What it means to be an “evangelical” has certainly morphed over the past few years. When I was young, to be an evangelical was a good thing with a good identity throughout the world. There was no baggage, no partisan politic, no bullying, and no anger. To be an evangelical was to embraced the Christ of the New Testament in both word & deed and attempt to make Him known. Evangelicals were not mean-spirited, nor were they hate-mongers, nor were they judgmental. They shared a love of Jesus and had a passion to tell His story to the world. In fact, go to Merriam-Webster and look at how the word is defined. “Evangelical: of, relating to, or being in agreement with the Christian gospel especially as it is presented in the four Gospels.”
What, in fact, is the good news of the four Gospels? What is the image of Christ portrayed in the pages? What is His ethic, His passion, His priority? Once, the disciples of John came to Jesus and asked Him if, He was in fact, the Promised Messiah. This was His response: “Go and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have the Gospel preached to them” (Luke 7:22). Look closely and you will see Jesus doing things like lifting up the oppressed, welcoming the marginalized, giving access to the outsiders, loving His enemies, forgiving sinners, and inviting the lonely, the poor, the desperate, and the lowly to follow Him. He was inclusive, loving, giving, sharing, and welcoming. That’s the Jesus I grew up longing to serve. That was the Jesus of the evangelical community. That was the Jesus whose story we wanted to share with a loving truth and not a judgmental, elitist attitude. There was something about the story we told that was contagious, life-giving, and destiny altering. The story filled churches, inspired leaders, and changed lives… because it really was good news.
So what happened? Did the Gospel message suddenly change? Did the story get re-written? Did the priorities of Jesus shift? Maybe the Gospel didn’t change… maybe we did. Maybe our story of Jesus’ love got co-opted. Maybe we lost sight of what it means to love Jesus so much that we compassionately love the world He died to redeem. Doesn’t it make sense that if evangelicals are “in agreement with the Christian Gospel” that we should at least, in some way, reflect it? If we are His ambassadors then shouldn’t we represent that which is important to Him and not chase after our own narrow-minded social agendas? In the eyes of the world, evangelicals are now defined in a very different way than they once were. Now evangelicals have to vote a certain party line. They have to crusade for the unborn but end programs that support those same children when they come into the world. They have to hate Muslims and love guns. They worry about transgendered persons using the wrong bathroom but keep silent about child molesters who serve in public office. They declare that Jesus matters, but black lives don’t. They want the right justices, but care little for real justice. They pray in church but post the most un-Christian rhetoric on-line as though the two can somehow be reconciled.
Let’s be honest when we talk about being an evangelical. If your passion and your priorities are not fully surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus, then please don’t use the name. You’re just confusing a world that is already skeptical of the “Christian” message. Jesus said that His true followers would be known by their love for one another, not by how abusive they would be towards anyone that doesn’t accept every misguided and twisted point of their theology. It’s time for “real evangelicals” to offer a better witness to the world.
-Dr. Jon Roebuck, Executive Director