Monday, July 7, 2008

The Slippery Term - "Evangelical" (Part 2)

The term “evangelical” is a fairly modern one (post World War II), though the major beliefs associated with it are not. In the early part of the 20th century, battles waged in America between a conservative/religious viewpoint of the world and a much more liberal, secular view of life. It was during this time that we began to see such things as the “Scopes Monkey Trial,” which was the famous trial that battled over the teaching of evolution in the public school system. We obviously know how that trial ended up, and now the pendulum has swung so far that even mentioning creationism in schools is to go against all “scientific logic” (though if you ask me scientists are becoming much more hostile and defensive because advances in modern science are seemingly bringing more support to the creationists viewpoint – but this is another subject for another time).

It was during those early 1900’s that biblical Christians were known as “fundamentalists.” Back then it didn’t have the negative connotation that it has “evolved” into today, where presently if you are a “fundamentalist Christian” then you have the demeaning tag of being labeled as legalistic. This is most unfortunate, because all true Bible-believing evangelical Christians should be able to wholeheartedly affirm that we believe in the “fundamentals” or “essentials” of the Christian faith.

Nevertheless, the term “evangelical” is the present label given to Christians that affirm the historic, orthodox tenants and beliefs of the Christian faith that have been held by all true believers since the beginning of the church in the 1st century. Further, modern day evangelicalism can rightly be said to piggy back the teachings and understandings of the faith that historically came out the 16th century Protestant Reformation.

The term is historically derived from Scripture itself, coming from the Greek noun euangelion, which translated means “glad tidings or good news.” In our Bibles the word is translated into the English word “gospel.” So the good news about Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 15:1-4) is nothing less than the gospel of Jesus Christ. This original Greek noun with its accompanying verb euangelizomai, “to proclaim good news” is seen nearly 100 times in the New Testament. So right from the start we can conclude that an “evangelical” is someone who champions the message of the Gospel.

I would say then, that someone who claims to be an “evangelical” must be able to, at the very least, ascribe to and affirm the following beliefs:

1) An adherence to the absolute truthfulness of and the need to proclaim the Gospel message. In this belief one must affirm that the only way for humankind to be saved is through repentance from sin and faith in the perfect life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who was both fully God and fully man. His death was sacrificial (in that it justly atones for sin and satisfies the wrath of a holy God), and substitutionary (in the sense that Jesus stood in our place while undergoing the penalty).

2) Secondly, an evangelical must also believe that in order for one to be able to fully embrace and trust in the Gospel message for salvation, they must be spiritually reborn or “born again” by the Holy Spirit of God. In short, there must be conversion. We are saved by God’s grace alone. And it is only through faith that one experiences the rebirth (where the soul that was dead because of sin is now made alive by the power of the Holy Spirit – Titus 3:5). Therefore, belief in the gospel is a transforming belief that affects the mind, the heart, and the will, not simply an intellectual assent to a certain set of facts about God.

3) Finally, an evangelical is further defined by his or her commitment to the Bible as the inspired Word of God and the final authority in all matters of life and practice.

Spelling this out further, this means that an evangelical believes that the Holy Spirit inspired the original writers of Scripture such that what they wrote was wholly true (without any mixture of error) and that it was in keeping with the mind and will of God. Therefore, if we want to know the mind of God on any particular subject then we are to study and ascertain the original intent of those who penned the words of Scripture. This assumes our interpretation stems from taking Scripture in a literal sense, keeping mind its historical and grammatical contexts.

Are there more things that are distinctive and peculiar to evangelicals? Yes, there are many more things that could be said here – for example, we believe in a literal, physical or bodily return of Jesus Christ to earth at some point in the future – but of all things that mark us as evangelicals, it is the big three noted above. These are non-negotiable beliefs (note: there is nothing inherently political about them).

Looking back through church history, you can see many faithful believers who adhered to these essentials. And whenever these things were abandoned, history teaches us that the church (and might I even assert “society in general”) suffered. But for the people and the church who recognizes that these are essential truths which must be kept, there is surely blessing and favor from God.


Fish said...

Oh I love it, I love it, I love it! It is so good to read Truth on the internet. I will regularly be reading a trustworthy friend's teaching to stay grounded in Truth. Thanks Dr. for your committment! :)

Rick Stutzel said...


A well-reasoned, Biblically-based analysis of "evangelical." I especially appreciate your separation of the religious from the political; the politicization of the Church has been an issue that has bothered me since my acceptance by God into His family. As you so rightly point out, political action (and I might any, any kind of political philosophy or political party) will not change the world; only the Gospel will do that.