Deciding on how to define evangelicalism, or how to meaningfully express that one is an evangelical, is notoriously difficult. Mark Noll has written about the scandal of losing the evangelical mind while other writers, myself included, have warned that the word refers more often than not to a subculture, not a doctrinally based movement of churches. It seems people have as many different definitions of "evangelical" as there are schools, groups and movements. One soon begins to doubt the value of retaining the term. I have chosen, to this point, to keep it. I have no real quarrel with those who decide otherwise.

My reasons for keeping the word evangelical may eventually be outweighed by the political and social baggage attached to it but currently these positive reasons include the following:

1. The word has its roots in the New Testament word evangel, thus reminding us that we are gospel Christians.

2. The word has solid historic roots in the Protestant Reformation and the subsequent evangelical awakenings.

3. The word avoids denominational labels and identities that make our boundaries of cooperation and fellowship too narrow.

4. The word distinguishes me/us from fundamentalism, or at least it did until very recently.

I also see good reasons for dropping the name:

1. It now has political overtones that make it sound like we are simply a wing of the Republican Party.

2. The word is used increasingly by people who deny large portions of the historic faith commonly confessed by classical and catholic Christians.

3. The word is used to describe practices and attitudes more than real beliefs and confessions, thus it is increasingly used as an adjective with little or no meaning.

For now, as I say, I will keep the word. I wonder if I will feel the same in five years. We shall see.

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Comments

  1. Augustinian May 15, 2005 at 11:29 am

    I still use the term as well; though I do believe it has, at best, come to have very little meaning. Sadly, as the Church continues to become more fragmented, and along with the fragmentation, more shallow, I find myself having to employ more and more qualifiers to describe myself. As it stands now, to approach accuracy and do away with misunderstanding, I would have to qualify myself like this:
    “I am a protesting catholic Christian, evangelically minded non-fundamentalist Calvinist with a twist.” Or something like that.

  2. IndyChristian May 15, 2005 at 11:37 am

    I personally like the manner in which Barna defines/uses the term in his research, basing it on a person’s answers re their beliefs, rather than simply letting people self-define. Otherwise, the data and analysis is virtually meaningless, having mixed apples & oranges. The problem of course comes when others loosely use a term for their convenience, often alluding to self-perceptions.
    That being said, just this morning I emailed a major Christian magazine about their use of the term in a particular recent article. Question at issue is, did someone convey a very significant non-truth by (possibly) being reckless with terms? Certainly we hope not. Stay tuned at IndyChristian.com for an important post in a day or two re their answer… and answers from the other leaders involved in the article.

  3. joel garver May 19, 2005 at 11:17 pm

    Have you looked at D.G. Hart’s Deconstructing Evangelicalism? If so, any thoughts?

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