics, while others have lamented that so-called evangelical churches are largely white. Meanwhile, some African-Americans are “quietly” leaving their churches over the issue—no word yet on how “quietly” it can be when it is a lead story in the New York Times.

I watch these unfold as a spectator. As I mentioned, I’m old enough to remember when evangelical was a bad word. If I was even older, say 500 years old, perhaps I would embrace the label. William Tyndale declared that evangelical encompassed anyone who is made “good, merry, glad and joyful… who sings and dances and leaps for joy in believing what we call the gospel.” By that definition, count me in. Also, by that definition, count most white evangelicals out.

But as time went on, the word “evangelical” did what words do: it changed. In England and Scotland as pulpits went liberal, evangelical came to describe a church where the gospel was still preached. If a person said they went to an Anglican church, a fair follow-up question might be: “But is it evangelical?” Some were, most were not.

State-side, the term took a different slightly different path. Here, liberalism, evolution, and alcohol consumption started to creep into the church. Some denominations began to question, then later deny, the historicity of Genesis, the virgin birth of Christ, and even the veracity of the bodily resurrection. These denominations were white, and that is more than a side note; it will matter very much in the year 2016. Continue reading

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