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Why I don’t find the term Evangelical by itself terribly helpful

08 Jul

In recent years I have seen a bit of a trend for Christians to simply refer to themselves as Evangelical.

Personally, I don’t find this terribly helpful and as I have ventured toward the adventure of what is called church planting, I have reflected on this a bit more lately.

In mentioning reasons why I don’t find it helpful, I could mention something like the phrase “Evangelical Catholic” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Evangelical_Catholic) – There’s a combination one would not normally put together.

In actual fact this highlights one of my reasons for not using the term Evangelical by itself. Alone, the term doesn’t say a whole lot really. Often when I use the term a follow-up question comes, something like, “Evangelical what?” What kind of Evangelical. This question shows a bit of insight on the one asking in that they clearly recognise the term alone doesn’t really say a whole lot.

Historically the term has generally meant someone who is committed to the gospel. To the centrality of the truth of salvation by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone. However, the existence of a phrase like Evangelical Catholic shows that this isn’t always as clear as one would desire.

Even more than that, the term doesn’t really say anything else. One can be Evangelical and be charismatic or non-charismatic, complementrian or egalitarian, Arminian or Calvinistic. One can call themselves Evangelical and believe in inerrancy or not. Once can call themselves Evangelical and deny the existence of Hell and hold to universalism.

Interestingly enough I do hear some attempting to go by the label Evangelical by itself and then describing themselves as Calvinistic and complementarian. Of course the problem is Evangelical doesn’t mean those things. To do this is to confuse vocabulary.

However, to do this, I would suggest reveals another significant (actually I think the most significant) problem with trying to use just the term Evangelical to describe oneself. To do so, may be saying more than one intends.

If you attempt to describe yourself as simply Evangelical but then define that in ways that go beyond what the term really means you are implying that those who do not define the term your way are not Evangelical. That is both historically and linguistically confusing.

I have found this recently in discussions related to planting a church. Rolleston Baptist Church will not be the first Evangelical church in Rolleston. I don’t want to do anything to give the impression that it is.

Rolleston Baptist Church, Lord willing, will be an Evangelical church. However, it will be a Baptist Church and even then Baptist doesn’t necessary say a whole lot anymore either. 🙂

This post as nothing to do with the name of a church as it is not possible to put in a church name enough adjectives to describe where one falls on the Evangelical spectrum. I think the name of a church is important and am quite happy with the name Rolleston Baptist Church.

Thoughts on church names is for a later post, in this post I am just thinking about what terms Christians use to describe themselves.

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5 responses to “Why I don’t find the term Evangelical by itself terribly helpful

  1. Rhett

    08/07/2014 at 1:06 pm

    I think you’re right in that Evangelical is not a precise term. But I personally still find it helpful. In a sense, I think that having a broader category then “Arminian/Calvinist” or “Complementarian/Egalitarian” is a good thing.

    I like Bebbington’s definition of Evangelical…

    “Conversionism: the belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life long process of following Jesus.
    Activism: the expression and demonstration of the gospel in missionary and social reform efforts
    Biblicism: a high regard for and obedience to the Bible as the ultimate authority
    Crucicentrism: a stress on the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross as making possible the redemption of humanity.”

     
    • Joe Fleener

      08/07/2014 at 1:24 pm

      Totally. I am not opposed to the word, it is just using it by itself that I find unhelpful. There would be some who would like to call themselves Evangelical but would deny both Biblicism and Crucicentrism. Yikes! Shows how indeterminate the word can me alone.

       
  2. Rhett

    08/07/2014 at 2:14 pm

    Yeah, true. It’s interesting that in the debate over same-sex marriage within the Baptist Union, you often hear “We are Evangelical” as a reason why we won’t affirm SSM. Which I agree with! But it is interesting the way we cling to the word like a life raft at certain times, but at the same time it can be so hard to define what we mean.

     

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