Monday, June 30, 2008

The Slippery Term - "Evangelical" (Part 1)

We’ve been swamped recently with surveys of the American religious landscape, and we have statistics flying all over the place. Inasmuch as these things are sometimes helpful, they are always limited in their ability to truly capture complete accuracy. Sometimes it’s how they ask the questions that will illicit what kind of response you get.

Nevertheless, a rather stunning survey came out last week that stated that of those who were labeled as “evangelicals,” nearly 57% stated that they believed that there may be alternative routes to salvation and that faith in Jesus Christ might not be the only way (contra John 14:6 and Acts 4:12).

There can only be a couple ways to interpret this.

#1 – the survey had such a broad definition of the word “evangelical” that many who were not genuinely saved responded/or were catagorized under that label and they set forth this rather unbiblical and heretical conclusion that other roads might lead to God.

#2 – the survey was accurate and it is genuinely showing that many who are “evangelicals” are being influenced more by the prevailing pluralistic culture than they are by solid biblical teaching.

Might I suggest that perhaps a combination of both may be a factor here? But something even bolder needs to be said here. If anyone claims that there is more than one way to heaven other than through faith in Jesus Christ, then they cannot rightly claim the label of “evangelical.” The exclusive claim of the Gospel is that Jesus Christ is the only means of salvation for the entire world, and this belief is a cornerstone assumption of all “evangelical” theology.

If there indeed are multiple paths into a saving relationship with God, then Jesus died for nothing, the cross has no meaning, the Scriptures are in blatant error, and we are all fools. (Look at the strong words of Paul in Galatians 1:8-9). Satan’s tactics are pretty bold – he’s going after the very heart of the Gospel itself, redefining terms and concepts (like he did in the Garden of Eden), exploiting ideas and making them sound “unloving.” It’s the same strategy that is used when some ask, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?” Such a view redefines love, and then takes that new definition and elevates it above all of God’s other attributes, pitting it against his other attributes like justice and holiness.

It is unfortunate that the term “evangelical” has been hijacked recently in American culture, where now it has been broadened to be more of a way to term a particular group of conservative voters – it has more political overtones than religious ones in some people’s eyes. I often hear, “how can the candidates court the evangelical vote?” To be sure, I do believe that Christians ought to be highly involved in voting for our leaders while standing up for issues that are in keeping with biblical truth so that we have a voice in society.

However, at the same time, I don’t believe that political action is going to change the world, only the Gospel of Christ itself could do that. That’s not to minimize our involvement, but to simply give it some perspective. But my hope is that we as evangelicals will be known for our faithfulness in believing, living out, and proclaiming the exclusive claims of the Gospel of Jesus Christ more than we are known for anything else.

I am convinced that the church is suffering from lack of good teaching. These survey results are symptomatic of that. I am inspired all the more to see sound biblical teaching as the cornerstone of any ministry I am connected with.

But this still raises the question – what is an evangelical? What gives someone the right to claim that label? Stay tuned for Part 2 of this blog, as we look at how Scripture defines it and how the church has historically understood what an evangelical Christian is and what they must believe that is in keeping with the Scriptures.


Anita said...

I'm glad you wrote this, hearing it over and over in the news and in surveys (I read the same one you are writing about)...and it was starting to make me mad and I couldn't put it into words, but you did. Thanks!

Anita said...

Ok, just wanted to say it was making me mad b/c I didn't understand how they were using the word "evangelical"