Evangelical is a Dirty Word

My convictions have not changed. Nevertheless, the word that is often used to describe my convictions has changed. Evangelical. It is a term that once referred to a Christian of a particular theological stripe. An evangelical was one who believed the Bible, but who shunned the cultural antagonism of the fundamentalist movement. An evangelical was, however, not a theological liberal; an evangelical affirmed the virgin birth, the reality of miracles, and the bodily resurrection of Jesus. And while evangelicals sought to engage society with the Good News about Jesus, urging Christians to serve Him in every legitimate sphere of activity—including politics and government—their primary focus was the Great Commission. The evangelical Church existed to evangelize the world and to make disciples of all nations.

Things have changed. Carl Trueman, who teaches history at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia, has argued that the greatest problem with the evangelical movement is that it no longer has an evangel. It has lost its center, become hopelessly entwined in and conflated with conservative politics, and is now seemingly more concerned with controlling the culture than with glorifying the Christ it once proclaimed. In short, the term “evangelical” has become a descriptor of a socio-political-religious conglomeration that often fails to represent biblical Christianity.

The media know this, although those who identify as evangelical are slow to acknowledge it. Recently, the press has had a field day with Jerry Falwell, Jr., who suggested that Donald Trump is the “dream president” for evangelical Christians. And Falwell represents whom? Those who vote Republican? Those who are socially conservative? Those who oppose immigration? Those who favor a strong military? Those who seek a smaller federal government? What other social or civil or political commitments, which have nothing to do with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, might we add to the mix? Who is Falwell representing when he speaks? What is he representing?

A word that once almost exclusively described a theological posture has now come to describe a bastard blend of theology, politics, public policy, American civil religion, and inexplicable internal contradictions.

I am opting out. I am not evangelical, whatever that word may now mean. I am a confessional Christian. My beliefs are summarized and explained in the Westminster Standards. Those beliefs have not changed, but a word that once described a theological posture with which I could identify no longer does so.

If Jerry Falwell Jr. represents what it means to be evangelical, then I am not.

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