Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What's Your Handle?

Tim Challies has an interesting post today about the use of the term "evangelical", and whether it may be time to retire the term due to the amount of baggage that's come to be attached to it. He quotes David Wells in a forthcoming book who says:

Those who still think of themselves as being in the tradition of historic Christian faith, as I do, may therefore want to consider whether the term “evangelical” has not outlived its usefulness. Despite its honorable pedigree, despite its many outstanding leaders both past and some in the present, and despite the many genuine and upright believers who still think of themselves as evangelical, it may now have to be abandoned.

If the word “evangelical” has outlived its usefulness, what is the alternative? Here, I am flummoxed. My own labels are too ponderous to be used widely. I am reaching out for help. I am advertising for a new label!

Here's my response to Tim's post, thought I'd share it here:

I think I have to agree with Wells here. While I understand the heritage of the term “evangelical” and value that heritage greatly, I’m afraid that in postmodern America the term has taken on so many other meanings and connotations that it doesn’t clearly identify much of anything. Depending on the context where the term is used, it can be viewed as a political affiliation, a narrow and bigoted religious community, a cultural phenomenon, a market segment for exploitation, or any combination of the above.

Here’s a real-life example that’s kind of humorous, but not really. I am a member of an Evangelical Free Church (EFCA), and a few years ago someone came to our church to check it out because they thought the name meant we were “free” of any of those right-wing gospel-preaching Bible-thumping “evangelicals.” Boy, were they disappointed when they got there!

Wells makes a point in the intro to his book “No Place For Truth” regarding
evangelicalism. He states that there never really was an evangelical movement, since there never was a central body of truth and doctrine that everyone who
used the label subscribed to. I think this is correct, and even more so today. When the term is applied to leaders ranging from Joel Osteen to T D Jakes to John MacArthur, there is very little common definition of evangelical truth amongst them. I, like Wells, prefer to call myself something more like a Biblical Christian. At least that might prompt questions to help further define what I mean.

What do you think? Is the term "evangelical" meaningless in today's world, needing to be jettisoned? Does it even matter?

1 comment:

Ben said...

I would agree with your response Phil. Evangelical has become way to broad. I still use the term, but I am confronted with many awkward conversations of semantics.

Unfortunately many of those on the Liberal side of Christianity have adopted a post-modern epistemology to justify their unfortunate slide.

I also think that coming out of an era of extreme denominational ism and divisions within Christianity, we place a lot of emphasis on titles, and what those mean. Don't get me wrong, I think that we need to constantly be drawing lines in the sand. But we need to make sure we use terms that don't carry baggage with it. Baggage that works against the reasons for separation. I have started using terms like "biblical Christian" for now works great. Hopefully it doesn't get hijacked.