Engaging Culture

What is An Evangelical?

My friend Ron Sellers, who runs Ellison Research sent me their September study that indicates a remarkably few number of people understand what an “evangelical” is.  In fact, some of the responses were too negative (or obscene) to print.  It can often be confusing, and it’s frustrating for me when I think how the essential Christian faith has splintered into so many “groups.”  But for the purpose of engaging the culture with a common witness, I would encourage you to re-consider the term, and help explain it to your friends.  Here’s as good a definition as I know from Dr. David Hilborn, former head of theology at the Evangelical Alliance in the UK:

Evangelicals often appeal to the derivation of their name from the Greek New Testament word for the ‘gospel’ or ‘good news’ of Jesus Christ. On their own account, they are ‘gospel people’, committed to simple New Testament Christianity and the central tenets of apostolic faith, rather than to later ecclesiastical accretions. As such, they seek to maintain and present the authentic teaching ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’ (Jude 3). As the leading Anglican Evangelical John Stott points out, this means that Evangelicalism is neither ‘a recent innovation’ nor ‘a deviation from Christian orthodoxy’.

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  1. Here in Australia our national broadcaster (ABC) has a track record of confusing the term "evangelist" with "evangelical".

    For example, in a recent TV news broadcast, they described Sarah Palin as an evangelist, not once, but twice!!!

    Kind of puts an ironic twist on the whole "qualified to serve" debate when professional journalists with degrees in communication fail to grasp the distinction between these two words. 

    What hope has the "unwashed" masses?


  2. I had a friend ask me once if my church was evangelical. I ask him what he meant and he wouldn't answer.

    It was frustrating, because almost any definition he could have given to me probably would have fit my church and I could have said yes.

    But this was in the 80s/early 90s when Evangelical could have meant something political just as much as something theological. And that's not what my church is about.

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