It was September 2005, only four short years after the devastating terrorist attacks that crippled our nation, and I was sitting right in the middle of a large evangelical church. I was new to this whole world of Christianity and so I clung to every movement that happened as this evening progressed, wanting to make sure I got the Christian thing just right. I was gathered with about 2, 000 other evangelicals to hear one of the most anticipated speakers that our church had ever brought in- General Jerry Boykin, the outspoken, purple heart winning, brigadier general who was in the Pentagon on 9/11. He had been lauded by evangelical communities because of his very vocal “spiritualized” rhetoric about the war our nation was fighting. “This is not merely a war between the US and Iraq- this is a war between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Satan…this is a war we as a Christian Nation need to fight with our eyes fixed on the cross!” were among the first words General Boykin spoke and were met with a standing ovation by the church gathered to hear this man speak. But as the General continued to speak his highly politicized, revivalistic sermon, I found my stomach churning. Something didn’t seem right with this. From what I had been reading in the Bible, it didn’t seem that Jesus was to keen on violence and he didn’t seem very interested in the Political banter of his day either. Something seemed really off and I would struggle with these thoughts for years until I grew in my faith enough to get a fair understanding of what I was a part of. This was evangelical Christianity. I found myself so committed to so much of what evangelical Christianity offered and yet so opposed to what much of many of the leaders of evangelical Christianity were using it for. I wanted to give up this brand of Christianity for some other, but I didn’t know how. As I grew, I would find that many in my generation were feeling the same way. Many felt loaded down with political rhetoric and agendas in a faith tradition that was supposed to be primarily about Good News.
Many people in the Christian world are facing this issue of high jacked terminology. Words like “saved”, “church”, “preach”, and various other terms have been hijacked by people of the far right or far left of the Christian spectrum and desecrated. The words have lost much of their true meaning to fiery new meanings and seem to be beyond redemption. Many Christians caught in the middle of this are ready to simply forfeit the words and come up with new terminology for the Christian faith, marking a clear distinction between the moderate Christians who use the terms and those who misuse them on the ends of the spectrum.
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One such word is Evangelical. There is so much baggage associated with that word. There is so much hatred and anger at that word. If any word in Christianity has been hijacked and misused, it is the word Evangelical. And many on the conservative side of Christianity are afraid to use the term while many on the liberal side think of it as a slanderous word used to describe fundamentalism.
But the reality is, in its truest sense, the word Evangelical is a historical Christian term that is packed with so much important meaning. When it began being used in America, it served as a distinction between the two extremes. Those who were “Evangelical” were not liberal but they also were not fundamentalists either. Evangelical was the moderate stream of Christian faith committed to the authority of Scripture, centrality of Jesus Christ, the importance of world Evangelism, and the value of doing justice. Evangelicals were those who engaged culture, not separated from it. They were those who engaged in dialogue and discussion and have a broad denominational orthodoxy. They were not associated with any political party or particular social issue. They had a commitment to living the Gospel. A commitment to being the person and power of Jesus to the world they were in. A commitment to seeing as many souls come to Christ and as many hungry stomachs fed as possible. This can be seen in the lives of many of the earliest Evangelicals- D.L. Moody, John Wesley, C.H. Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, Menno Simmons, and Charles Finney. These men are known for their passionate preaching of the Word of God and their passionate desire to do justice and love mercy. These men are known for their edgy ministries that reached out to the least of these and societies worst and engaged with those who differed from them theologically and ideologically. These men were known for engaging and creating culture, not rejecting it. These men were known for a commitment to the Gospel in every arena of life.
