What is an evangelical?

The term “evangelical” is difficult to define. At its root, it refers to Protestant Christians who emphasize the “good news” of Jesus Christ.

But it continually takes on pejorative meanings (more often associated with fundamentalism) and is often claimed by one particular group of evangelical Christians — such as the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE).

The NAE was in the news last week when longtime (28 years) vice president Richard Cizik (above) was pressured to resign after telling NPR that he was “shifting” in his views on same-sex unions.

Cizik was already in the cross-hairs of many NAE members for pushing conservative Christians on global warming and showing personal support for the candidacy of Barack Obama.

The truth is that Cizik was no longer a good fit for the NAE. Any group deserves a spokesperson who represents the organization most clearly.

His shifting perspectives had put him at odds with some of the more visible “evangelical” leaders. According to Christianity Today, Charles Colson said Cizik “was gradually … separating himself from the mainstream of evangelical belief and conviction.”

Not surprising, Southern Baptist bigwig Richard Land didn’t like Cizik’s comments either — though they achieved the unimaginable goal of causing Land to be “momentarily speechless.”

Of course, evangelicalism is not limited to one group that embraces the name. But the result of this action and others seems to be a narrowing agenda for many evangelicals to opposition to homosexuality and abortion.

If being evangelical is reflected in a commitment to the good news of Jesus, count me in. If it is a narrow ethical/political agenda that makes no room for re-evaluation and shifts in perspectives, I’d rather be known by something else.

Being Baptist (but not fundamentalist) takes about an hour already to explain now. Who wants to deal with another confusing label?


  1. I thought the sole meaning of evangelical was that one was committed to sharing the gospel, that Jesus came to bring life and freedom from the impossible penalty of sin, which is death, for those who would believe in him. Any other meaning is demeaning to the gospel and a heresy!

  2. I’m still grieving this. Just when I’m ready to ditch the whole evangelical label, I head Cizik’s interview, and felt a twinge of hope that his generation was embracing the ideas and issues mine is dealing with.

    And then he’s gone. I don’t know anymore. Campolo and others keep trying to save it, but I’m about convinced it’s an unnecessary label that misrepresents what I am–which I would define as a follower of Jesus.

    wait, maybe “evangelical” just lost its’ meaning…

  3. Paul said,

    “Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine; according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which was committed to my trust.”

    According to Paul, the ethical agenda of the gospel is narrow and those who practice and condone these things are not acting consistent with the gospel.

    Whether or not the society in which I live legalizes sodomite marriage is of little consequence to my Christianity. But God’s people are required by Him to stand up for the words of Jesus Christ and His gospel in spite of what society at large does.

    A man who does not hold to gospel doctrine or is unwilling to publicly stand for that doctrine cannot be any stretch of the term be called an “evangelical.”

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkansas

  4. It is unfortunate that we have allowed the confrontation between the Religious Left and the Religious Right to obscure the gospel message. These organizations (NAE, SBC, CBF, etc) allow various people to either accept a label, embrace a label, or be assigned a label. I am a Christian…a believer in my interpretation of God’s word. I worship in a SBC church, but reject the current orthodoxy of Patterson, Hunt, and Land. I don’t agree with anyone else 100%, but that does not matter. I reject all creeds, except possibly the RA Pledge. I am all for anyone who follows Jesus and holds to the belief that only Jesus brings us to God. It really does not matter how others believe about women in the church, etc. In fact, I find common ground with what was posted by both Arce AND Mark Osgatharp. When will we stop bickering and practice our faith?

  5. Stephen-
    Good thought. The R.A. pledge:
    “As a Royal Ambassador I will do my best: to become a well informed
    responsible follower of Christ;
    to have a Christlike concern for all people;to learn how the message of Christ is carried around the world; to work with others in sharing Christ;and to keep myself clean and healthy
    in mind and body.”

  6. John, Thanks for posting the RA Pledge. I think all Christians could find unity and a common purpose in this. For those that do not like creed-like statements, I suggest a bumper sticker type statement “Keep the Two Commandments – Matthew 22:38-39”

  7. Couple of three thoughts:

    Gus Niebuhr in his preface to Beyond Tolerance, puts the whole fundamentalism in practice effect in the world of Christendom in the best language I have seen in a while.
    I heartily recommend it.
    2)Good thoughts on the RA Pledge
    3)I was gonna introduce the following in the Dubya Blog where Arkansas Osgatharp goes somewhere with Evolution and Inerrancy I couldn’t quite fathom.
    Maybe MarkO needs a new text; one that may help shine a light on the evolution of evangelical practice in North Carolina in the thirties in the matrix from a George Truett like prophetic voice in the character Bolick to a likable, almost adorable struggling end time preacher McIntyre who battles fits of despair.
    Here’s some help MarKO as you search for a hermeneutic in this text.
    Ron Rash’s Novel Serena:

    Page 171: Preacher Bolick’s Truth to Power Prophetic Voice.
    Page 248: An exchange on the Inerrancy of Scripture that could help Richard Land, Mohler and Colson
    Page 300: End time preacher McIntyre on Man’s Dual Nature

  8. Peter Laarman today at religiondispatches.org has some salient points for this discussion:

    A friend and colleague of mine in Pasadena, Fuller Seminary professor Glen Stassen, once observed that he could not find many fundamentalist sermons from the 1990s (he had been reviewing Southern Baptist sermons in particular) that actually drew upon the teachings and parables of Jesus. The proof texts and sermon texts these preachers used were nearly all rules and regulations laid down in Levitical holiness codes, in wrath-filled passages from the prophetic literature, and in the Pauline and pseudo-Pauline literature.

    This heavy reliance on rule-bound scriptural teaching works really well for wannabe moral enforcers, but to recall the words of our Saviour (himself quoting Isaiah): “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.”

  9. Fox said,

    “A friend and colleague of mine in Pasadena, Fuller Seminary professor Glen Stassen, once observed that he could not find many fundamentalist sermons from the 1990s (he had been reviewing Southern Baptist sermons in particular) that actually drew upon the teachings and parables of Jesus.”

    Such statements reflect what the authentic Baptists have maintained all along, that the so called “moderates” (who are really modernists) do not believe in the authority of the Scripture at all. If they did, they would not pit what Jesus said against what some other voice in Scripture said.

    Well, Fox, here are some red letter quotes for you and your buddy Glen:

    “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”


    “Notwithstanding I have a few things against thee, because thou sufferest that woman Jezebel, which calleth herself a prophetess, to teach and to seduce my servants to commit fornication, and to eat things sacrificed unto idols. And I gave her space to repent of her fornication; and she repented not. Behold, I will cast her into a bed, and them that commit adultery with her into great tribulation, except they repent of their deeds. And I will kill her children with death; and all the churches shall know that I am he which searcheth the reins and hearts: and I will give unto every one of you according to your works.”

    Mark Osgatharp
    Wynne, Arkasnas

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