Published April 12, 2016

Paul's Epistle

Are you an "evangelical?"

We're hearing that term more frequently than ever these days in the media, often presented with a thinly-veiled negative connotation or spin. You'll see a news item claiming that "evangelicals" support this or oppose that, often making it sound as if all evangelicals are of one mind politically — basically a political special interest group. And the media never fails to call great attention to some "evangelical leader" who has strayed from the straight-and-narrow.

Almost a decade ago ten prominent theologians released what they called "An Evangelical Manifesto," subtitled "A Declaration of Evangelical Identity and Public Commitment." The writers of the Manifesto said they were "troubled by the fact that the confusions and corruptions surrounding the term Evangelical have grown so deep that the character of what it means has been obscured and its importance lost."

So what does it mean?

Stating that the Evangelical identity must be reaffirmed, the document states, "Evangelicals are Christians who define themselves, their faith, and their lives according to the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth... Believing that the Gospel of Jesus is God's good news for the whole world, we affirm with the Apostle Paul that we are ‘not ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation' [Romans 1:16]. Contrary to widespread misunderstanding today, we Evangelicals should be defined theologically, and not politically, socially or culturally."

Well said. But there are many who identify themselves as evangelicals who take issue with the Manifesto for suggesting that evangelicals should not pour so much their efforts into various public issues that deal with matters of morality or even Scriptural mandates — especially, presumably, such high profile issues as abortion and homosexuality. And that debate is far from over, boiling down mostly to the priorities used to tackle such issues – changing laws or changing hearts.

Are you an evangelical?

George Barna is perhaps the best-known of national pollsters and researchers dealing primarily with Christian matters. He defines "Evangelicals" (with or without a capital "e," apparently) as born-again Christians who also meet several other conditions, including these:

Barna says that being classified as an evangelical is not dependent upon church attendance or the denominational affiliation of the church they attend. Interestingly, in his surveys, Barna surveyors simply assign that category to respondents based on responses to matters such as those above. Individuals asked if they consider themselves "evangelicals" produces a much larger number, 38 percent, outnumbering those actually "qualified" by the above criteria (eight percent) by nearly five-to-one.

Now here's the good news. Barna discovered that of the five faith segments that his researchers recognize (evangelicals, non-evangelical born again Christians, notional Christians, adherents of non-Christian faiths, and atheists/agnostics), evangelicals were most likely to discuss spiritual matters with other people.

Bingo!  I think now we're finally getting close to what this is all about.

What does it mean to evangelize? What does it mean to be an evangelist? Both of these terms – and "evangelical" as well – are derived from the Greek verb "euaggelizo" which means (in Biblical usage) to declare or proclaim the Good News – the Gospel – concerning the Son of God as declared in Scripture. There is the most fundamental root meaning of the word evangelical. And that Greek root is an "action word," a verb.

To be an "evangelical," then, is nothing less than to believe – and to be willing to act upon – Christ's Great Commission: "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mark 16:15). That can be boiled down to the two imperative verbs: "go" and "preach."

Do you have a heart for telling others about Christ? Do you have a desire to see lost souls saved? I hope you do. If so, you are an evangelical. Fundamentally, that's what it's all about. Any other characteristic of an evangelical – any stand taken on any issue – is (or should be) merely a derivative of his or her desire to see Christ's teachings come alive in the world today by spreading the Good News, by evangelizing – be it across the world or across the street.

And always remember, "all the world" begins right where you are.

- Paul

Note: This is a revised version of a column that first appeared here in 2008.

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