When I first filtered into an evangelical church at the age of 14, defining the term “evangelical” was simple, even for a kid my age. Without having to be told I concluded evangelicals preached a solid gospel, emphasized evangelism and missions, majored in soul-winning and minored in social issues, abstained from some worldly values (and occasionally went too far in this department coming close to legalism), were faithful in church attendance, Bible reading, and generally had a biblical worldview. Sure, we were often called “legalistic fundamentalists” but better to lean right than left. I was never and never will be ashamed of the old definition of “evangelicalism.”
Those churches are still around, but something has happened in the last twenty years. New leaders are rising and some do NOT preach a solid gospel yet are called evangelicals. It is not possible to talk about “evangelicals” with any unity? Many call themselves evangelicals when they are not and a new term has sprung up: Evangelical centrist. That means there is compromise somewhere.
To me, this says today no one is really sure what “evangelicalism” means. When those leaning left such as Tony Campolo and Jim Wallis are called evangelicals, and the magazine known as “Sojourners,” I can tell we have a new day. When “Emergent Church” leader Brian McClaren is called an evangelical when he lumps the “Left Behind” books in the same category as “The DaVinci Code,” something is amiss. This is false labeling. When Richard Foster and Brennan Manning, revered by many evangelicals, never met a mystical practice they didn’t endorse, today’s evangelicalism has a problem.
At one time “Christianity Today” was the house organ of evangelicalism. Over the last twenty years, that has changed, for now C.T. calls the “Harry Potter” book series, “A wonderful Christmas gift for all.”
Many evangelicals have embraced mysticism and have the audacity to call it “Christian mysticism,” an oxymoron if there ever was one. Evangelical churches are now proudly announcing to all that they offer classes in “Christian Yoga” which is “just stretching” to them, but in reality, calls down Hindu gods to their Yoga mat.
“The New York Times” states, “A tug of war is unfolding behind the scenes over theology–should evangelicalism be a big tent open to divergent views, or a smaller movement with more pure theology?”
Theology isn’t the only issue. Some of today’s evangelicals are into man-made global warming with the new “Evangelical Environmental Network,” immigration issues, anti-war movements, and other issues that were once found only in churches a part of the World and National Council of Churches. They are involved in ridding the world of AIDS, an impossibility but a noble cause–but is it the cause of evangelicals? Or is it just the old social gospel from which evangelicals fled in the 1940’s to focus on soul-winning? It is fine that those who embrace the cause of Christ–who reached out to the poor and needy–will today reach out to the masses that are hurting. That is not the issue. The issue is, “are these issues the cause of evangelicalism” and if they are, then I stand corrected. But can you ever err by having an emphasis on solid gospel preaching and saving lost souls?
So what’s a new term for evangelical, or maybe there needn’t be one? Is it fundamentalist which has negative overtones? How about “historical orthodox Christian”? How about “Bible-believing Christian”? Are we sliding into a pit that says, “Anything is OK as long as we love one another? We just have to all get along.”
The lines are blurred right now and I am troubled by it.