Editorial Note: Originally published on Huffington Post.
Evangelicals and conservative Christians often seem to get a “bad name” in the press and popular culture. It is true that Christians, and evangelicals in particular, have our own portion of historic and contemporary failings. Nonetheless, there continue to be many redeeming qualities of the evangelical faith tradition and those who call themselves followers of Jesus.
1. People who identify as evangelicals are followers of Jesus, the Prince of Peace and Savior of the world. This is a good thing! Jesus’ teachings focus on both the love of God and love of neighbor (Luke 10:27). For evangelicals who take Scripture so seriously, the heart of Christian faith is that we are called to love one another.
2. Jesus teaches what it means to do good in the world and to treat one another with love and respect. Even other faith traditions such as Islam and Judaism acknowledge the teachings of Jesus as being of great value. The parables of Jesus are full of lessons about what it means to live rightly in community.
3. Jesus modeled what it meant to care for the poor, the “least of these” among us. Evangelicals have a rich tradition of caring for those in need through acts of compassion, charity, mercy, and justice. Marvin Olasky wrote a great book about this called The Tragedy of American Compassion.
4. Evangelicals believe that “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). That means, we are all in the same boat! We are fallen, fallible, make mistakes, and are in need of mercy and redemption. No longer must we strive for perfection, but we may rest in the truth that as humans, we are all in need of God.
5. The “Good News” of the Gospel is one of abundant and merciful grace. Because of Christ’s love for us, the grace of forgiveness is extended to all of those who are willing to receive (Romans 5:8). This is the best news of all! Even the criminal on the cross, who was executed next to Jesus, was welcomed into the kingdom. Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). In our world today, this Good News of grace is manifested in evangelical ministries such as Prison Fellowship, which is committed to restorative justice because: “As Christians, we believe that Jesus — Himself brought to trial, executed, buried, and brought to life again — offers hope, healing, and a new purpose for each life.”
6. Evangelicals believe that we have access to God through the Holy Spirit. Spiritual disciplines and other intentional practices create space for us to commune with God and to be nourished in our souls. My book Just Spirituality: How Faith Practices Fuel Social Action (InterVarsity Press, 2013) talks about how our spiritual relationship with God helps fuel us toward greater engagement in the world. One such example, is the way the historic evangelist Watchman Nee of China committed to the study of Scripture as an essential way of staying intimately connected with God. Nee ultimately died in a communist prison because of his commitment to the Gospel.
7. Evangelicals have a deep and historic commitment to extending the love of Christ to the entire world through global mission. Missions is not always an extension of Western imperialism, but also includes movements of devout believers committed to learning alongside of communities from around the world. Consider the lives and ministries of Jim Elliot, James Hudson Taylor, Corrie ten Boom, David Livingstone, and Eric Liddell. While this is certainly an imperfect history, there is much beauty in the history of evangelicalism and global mission.
8. And lest we forget, evangelicals are some of the most committed to interceding on behalf of the world in prayer. Just this past week, thousands of followers of Jesus gathered in our nation’s capital at the 64th Annual National Prayer Breakfast. Hosted by Members of Congress, many gathered specifically to “seek the Lord’s guidance and strength as well as to reaffirm our faith and to renew the dedication of our Nation and ourselves to God and His purposes.”
These are just a few small examples of some of the contributions and assets of both historic and 21st century evangelicalism. The history of the evangelical faith tradition is full of incredible strengths and celebrations… and many moments of which we must lament and repent. For a discussion on historic and current sins of the church, please see the recent book I co-authored called Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith.
For more information about evangelicals in America, see Jonathan Merritt’s recent article from the Atlantic called “Defining ‘Evangelical‘” which details historic and contemporary definitions of the faith tradition.
Also see renowned historian Mark Noll’s extensive works about American evangelicalism. His books are well worth the read.
May we not “throw the baby out with the bathwater” in our contemporary discourse on American evangelicalism.