They called me an Evangelical Part 2

What’s an Evangelical?

“So what’s an Evangelical?” said Pete, as we sat back after a great feed. He looked at me. I looked at Larry.

“Well” said Larry, “the term derives from the Greek word for Good News – eu-aggelion – evangel. ‘Gospel’ has the same meaning. If you tell or show people what the Gospel is, you’re being ‘evangelistic’.”

“Oh, so that’s all it means?” said Pete.

“Well originally, yes”, said Larry, “but by the time the Protestant Reformation occurred, many Christians had come to feel that the Western church had distorted the Gospel, and they called for a return to New Testament teaching. Many of the resulting Protestant denominations used the word ‘Evangelical’ in their title to emphasise their loyalty to the clear, central message of Scripture.” “Later,” Larry went on, “there came a time when many European thinkers were claiming that religion had been superseded by science . . .”

“You mean The Enlightenment,” I said, “when Rationalists said religion is mere superstition, and we should now depend on human reason?”

“That’s it”, said Larry. “The Rationalist attack, coupled with the rise of modern science, actually persuaded many Christians that their message needed to be re-jigged to make it scientifically credible. This included treating the Bible as merely a collection of human stories and ideas about God. Anything suggesting that God might have intervened directly in human affairs, or that miracles often occurred at such times, was to be regarded as pre-scientific. But this then cast doubt on many key biblical teach¬ings – that Jesus was God among us, for example, and that he rose from the dead. What we were left with was a noble ethical humanism which dreamed of the kingdom of God coming on earth through scientific progress and democratic social reforms.”

“That sounds just like my minister”, Pete blurted.

“Possibly”, said Larry. “Many mainstream denominations like ours have been influenced by such views. The common label for such views is Liberalism.”

“Not another label”, groaned Pete.

“I’m afraid so”, said Larry. “Sometimes labels help us get a handle on what’s going on. They save having to use lots of words to identify general trends. I’m doing it if I simply tell someone I’m a Christian. That’s a label too. Mind you, labels should never be used simply to club the people we disagree with. And we often need to check what people mean by the shorthand words they use.”

“Is this an example?” I said. “There’s a guy in my church who says he believes in evangelism. When I asked him what he meant by ‘evangelism’, and he said it involved making the world a better place through social reform, and urging people to follow Jesus’ example of caring compassion. I said didn’t it also mean urging people to become actual followers of Jesus? He replied: ‘Yes, followers of his example. It’s not as if he’s around in any personal sense now.’’’

“A good illustration”, said Larry. “And there are some Liberal thinkers who would agree with your friend. But an Evangelical certainly wouldn’t agree, because the Bible clearly teaches that the ultimate goal of evangelism is to draw our friends into a personal relationship with the risen Christ.”

“So what you’re saying”, said Pete slowly, “is that even people who call themselves Christians may have a sub-Christian view of evangelism, whereas an Evangelical will want to run with the full biblical definition?”

“Exactly”, said Larry. “The word ‘Evangelical’ now refers to a theological position grounded in a high respect for biblical revelation. Sadly, you can’t automatically assume that everyone who says they believe in evangel¬ism is an Evangelical or that they have a biblical view of what evangelism involves.” ‘What’s more”, he went on, “many Liberal Christians in today’s multifaith societies regard personal evangelism as off-limits. They say it’s offensive to challenge another person’s religion or try to convert them. But while we should respect the integrity of people who disagree with us, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t ever invite them – courteously – to consider the claims of Christ.”

“Maybe so”, I said, “but I know some keen evangelists who really put people off by preaching at them and not listening to anything they want to say.”

Pete came in again at this point: “I know some too, but that’s no excuse for saying nothing when there’s a natural opening to share your beliefs.” We agreed, and I thought to myself that Pete himself was a model of wise dialogue evangelism among his workmates. In fact, he puts me to shame. Pete went on. “Guys, this has been great. I’d like to do it again, if you happen to be free. How about next Saturday, same time – er – same menu?” The menu carried the day.

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