Monday, August 01, 2011

Maybe Being An Evangelical Isn't So Bad After All

Photo Credit: jeremy.wilburn
The evangelical Christian movement has been around for centuries but it has only been in recent decades that the definition of what it means to be an evangelical has changed within mainstream culture. Originally, the definition of an evangelical had nothing to do with political affiliation. To be an evangelical meant:
1. You were committed to the Bible as an authority in your life.
2. You believed in the need for a "born again" experience through faith in Christ.
3. You emphasized the necessity of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ for personal salvation.
4. You regularly talked with others about how they could have a relationship with Christ.
In recent years within the United States, the term "evangelical" has become, for many people, synonymous with a politically conservative Christian who votes Republican. While it may be true that many evangelicals may vote along these lines, not all of us do. It's unfortunate that the definition of an evangelical has come to mean more about politics when the most important thing about us is our faith.

Nicholas Kristof, a writer for The New York Times, has written a splendid piece about how we evangelicals are often unfairly characterized as all being like the more extreme members of our community. Using the recently deceased John Stott as an example, he says this:
"Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.

Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.

But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.

I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.

Why does all this matter?

Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills."
I appreciate Mr. Kristof's candor in acknowledging that evangelicals are often unfairly stereotyped within popular culture and that there is more to us than how we vote politically. Contrary to popular opinion, evangelicals as a whole are some of the most courageous leaders within our society as it pertains to providing for the poor, sending aid to other countries and caring for orphans. Yes, we are unusually committed to the tenets of our faith in Christ but it is because of this unusual commitment that we seek to actively live out our faith as people that emulate the Nazarene carpenter.

You can read Kristof's complete post here.

(h/t to Scot McKnight for the link)

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