Once upon a time....
There was a day I would have proudly called myself an "evangelical." The word "Evangelical", taking its cue from the New Testament word "Evangel", "Message" or "Gospel" was a wonderful way to describe every true Christian believer. It was shorthand for "Bible Believing Christian" and many of us were proud to wear the T shirt. It was a one-stop title.
Evangelical stood for:
- Born Again - someone whose life had been supernaturally transformed by the Holy Spirit.
- Bible Believing - someone who accepted the Scriptures, old and new Testaments as the revered Word of God
- Orthodox- someone whose doctrine was in line with the historic creeds and confessions of Christianity
- Gospel-centred - a believer who loved the Good News of Jesus Christ and made sharing the Great Commission of Matthew 28 a priority
....but words change
However over time the word evangelical has changed its meaning. But unlike the word "enthusiasm" which once meant something unpleasant (a radical) but now means something positive, the word Evangelical has moved in the opposite direction. The word has become so elastic it includes those who no longer take the Bible seriously. And conversely, it has narrowed to refer only to one group of Christian people.
"Evangelical" means "Charismatic"
If you google "Evangelical" images you will see what I mean. An evangelical now is someone who has pentecostal or charismatic beliefs. Pentecostals and Charismatics are brothers and sisters in Christ who are evangelical (old meaning) in their belief systems, but they don't represent the whole of the evangelical (old meaning) world. There are millions of Christians who believe that some of the gifts of the Holy Spirit were given for the foundational era of the church and are no longer available or necessary today.
"Evangelical" means "liberal"
But far more concerning is the rapid widening of the "evangelical net" to include those who deny the plain teachings of the Bible or accommodate the liberal theological academic establishment. Men like NT Wright have had huge influence among some evangelicals (because he is "clever" and has all those weird and perfectly irrelevant letters after his name, which some find apparently authenticating: all you need for God's approval is something like "fisherman" or "tax-collector" after your name.) Academics like this are wedded to the intellectual establishment, with all its foolish passing fads, and write for the approval of fellow academics, making their work contorted, convoluted, and worst of all polluted by the liberalism of the secular academy. The moment they die their work will be fortunately undermined (for they are no longer around to defend their ideas) and thus quickly forgotten. Their followers, such as Steve Chalke, take the teachings of their revered professors to their logical conclusions and end up as Gospel-deniers. But, the point: these men still cling to the word "evangelical" and pollute its meaning.
"Evangelical" means "immoral"
And then, thirdly, there are the growing number of immoral men and women who have infiltrated the "evangelical" church with same-sex sinful lifestyles. It is truly astounding how many recent authors "defending" the sin of homosexual pratice have continued to call themselves "evangelical." By incredibly selective choosing of texts and deliberate exclusion of the main texts they have spun a web of lies - but, the point: they cling to the word "evangelical."
In this confused morass, before you call yourself an evangelical you need to add a few more sentences "I am a historic evangelical" or "a confessional evangelical" or "I am not a liberal evangelical" or "I am not a practising homosexual evangelical" or whatever, which sort-of undermines the value of a precious one-stop title.
So regrettably, its probably time to ditch the word evangelical, but what can replace it? Bible-believing Christian is probably the best alternative.