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What is "evangelicalism?": avoiding stereotyping

What is "evangelicalism?": avoiding stereotyping

People on the left  (myself included) tend to think that all Evangelicals are the same–intolerant Christ worshippers who want to take over the United States government who all vote Republican.   People on the right tend not to think of Evangelical Christians as intolerant, and perhaps they don't think they want to take over the US government, but they may think all Evangelicals vote Republican.   In other words, both sides tend to think politically when thinking of the word "evangelicalism," and do not know the rich history behind Evangelical Protestantism.   "Evangelical" doesn't just have a political meaning; it is a many splendored thing.

Jim Wallis, a progressive Evangelical Christian, and author of God’s Politics: Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn’t Get It, explains his own evangelical faith thus:

Let me try to be clear as someone who is part of a faith community that is, once again, being misrepresented, manipulated, and maligned. Most people believe me to be a progressive political voice in America. And I am an evangelical Christian.

I believe in one God, the centrality and Lordship of God’s son Jesus Christ, the power of the Holy Spirit, the authority of the scriptures, the saving death of the crucified Christ and his bodily resurrection — not as a metaphor but a historical event. Yep, the whole nine yards.

I love my liberal church friends, but am more theologically conservative. I have many allies on the religious left, but I am not a member of it. I work closely with brothers and sisters of other faith traditions where we have common concerns, but I will never compromise the truth of my own faith.

I also collaborate with people of no religious affiliation at all, because I believe that religion has no monopoly on morality. But I also believe in evangelism, and have called and led people to faith in Jesus Christ. Like I said, I am an evangelical.

For me (and a growing number of others), it is precisely because we are Bible-believing and Jesus following evangelical Christians, that we have a fundamental commitment to social, economic, and racial justice, to be a good stewards of God’s creation, to be peacemakers in a world of conflict and war, and to be consistent advocates for human life and dignity wherever they are threatened. Because we are all made in the image of God. We are all God’s children.

And, because we are first members of the global body of Christ, before we are Americans, we don’t believe God blesses and loves our country more than others, and that the gospel doesn’t co-exist well with empires.


A definition or two.

Indeed, the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicalism defines "evangelicalism" in this way:

The term “Evangelicalism” is a wide-reaching definitional “canopy” that covers a diverse number of Protestant groups. It originates in the Greek word euangelion, meaning “the good news,” or, more commonly, the “gospel.” During the Reformation, Martin Luther adapted the Greek term, dubbing his breakaway movement the evangelische kirche, or “evangelical church”– a name still generally applied to the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Defining the term in modern times, three definitions come to bear:

There are three senses in which the term “evangelical” is used today at the beginning of the 21st-century. The first is to view “evangelical” as all Christians who affirm a few key doctrines and practical emphases. British historian David Bebbington approaches evangelicalism from this direction and notes four specific hallmarks of evangelical religion: conversionism, the belief that lives need to be changed; activism, the expression of the gospel in effort; biblicism, a particular regard for the Bible; and crucicentrism, a stress on the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

A second sense is to look at evangelicalism as an organic group of movements and religious tradition. Within this context “evangelical” denotes a style as much as a set of beliefs. As a result, groups as disparate as black Baptists and Dutch Reformed Churches, Mennonites and Pentecostals, Catholic charismatics and Southern Baptists all come under the evangelical umbrella-demonstrating just how diverse the movement really is.

A third sense of the term is as the self-ascribed label for a coalition that arose during the Second World War. This group came into being as a reaction against the perceived anti-intellectual, separatist, belligerent nature of the fundamentalist movement in the 1920s and 1930s. Importantly, its core personalities (like Harold John Ockenga and Billy Graham), institutions (for instance, Moody Bible Institute and Wheaton College), and organizations (such as the National Association of Evangelicals and Youth for Christ) have played a pivotal role in giving the wider movement a sense of cohesion that extends beyond these “card-carrying” evangelicals.

