I’ve been pondering a number of things the past few days. One of the biggest is whether I ought to keep referring to myself as an ‘evangelical’.
In the past I’ve assumed that since my theology is still basically within evangelical bounds (Bebbington quadrilateral, Lausanne Covenant) and since my background is dyed in the wool Evangelical and since most of my Christian friends, family, and aquaintences are evangelical, then I’m still more or less an evangelical.
But the reality at least here in America is that evangelical isn’t just a theological identity. It’s also a cultural and political one. Evangelicalism seems fairly synonymous with ‘conservative’. They are reliable republican voters. They are on a specific side of the ‘culture wars’.
Evangelical also has some distinctive ways of approaching faith. Their MO with tough faith issues is often ‘the Bible says it, I believe it, That settles it’. They tend to like certainty. They like clean definitions of things, including who is in and who is out.
If that is what we mean by ‘Evangelical’, I’m obviously not there. I’m left leaning politically and find the evangelical way of doing faith and dealing with questions ill fitting to me. It’s not because the meaning of evangelical has recently shifted. It’s because I have shifted.
In my cultural background ‘evangelical’ was synonymous with ‘true Christian’. This was often an implicit idea, but at times was more explicitly communicated. The evangelicals are the people who take the bible seriously, who are conservative, they are the Christians who call themselves born again, who actually are saved.
And maybe that’s one reason I’ve kept calling myself an evangelical. If I totally leave behind that identity, I’m leaving behind the identity of what I believed was ‘true Christian’. Even though my definition of ‘true’ Christian has expanded, there is still something painful in this. Perhaps it makes me feel more distanced from my conservative Christian friends and family because I’m recognizing that to some of them I’m really not a ‘true Christian’. Perhaps it’s just weird to realize how much I’ve changed.
Another reason I’ve failed to ditch the evangelical label is because I’ve assumed it’s better to challenge from within than from without. I thought “We need to do better” sounds better than “You need to do better”. BUT, if I’m seen as an outsider and talk with the directness of an insider, that really can cause unnecessary frustration, which is quite understandable. (Of course whether you think I should be challenging at all is another question… for another post for another time.)
So I’ll call a spade a spade. I’m not an Evangelical. I don’t know how much resolving this in my own mind will help my communication with conservative Christians, but it won’t hurt it because it’s really more authentic. If I’m specifically challenging something in conservative Christian culture, I’ll avoid talking like I’m an insider, because I’m not. I’ll have to consider if I would challenge my progressive or catholic Christian friends with such bluntness.
So if I’m not an evangelical, what am I?
I’m a Jesus follower.
I’m a member of a wonderful local church.
I’m a part of the universal Church.
And I’m firmly committed to all three.
But I’m not an evangelical. I also don’t fit the labels ‘catholic’, ‘main liner’, or ‘progressive’. I don’t even fit the cultural definitions of ‘anabaptist’ or ‘charismatic’ despite many agreements and similarities. I guess that’s ok. I think there are many out there like me. We aren’t out of the Church, we just don’t fit nicely into a polling category. However, I am FOR all these particular expressions of the church… I love my brothers and sister in them… I root for their health and vibrancy.
So here I am, tied into the rock called Christ, not being an evangelical.
Love to you all.