Evangelical? || Bryan Halferty
When I began to walk with the Lord, now over ten years ago, I never referred to myself as an evangelical. I simply loved Jesus.
Why do I need a term, a label? That was my thought.
Like many Christian words, I was first exposed to the term “evangelical” without a clear definition. If I wanted to understand it I had to pay close attention to the context. But that was the problem. News reporters would refer to evangelicals with thinly veiled frustration. Other described evangelicals as too pushy with their spiritual beliefs. I still remember my friend Ashleigh telling me about a person in her jogging class that she had to hide from.
Ashleigh: “She won’t let me leave class without asking me to accept Jesus. I don’t even want to go to class anymore. She really freaks me out. Is that what you believe?”
Still others referred to evangelicals as the last hope for America. The answer to the world’s problem.
Again, I was confused.
Was I “evangelical”? But what if I didn’t fit the definition? I loved Jesus. I saw the Bible as authoritative. I had come to know Jesus personally. I saw the church as God’s people called to bring love and restoration to the world. But I wasn’t really into politics. And while I wanted to share my faith with friends, I had some deep anxieties about it and, for many reasons, I would never chase a girl around a jogging class.
So I started reading. This path of learning led me to books (and being honest… Wikipedia), but also wise people, and eventually grad school. It was there, among other things, where I came to understand what “evangelical” meant.
The term essentially means “those that are about good news.” Evangelicals see this “good news” as the central reality of Christianity. What many refer to as the Gospel.
God made him who knew no sin, to become sin for us so that we, in him, might become the righteousness of God. – 2 Corinthians 5:21
The term evangelical means to be about that news.
And evangelicalism, as a movement, dates back 200 years. This movement involved poets and hymn writers, scholars and thinkers, activists and organizers. Evangelicals have cared just as much about preaching the Gospel as practicing it.
Historically evangelicals have labored for the poor and worked towards ending slavery. It was the evangelical William Wilberforce who fought for decades to pass a bill to end slavery in the U.K. It was John Wesley who referred to the slave trade as the “execrable sum of all villainies.” There are many others we could add to this list of socially concerned evangelicals.
Evangelicals were not only known for their activism, they were also known for their thoughtfulness. For instance, evangelicals helped to form many of America’s most notable universities (Princeton, Oberlin, Yale, Duke, to name a few).
The historian David Bebbington has described evangelicals as having four major impulses.
1. Bible: Though evangelicals see many sources of truth (tradition, experience, reason, to name a few), evangelicals see the Bible as the foundation and anchor for the Christian faith.
2. The Cross: For evangelicals the most central element of the faith is the understanding that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for sins on the cross, defeated sin and death on the cross, and provided an example for us to follow.
3. Socially Engaged: Evangelicals are Christians engaged in bridge-building, not fence-making. Whether through sharing the Gospel message or through defending the cause of the oppressed, evangelicals are active and engaged.
4. Conversion Oriented: Evangelicals believe that being a Christian involves an experience with God where Christ’s death for your sins on the cross becomes personally true. This does not mean a dramatic mystical experience, though it might.
Through learning this I became a bit more comfortable with the title “Evangelical.” I hope you do too…
Some evangelicals that are getting it right
- Jonathan Merrit
- Gabe Lyons
- Tim Keller
- Ron Sider
- David Kinnaman
- Lauren Winner
- Justin Holcomb
- N.T. Wright
- Margaret Feinberg
- Eugene Cho
|Bryan Halferty runs, reads, writes, pastors and spends copious amounts of time with his beautiful wife and irresistible daughter. He studied theology at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) and currently pastors Salt, the young adult and college ministry of Mercer Creek Church. He contributes to and edits The Unitive. Connect with him at @bhalferty.|
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