Evangelical Environmentalism–it isn't just a "liberal" cause

There are evangelical environmentalists, who take God's charge in Genesis to tend the earth and keep it very seriously.  One example of a large evangelical environmentalist movement is the Evangelical Environmentalists' Network Creationcare.org, whose stated mission is:

Thus we call on all those who are committed to the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to affirm the following principles of biblical faith, and to seek ways of living out these principles in our personal lives, our churches, and  society.

The cosmos, in all its beauty, wildness, and life-giving bounty, is the work of our personal and loving Creator.

Our creating God is prior to and other than creation, yet intimately involved with it, upholding each thing in its freedom, and all things in relationships of intricate complexity. God is transcendent, while lovingly sustaining each creature; and immanent, while wholly other than creation and not  to be confused with it.

God the Creator is relational in very nature, revealed as three persons in One. Likewise, the creation which God intended is a symphony of individual creatures in harmonious relationship.

The Creator's concern is for all creatures. God declares all creation "good" (Gen. 1:31); promises care in a covenant with all creatures (Gen. 9:9-17); delights in creatures which have no human apparent usefulness (Job 39-41); and wills, in Christ, "to reconcile all things to himself" (Col.1:20).

Men, women, and children, have a unique responsibility to the Creator; at the same time we are creatures, shaped by the same processes and embedded in  the same systems of physical, chemical, and biological interconnections which  sustain other creatures.

Men, women, and children, created in God's image, also have a unique responsibility for creation. Our actions should both sustain creation's fruitfulness and preserve creation's powerful testimony to its Creator.

Our God-given , stewardly talents have often been warped from their intended purpose: that we know, name, keep and delight in God's creatures; that  we nourish civilization in love, creativity and obedience to God; and that we  offer creation and civilization back in praise to the Creator. We have ignored our creaturely limits and have used the earth with greed, rather than care.

The earthly result of human sin has been a perverted stewardship, a  patchwork of garden and wasteland in which the waste is increasing. "There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment of God in the land…Because of this the land mourns, and all who live in it waste away" (Hosea 4:1,3). Thus, one consequence of our misuse of the earth is an unjust denial of God's created bounty to other human beings, both now and in the future.

God's purpose in Christ is to heal and bring to wholeness not only  persons but the entire created order. "For God was pleased to have all his  fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things,  whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood  shed on the cross" (Col. 1:19-20).

Let us do all things decently, in order, without confusion and in peace–let's not play partisan politics with religion because in the end, confusion reigns and nobody really wins.


About Dakota O'Leary

Dakota O'Leary is a freethinker, and often sassy, scholar of theology and literature. She got her Bachelor of Arts degree in English and Theology from the State University of New York College at Buffalo, and her Master of Arts degree in Theology and Literature from Antioch University-Midwest. She is a contributing writer focusing on eschatology, biblical prophecy, and general religious news. Dakota is a co-host of the God Discussion radio show, offering insight to the news stories of the week. We like to call her "our in-house Biblical prophecy expert" as her articles on eschatology have received over 200,000 views on God Discussion.
  • I am also puzzled why evangelicalism is always linked on politics, for my opinion religion and politics should not come together.

  • That one is easy, its because nothing attracts as much emotion or power as religion and politics is about getting a reaction, I am not saying its right but I think its why its done (linked)!

  • I think that's what the main problem is,you will never be able to seperate religion and politics.
    The only place in the world where this happens is asia, but in all other countries it's mostly a hand in hand thing…

  • Is Christianity related to just Churches or can christianity be found in Businesses? I went for a miracle service on a Tuesday and the church was closed. I looked beyond and there was a cafe opened. I went in ate,prayed and paid my tithes.

    Ms Nike Newton.

  • Edward

    Some Asian countries agreed on separating religion with politics. But in countries like Philippines, churches find it hard to resist being involved with government affairs.

  • I agree with you.Evangelism is precious.don't mix it up with politics.nice post.

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