Technical bits: What do I mean by evangelical?
This is a technical follow-up and clarification to an earlier post. Here I explain what I mean by “evangelical”.
Evangelical has a number of uses. The earliest use in the modern period seems to be to refer to the early protestant church in Germany, what people in the US would call “Lutherans.” That’s clearly not what I meant. It’s use in the UK seems to likewise be technical and refer to those who accept a penal substitutionary theory of atonement. While I don’t have a problem with that, that’s not really what I mean when I say evangelical. Further, it doesn’t really seem that most British church goers mean that exclusively either.
The other two uses of evangelical seem to refer to a particular political orientation, and to something else entirely. While evangelical may mean politically someone who votes “conservative” in most elections, I have some real problems with this usage unrelated to what “conservative” means. Not least of all it is taking a theological position and attitude and putting it together with secular politics. This is despite Jesus’ declaration that “my Kingdom is not of this world.” While there are certainly some political issues that Christians should be engaged with, and while Christians should certainly strive to be good and informed citizens, there is a danger in confusing Christian mission with a political organization. Still, whether “evangelical” may end up meaning I vote a certain way is not the point. Instead evangelical refers to specific theological orientation made up of a few distinctives, and this blog will attempt, at least most of the time, to avoid the political use of that term.
Let’s look at those. Granted, this is my understanding of the term, and it’s usage is so broad that others may add or subtract other criteria, but by evangelical this is what I mean.
1) The Bible: the Bible is true, completely, unapologetically. The Bible is the primary or only source of authority for the Christian on earth. It is divinely inspired and is one of the primary means by which God, through the Holy Spirit, continues to speak to the Church because it is a living document. No human authority can or should ever stand over it. It is the record of God’s holy activity within the course of real human history. It is the result of a partnership between God and man and thus it has authority and can lay claim to an absolute truth, but is nevertheless this because God has redeemed the work of otherwise flawed and fallible people. The doctrine of Scripture affirms the goodness of God and the potential for human effort, so long as that effort relies entirely upon God.
2) God and Salvation are personal. God is a personal God which means he relates to us on an individual level. This is what we mean also by salvation. Salvation is characterized by this personal relationship of trust and commitment and our closest human model we have to view that is a lasting covenant marriage. God also relates to us as a parent does to a child. While this relationship means that there is, in a sense, a corporate relationship, just a parents relate to corporate children, this also means God relates to us each in our own way. God is active in the lives of believers.
3) Salvation is only through Jesus. As a result evangelicals feel it is their duty to give the message of good news that though we have separated ourselves from God, through our own individual actions, God has reconciled us to him through Jesus Christ who was born a person, lived, died a terrible death that we deserved, and was raised from the dead in the same way that believers who die will one day be raised.
These are the distinctives that I think make an evangelical. This is not meant to enumerate all of my beliefs, but merely show the place upon which all evangelicals may have common ground, even while disagreeing about other issues. To go back to the original post click here.