Are you Evangelical in your theology and missiology? I never hear you use words that my other evangelical friends use and you always sound a bit fuzzy – almost like a Universalist or something. Can you clarify?
This is the question I’m most often NOT asked, but I know people are thinking. Of course, “Evangelical” has come to mean many different things, much like the word Christian. So I typically don’t use it when referring to myself.
The idea of someone being an “Evangelical” was popularized in the 1950’s by Billy Graham and then the publication Christianity Today (and Wheaton College). It was partially as a balance to the thoughts of “Fundamentalist Christians” who were becoming a bit stoic and overly focused on right theology (which, of course, was their theology). Rules and regulations had seemed to overshadow a vibrant relationship with Jesus. So some Christians were arguing for a more compassionate and embracing word to describe their belief as taught in the scriptures (as they saw it).
The word “Evangelical” seemed to make sense because it had roots in the word “evangel” or the Good News (gospel). And someone who believed in the good news of Jesus Christ, would surely want to spread that news and we call that Evangelism. All fair enough.
But, of course, words need reformation every few generations, just like cultures do.
Now if you ask people on the streets what Evangelicals believe, they are likely to give you a list of conservative political terms – which you may or may not actually adhere to (but even if you do, surely that’s not the main point of your life). So because of that, I don’t like to use that term.
But…you ask, what do I believe. Well, I’m reluctant to be pinned down to a theological statement (I’ll explain why in a second). But I do believe the whole Bible is true and it is the best written expression we have of God’s heart towards us and others, and our responsibilities back toward God and people.
I believe there is only one true God and he has most fully expressed himself in Jesus of Nazareth who lived a perfect and exemplary life. Who worked miracles, ushered in God’s kingdom (his rule and reign over people), who taught things we are to follow, who died, rose again, and is alive today and works in our hearts by his Spirit.
I believe that everyone needs to know this Jesus personally and follow him in ways that are lived out in a daily life evident to others. His salvation is both for now and eternity. We live in his kingdom as loving subjects who enjoy the benefits of life that only he can give – and we want others to experience that with us. Those who do not know Jesus in this way, do not have life.
Okay, after saying all of that, here’s why I typically would NOT want to say that.
- I left out a LOT. It could then make you ask about words like atonement. Sanctification. The Trinity. Heaven and Hell. The Rapture. The Millennium. And many more. So in a sense, what I “believe” by definition is almost endless, because God is endless.
- It begs for more definition. I said that I believed others should “know Jesus in this way.” Well, what does that mean? In what way? How much knowing him is enough? What if they prayed the sinners prayer but aren’t living like him at all? What if they never asked him into their heart, but do live like him? The “what if’s” are never-ending. It is impossible to have a statement of faith that answers every question.
- I’d like mine to be John 6:29. Where Jesus answers the question of “What is it that God requires.” The answer according to Jesus was this: “The work of God is this – to believe in the One He has sent.”
Therefore the “work of God” is to believe in Jesus. I want that to be my creed. But when I say that to people – and I do use this – they always want more. “To believe what exactly,” they ask. How much right doctrine has to be believed before you’re okay? And based on who’s definitions are we to believe? It’s not simple.
In the end, I’d say that most of my theology, doctrine and philosophy of mission would be similar to someone who might call themselves a “bible believing evangelical.” I often don’t “feel” that way to most because of how I use words and my desire to not constantly quantify and qualify.
Looking for direction from the life of our friend and Lord himself might give us some guidelines. Thumb through the four gospels in your mind right now, and think about the times that a questioner would try to pin Jesus down. How often did he answer directly? When did he sit the 12 students down and explain it all to them in a way they clearly understood. Was Jesus trying to be vague? Fuzzy? Hard to nail down? Why would he have constantly diverted questions and spoke in parables (which did not lead to greater understanding)? Why?
Think about that and let’s chat….
P.S. I am almost finished with a great history book by Philip Jenkins called “Jesus Wars.” It documents all the actual wars that Christians fought amongst themselves from the 4th through 7th Centuries trying to define whether Jesus was of the same “substance” or just the same “essence” of the Father. Was he “one with” God or was he God? Was he “of” or “from” God? While all of these surely have some importance and are worthy things to study, should they have led to hundreds of Monks being caught, tortured and then burned to death in their church because they were not part of the “substance” crowd and were of the “essence” crowd? Maybe not…