What happened to that Evangelicalism? Who wouldn’t want to be a part of that kind of Christianity? Unfortunately, as the 1900’s progressed, so did the political and social agendas that hijacked American Evangelicalism. Our faith became known for everything its people were against- blacks, gays, abortion… the list could go on. People began to mix their political beliefs with their religious ideologies and presented them as one and the same. Soon enough, “Evangelical” became the banner under which Republican values spawned and with those ideologies entering into our faith, we became the very people we we’re opposed to- fundamentalists of a new kind. But this wasn’t only a “Republican” thing. Democrats have also attempted to hijack the term for their own political gain- people like Jim Wallis and Sojourners fly under the banner of “Evangelical” and appeal to the liberal crowd. We established our rigid boundary lines: If someone is different from us in the slightest way, we cannot fellowship with them and we must speak out against them. Over issues of race, theologically, and politics, we became a religious force not much different than the Catholic Church in the 1500’s. We tried to make everyone like us- launching political and social crusades against everyone who differed. We became known for our protests, our street preaching, our condemnation, our hatred, and our bigotry- all the things that the movement’s earliest founders would abhor.
But just as the reign of the corrupt Catholic Church came to an end thanks to some of those within the system that spoke against the evils and injustice they were seeing- such as Martin Luther, who is actually thought to be the man who coined the term Evangelical to describe his movement within the Catholic Church. From within the corruption, light rose. God stirred in Luther’s heart and caused him to see that this is not the way it is supposed to be. Luther never desired to schism from the Roman Catholic Church, only to return it to its pure and original foundations.
Today, a new generation of Evangelicals is rising. We are a generation that was birthed in a time when perhaps those who have hijacked the term Evangelical are at their worst. We are the generation that has seen the rise of the Tea Party Movement, The corruption of Evangelical Leaders, the “Liberal” Evangelical movement and so many other distortions of our faith. We have been caught in the middle of this all. But God has begun to cause the blinders to remove from a generations eyes. He is causing us to see what it truly means to be Evangelical. What does it mean to be Evangelical, by the way? Very simply put, “Evangel” is a word that means Gospel or Good News. An Evangelical is someone passionate about the Gospel of Jesus. The Good News that God has sent His Son to die for the Sins of all who will call on the name of Jesus. The Good News that God has brought a Kingdom to this earth that is full of light, holiness, love, and peace. The Good News that the enemy, Satan, has been defeated. The Good News that Jesus Christ is King. That is what it is to be an Evangelical, and yet that is far from what the word means today.
But the word is important. It is so simple and yet packed with so much meaning. There is no better term that describes what this generation believes better. We are passionate about the Gospel and we think it’s of utmost importance. Far more important than any political or social agenda.
Related: RIP, Rob Bell – by Michael Kimpan
That’s why a new movement is rising that I am calling (Re)vangelical. We want to be a small voice among millions of our peers in Christ around the world that begin to speak up and live out the Gospel. We want to “renew” our Evangelical faith. Meaning, take it back to its beginning. Its roots. We want to redeem the word from those who have hijacked it. We want people to hear us say “We are Evangelical”, and be very skeptical. But then be blown away because we are not what they think that word means. We are a generation who cares about the glory of Jesus and showing his love and good news to everyone. We are motivated, not by political party lines, but by the Word of God. We are a generation not marked by all the things that we are against, but by what we are for. We are for Jesus. We are for the Salvation of the world. We are for doing justice and loving mercy. We are for the Word of God. We are for seeing God’s Kingdom come and will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And maybe when this generation rises up and begins to reclaim our name and capture it back from those who have hijacked it, the world will begin to see a small glimpse of Jesus Christ and the Good News that He has brought to the world. Maybe they will see a group of Christians who are striving to work together, regardless of denominational affiliations because they are committed to proclaiming the Gospel more than defining their boundaries. Maybe the world will see the love of God, the glory of God, and the righteousness of God lived out in the world. Maybe, just maybe, the world will see Jesus through us again.
We stand in a long line of men and women who have made the Gospel their highest priority above any political or social issue. We are truly surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses who are cheering us on to be Evangelicals- faithful Christ followers whose passion and motivation is singular- the Glory of God through the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
That’s why I think Evangelical is worth saving. Are you with me?
Brandan Robertson is an Evangelical Christian blogger, podcaster, aspiring minister, and the dreamer behind the Revangelical Movement. He is currently a student at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago and the host of the Revangelical Connection vodcast.