Thoughts on the Term “Evangelical”

(This post came out of a Facebook discussion on the merits and potential liabilities of this term.)

The term “evangelical” is a broad-term and has had many different usages, some specific, affirming these four tenets:

  • born-again experience
  • activism – living out one’s Christianity in the public sphere
  • belief in inerrancy of Scripture
  • belief in Jesus (bodily resurrection, Virgin Birth, penal substitutionary atonement)

Where the term EVANGELICAL is helpful: National-level Social/Political Discussions

Sometimes this broad and fluid term may be helpful when one wishes to discuss large demographic blocs, such as in discussions concerning national politics, public policy, social issues, general macroeconomic trends/activities, national Pew surveys.

Examples: [I don’t endorse the following views … these are only examples]

Why is it that evangelicals seem anti-gay? Why do evangelicals give more to charity? Why do they love guns so much? Why are they all so consistently pro-life?

In broad contexts that do not require sophistication or detail or clarifiying distinctions, the term evangelical can be helpful as denoting a broad bloc of voters/people/segment of society who are Bible-believing, conservative Christians. In this case, if we were to broad-brushed split the super-broad term of “Christians,” we would have

  • Roman Catholicism
  • Eastern Orthodox
  • Mainline Protestant [basically, liberal Christians]
  • Evangelicals [basically, conservative Christians].

And yes, these are broad terms. Hence, I do not define clearly “liberal” or “conservative.”

Where the term EVANGELICAL is NOT as helpful: Theological Discussions

When we seek to discuss theology, the details and particulars are much more helpful, and the term “evangelical” is much less helpful. Liberal and conservative are much less helpful terms when discussing views of baptism, OT-NT hermeneutics and biblical theology, eschatology, liturgy, church governance and polity. Here, the term “evangelical” is too broad to help. It is better, in my opinion, to look. Instead, it is better to use more specific terms and designations, be they names of denominations (PCA, OPC, EPC, Anglican, Methodist, Mennonite, Reformed (soon to be the new “evangelical”) etc.). Also, when it comes to theology, it is better to look at particular Statements of Faith and, more preferably, creeds and confessions.

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