Can I have my word back please? (reblogged)

by Richard on July 18, 2007

I don’t like to label people. Labels can be a means of wrapping people up in a word and then dismissing them. It is easy to forget that the labels we use to describe people do not define them. The Almighty has made us in such infinite variety that our labels can only ever be vague hints or approximations.You might guess from all this that today I’m trying to get rid of a label - but you’d be wrong. What I want to do is recover a label which has been (ahem) “borrowed”. I want it back. The label is… (wait for it!) … evangelical. There. I said it. I am an evangelical.

My problem is, I reckon that word has been misappropriated and it’s in danger of losing its meaning. It is beginning to be associated with a particular approach to the Bible, and sometimes with a particular style (or styles) of worship which have no exclusive claim to it.So what does evangelical mean? I’ll quote the glossary in “An Introduction to the Christian Faith”, published by Lynx Communications in Britain:

“One in whose Christian faith great importance is given to the teachings of the Bible as the basis for belief and to personal conversion as a necessity for true Christianity”

That’ll do me! Of course, I’m more than happy to share this label with others who might want to qualify it in different ways. Conservative, charismatic, radical, Calvinist, Arminian (and many others) would all be possibilities. Just don’t try to claim that the word belongs to you alone. It’s mine too!

{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }


Dave Warnock 07.18.07 at 2:40 am

and mine.


PamBg 07.18.07 at 2:49 am

I’m a great believer that language use changes over time and that efforts to stop such change are futile. I do not consider myself an evangelical and I have no desire to claim the word. What I would like is another word for those of us who seek to be theologically orthodox and who do not see the bible as verbally insipred, inerrant and infallible. I also emphatically do not consider myself to be either ‘liberal’ or ‘progressive’ but I’ll happily use the words to annoy people who think that such categories makes one the spawn of Satan. ;-)


Kim 07.18.07 at 4:02 am

Bravo, Richard!

I definitely consider myself evangelical as an adjective and would like to reclaim the word as a noun, despite what Pam says about the contemporary futility of such a reclamation (as fools for Christ, evangelicals ought to love lost causes!). But then the same goes with the term “liberal”. Remember, Barth claimed that he was actually more liberal than the liberals! Oh - and I’m definitely a “catholic” too! If all that’s confusing, good. I’m a complex dude - and, of course, a dude with complexes! :)


ee 07.18.07 at 10:09 am

amen amen amen amen amen.
Thanks Richard. My personal frustration is that ‘evangelical’ now refers more to a particular church culture than an approach to faith, and one that I increasingly don’t feel at home in.


dh 07.18.07 at 2:41 pm

Kim, I too consider myself “catholic” not catholic like Roman Catholic but Catholic nonetheless. :)

EE, “evangelical” refering to a particular church culture than approach to Faith? I believe that the “evangelical”, in the post-modern sense, IS as approach to Faith. To say it is just a “culture” seems to downgrade the true Faith approach by current “evangelicals”. You may not feel comfortable with it but it is an approach to Faith.


dh 07.18.07 at 2:44 pm

I agree with the definition. However, I would change the last word from “Christianity” to “Salvation and sanctification thereafter”.


J 07.18.07 at 2:47 pm

“Just don’t try to claim that the word belongs to you alone”

Is the problem with wildly differing groups of worshipers who accurately describe themselves as evangelical, or with commentators (generally reporters) who have no idea what the word means and confuse it with “fundamentalist” or “biblical literalist”?


John Meunier 07.18.07 at 7:27 pm

In what way would a group of Christians disagree with the definition?

When you say personal conversion, do you mean something more than a personal conviction that Jesus in your Lord and Savior? Are there Christians that would not agree that that is important?

Are there groups of Christians who would say that the Bible is not the basis of belief?

These are sincere questions. As someone still working out what being Methodist means, I am not terribly familiar with the life of other denominations.


John Meunier 07.18.07 at 7:28 pm

Should read: “Jesus IS you Lord and Savior”

Dang fingers. Can’t rely on them for anything.

I’ll skip over the other grammatical errors.


Dave Faulkner 07.19.07 at 3:46 pm

Just found this post, having read the subsequent one first. Bebbington’s classic definition of evangelicalism involves the centrality of four elements: conversionism, crucicentrism, activism and biblicism. With regard to the last of those four, he shows in his book that evangelical understandings of inspiration have varied. Inerrancy is by no means the sole view. He quotes 18th century divines (I want to say Philip Doddridge, but without looking I’m not sure) who said of Scripture, ‘God gave the thoughts but men [sic] gave the words.’ Likewise he doesn’t expound crucicentrism in terms solely of penal substitution. In one sense none of the four elements is unique to evangelicalism, but it may be the combination and particular stresses (e.g., biblicism - whatever the theories of inspiration regards Scripture as supreme over tradition, reason and experience) that constitutes the evangelical party. This approach to evangelicalism can be expressed in hugely different cultural ways, from serious, cerebral approaches to ‘happy clappy’ and various stations beyond and in between. Political expressions of it also vary wildly - perhaps more obviously in the UK than the US.

Also, my tradition, by virtue of being called ‘evangelical’, should be ‘good news people’. It’s deeply regrettable when we’re not.

The other point I’d make is that it’s interesting to witness several people in contemporary Methodism wanting to claim the word ‘evangelical’. Only twenty or so years ago, the word was despised and spat out at people. It even happened to me, training for the ministry in the late 1980s/early 1990s.


dh 07.19.07 at 5:17 pm

You guys might want to talk about the same topic only with the term fundamentalism over on that particular thread. The point maybe that we need to use proper defintions of the terms “Evangelical” and “fundamentalism”. I personally argue that the defintions of each prior to the 1980’s is the proper of for either one of the terms.

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