Evangelical. It’s a word that has been used, abused, ignored, and, above all else, profoundly misunderstood. The reality is that most people do not know what it actually means. It’s a word we reject to our demise, yet embrace our blessing.
The social and political left has hijacked the term for negative agendas. A prime example occurred a couple of nights ago when MSNBC host Joy Reid claimed with an authoritative air that those who voted for former President Trump in the Iowa Caucus were “hyper Evangelical white Christians” and did so because they believed that America belongs to them by God’s grant and that Trump has promised to give it back to them. Yet of interest, one recent Gallup study found that 61% of Non-Hispanic Blacks identified as Evangelical compared to only 38% of Non-Hispanic Whites. So, raw data demonstrates that the term is used by a much larger population than white people who typically vote Republican.
But even within professed general Christendom, there appears to be debate over the term. In one recent high-profile podcast, the host rightly pointed out the problems with some specific individuals wearing the name evangelical. However, he was slow, even avoidant at times, to shine the light on the glory of these ancient terms. He was not only cautious toward the title in question but also conveyed that those who walked with evangelism as a priority were somehow less enlightened than more advanced-thinking Christians. Yes, some terrible illustrations have been of people taking this term and living in ways that do not reflect Christ. However, a negative interpretation of something does not negate its true meaning. On a personal note, I was once criticized by someone in this modern progressive camp as being a “mere evangelical” because I was not cheering for his chosen social issue of the day. Because I refused to jump on his societal bandwagon, I was labeled among the problems of America and today’s world. For him, my prioritizing evangelicalism before social issues was a profound problem, and I was personally part of that problem. I’m not saying his social matters are wrong, but he misses the point. His idea of social justice is rooted in true evangelicalism. Social justice has always been birthed at the foot of the cross.
We can find the answer by simply researching the word and finding that the term, evangelical, was used by Jesus Christ himself. Thus, anyone desiring to know the authentic Christian life must honestly understand this word and surrounding phrases. The first usage of the term in question is found in Mark 1:15, where Christ opened his ministry with the declaration, “The time has come; the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” Other translations have the phrase, good news, put forward as gospel. Beyond English and Latin, in the original Greek, the term is a compound of two words. The first is “Eu – yoo,” meaning good, and the second is “Angelos,” meaning messenger, from which we get the English word angel. Thus, the term conveys a messenger of Good News. From there, we can see that an evangelist communicates the good news. Evangelism is proclaiming the good news; an Evangelical is someone who believes and professes the good news.
What is the good news in short order? The reality is that through Jesus Christ, we can have peace with God, ourselves, and each other. While some today shy away from the word, the Apostle Paul did not. In Romans chapter 1, he went as far as to state that he was “not ashamed of the gospel because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile.” The power of that statement is seen in the mysterious reality that somehow, the Jews and Gentiles of the first century were united and found peace with God and among themselves. The truth is carried further in Ephesians 3:6, where Paul again notes, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.”
Somehow, these two divided groups of people are miraculously united with Jesus and each other by Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection. That free union with God and others is something that humanity is utterly powerless to accomplish. That hope, freedom, and assurance is a profound piece of Good News that we must take seriously. The peace of those first followers of Christ came not from politics, more excellent education, more money, or social enlightenment. Instead, the change in their heart came because of the transformative power of Jesus Christ. That was the good news, the gospel, the evangelism. That is what changed them and can change the human heart today.
It would seem that if we are genuinely searching for a solution to our heart problems and chaos in culture, the old-fashioned “evangelicalism” brought by Christ would be something to examine honestly and humbly again.
Do you know that peace of the good news?
Has that good news changed your life?
If not, please, my friend, give Jesus another serious look.
If you do know that good news, let me challenge you to embrace it with the same passion as the Apostle Paul, whose life was radically transformed by the grace of Christ.