The title Evangelical has taken on a nuanced meaning today. In my opinion, this is largely the result of two different but closely linked things. First, it’s the result of the media’s use, or misuse, of the word Evangelical, as they’ve lumped non-Christians and Christians together simply because they have correlating political views on some issues. In other words, today, if you’re not a Jew or a Muslim, if you’re not a “liberal,” if you’re not a minority, then you’re a “(White) Evangelical.”
The second reason the title Evangelical has a nuanced meaning today is due to people who think they’re Evangelical, in the traditional sense of the word, but actually aren’t. The problem is that these so-called Evangelicals wouldn’t satisfy the Bible’s definition of what it means to be a Christian. But in the United States, you can conveniently hold a variety of positions without ever having your position or well-being threatened. We can partly thank post-modern philosophy for that. Of course, no one aims at being persecuted for their beliefs, but in other parts of the world, and certainly throughout history, to align yourself with Christ comes with an almost certain threat of persecution. It costs you to be a Christian. In the US, however, aligning with Christ, for some, is more of a political association than it is a spiritual one…and it never really gets put to the test outside of political debates.
For these reasons, I’d like to suggest that the word Evangelical has lost its usefulness.
Consider, for example, these radicals (I’m choosing my words carefully here!) who celebrated their Second Amendment right by having a service to bless their AR-15s. I have a problem with this on many levels. But when it comes to the political sphere, I have a problem with it because most media outlets would group me with these–what’s the word I used?–“radicals.” Their behavior isn’t only unChristian, as it’s inconsiderate of hundreds of people who are mourning losses that resulted from a gunman wielding an AR-15 in a recent high school shooting that left over 20 students killed or injured, it’s just plain foolish! I’d even place having a service in order to bless an inanimate object under the Old Testament jurisdiction of idol worship!
Can you see where I’m coming from?
Forget, for a moment, what constitutes an “Evangelical” today, and let’s address some Christian principles. As Christians, we believe in God’s saving grace, His everlasting faithfulness, and His unrelenting love. So, when we’re commanded to pray–commanded to pray for leaders of all persuasions, ethnicities, and political philosophies–this means that no one should have to earn our prayers. We’re to pray for everyone, even the shooter who we wholeheartedly hope receives serious consequences for his sin. What’s more, as Christians, we should speak out for justice, racial harmony, and unborn life. The Church is made up of Christians who vote differently for different reasons, Christians who have had different experiences (both good and bad). But that is all the more reason to prioritize the virtues taught in the Scriptures. This isn’t Evangelical, conservative, or liberal: it’s Christian.
Many so-called Evangelicals, however, aren’t only doing a disservice to the genuine Christian lifestyle, they are also making the beauty of Christianity’s otherworldliness unattractive to watchers who might otherwise consider the faith. The more Christianity looks like the world, the more unattractive it becomes by measure.
No political topic or social agenda should ever be used to dislocate the Church from its eternal purpose: to make Christ known to the world!
This is precisely what Scripture teaches; namely, that regardless of where we live, or who the head of government is, or what policies we agree or disagree with, we live for Christ’s Kingdom and fame.
Philippians 2:15 says that Christians should “be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.”
Eugene Peterson’s translation of 1 Peter 2:9-12 is also enlightening here. It says,
9-10 But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you—from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted.
11-12 Friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it. Don’t indulge your ego at the expense of your soul. Live an exemplary life among the natives so that your actions will refute their prejudices. Then they’ll be won over to God’s side and be there to join in the celebration when he arrives.
Should we employ a new word to replace Evangelical? That’s not an easy question to answer. One thing is certain. In some cases, we should beware of fitting into the Evangelical framework today. In other cases, in my opinion, we should proudly land squarely in the middle. Whatever disservice the word Evangelical may be bringing the Christian cause today, as Christ-followers we have an obligation to rise above the criticism, above the political platforming, and above the one-size-fits-all view of Christianity. Regardless of what our political preferences or alignments may be, our priority as Christians is clear–it’s Christ first.