I’ve been grousing for some time that the word “evangelical” has been hijacked, misunderstood, or otherwise transmogrified into a synonym for “Christian fundamentalist,” which has led to all sorts of confusion in political discussions and in media coverage of the same.
In some ways, the meaning-mangling is due to reporters who are often called on to write stories about things they don’t understand, and they hear a word used a certain way, and then perpetuate that nuance in their writing.
Even the respected George Barna has contributed to the word’s transformation from a functional to a doctrinal term: in Barna organization surveys, the criteria for labeling respondents as “evangelicals” includes nine specific characteristics (listed in this earlier blog) that are mainly doctrinal and together describe a very conservative Christian position, if not outright fundamentalist.
Yet, many mainline or more liberal Christians self-identify as evangelical. A recent blog at Sojourners.com explores the question and offers definitions by a variety of folk. It’s worth a look.
In my mind, the word’s derivation from the Greek term that means “good news” or “gospel” should make the meaning clear: an evangelical is someone who has trusted in the good news about Jesus Christ and who believes that news is good enough and important enough to share with others.
How would you define “evangelical”? Do you think of it as a doctrinal or a functional term? Do you consider yourself to be an evangelical, at least by your own definition?
Feel free to offer your definition or observation in the comments section below. The word is both used and misused by politicians and media alike. Meaning matters: what do you think it means?
Professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School in Buies Creek, North Carolina, and the Contributing Editor and Curriculum Writer at Good Faith Media.