Be the evangelical Jesus sent.
In the summer of 1949 a new name was added to the Cradle Roll of West Greenville Baptist Church, Greenville, South Carolina. It was Baby Holmes. That's because back then they didn't know if I'd be a Royal Ambassador or Girls Auxiliary addition to the church. It doesn't mean anything other than the fact that I've been involved in Southern Baptist churches all my life---West Greenville BC; Edwards Rd. BC; Hayes Barton BC; FBC, Goldsboro, NC; Woodland BC, Wake Forest, NC; FBC, Goose Creek, SC; Hampton Heights BC, Greenville, SC; and Northwood BC, North Charleston, SC. Of those eight, two would have been considered more moderate in theology through the years, and six decidedly conservative. Today they'd all be listed among the evangelicals in America. Well, at least i think so. It depends on whose definition of "evangelical" you're using.
And, that's a problem for me. Today there's so much written about evangelical and mainline Protestants the definitions have been twisted and turned to the point hardly anyone speaks about them with the same rhetoric. There's an identity crisis. My worry is that all of the talk about redefining the term "evangelical" may in fact reduce evangelical influence in America. And, no, I'm not referencing political clout or voting booth power as the primary ways evangelicals sway the nation. No, there's the Gospel. And, evangelicals have long been intent on sharing that Good News with this nation and all others. All the buzz about changing the evangelical mind has morphed, at least in my small thinking, to an emphasis on closing the evangelical mind. The end zone of that is actually the confusing of the evangelical mind.
What is an evangelical anyway. Once again, that just depends on who you ask. The other day Curt Bradford forwarded an excellent article about this very subject. it was authored by Darren Guerra in the First Things Journal of Religion and Public Life (you can read the article by clicking here). Mr. Guerra's grasp of the evangelical "crisis" was on target for me. He explained it in terms that even I could understand, and identified three groups of evangelicals involved in this confusing time. Having given this some thought and study, I'd like to offer an addendum to his excellent scholarship and superb writing. In my opinion, the prevailing groups of evangelicals today are---
Nominal evangelicals: these are the nominal Christians identified by the Pew Forum. They are members or associates of mostly Southern evangelical churches but don't attend regularly, give minimal or no support to the church, and are basically inactive spiritually. They typically vote conservatively, often along party lines.
Traditional evangelicals: these believers hold to a high view of Scripture, believe in a life transforming salvation, generally think evangelical faith should enter every area of human life, affirm a Christian influence in their world, and confess the death of Jesus on the cross to atone for the sins of those who confess him as Savior and Lord. These evangelicals also vote conservatively. it has seldom been mentioned in some of the other articles I've read, but the critical voting issue for traditional evangelicals is the sanctity of human life, that is, a Pro-life stance on abortion.
Nouveau evangelicals: These are conservative Christians who may not have been raised in evangelical families or churches, or who came to faith during early adulthood. By personal conviction, education, and perhaps even career opportunities, they adopted conservative evangelical positions. They are younger in age, I would suggest mostly from Generation X, and are more flexible in their theological and political views. They also tend to be conservative politically, but are not partisan or committed to one single issue when voting.
Much of the noise we're hearing about evangelicalism, once again, in my very limited opinion, is coming from the nouveau evangelicals. Their questions and challenges, especially in the political areas, have raised the identity issue which has confused so many traditional evangelicals. As a result, there is an identity crisis, the downward trend that has moved from changing the evangelical mind to closing the evangelical mind to confusing the evangelical mind. Sad. In my opinion nouveau evangelicals tend to sow more confusion in evangelical ranks politically than the left leading media or the political machinery that dominates the press. Sad again.
It's no longer a slippery slope. An avalanche of secularism is sweeping the nation and traditional evangelicals may be the greatest possibility of spiritual influence in these uncertain times. Two verses from the Apostle Paul's First Epistle to Timothy will be my personal watchwords for the New year---
Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a
close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save
both yourself and your hearers.
1 Timothy 4: 15-16, ESV
We don't need to redefine evangelicalism or evangelicals. We need to practice what the Bible teaches, immerse ourselves in biblical faith, keep a watch on ourselves and the strong teaching of Scripture, and persist. We just need to be the evangelical Christians Jesus sent into this needy world.
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