The “Evangelical” Label Doesn’t Belong to the U.S.

Jan 14, 2021 by

by Trevin Wax, The Gospel Coalition:

The “evangelical” label is hotly contested in the United States, especially during an election cycle when people debate the meaning of the term and the significance of the “evangelical vote.” What is an evangelical? What is the state of the movement? Recent books have linked white evangelicals to a pseudo-Christian nationalism, or to over-involvement with partisan politics, or to rigid expressions of patriarchy.

Multiple surveys with disparities in data raise a number of interesting questions.

  • What do we make of the large number of Christians who adhere to evangelical beliefs (predominantly in minority ethnic churches) yet do not claim an “evangelical identity” (likely due to the term’s political connotations)?
  • On the flip side, how do we respond to the large number of people in the United States who describe themselves as “evangelical” but rarely attend church and don’t adhere to core evangelical doctrines?
  • What does it mean for “evangelicalism” in the United States when a renewal project that began in the middle of the last century—a movement that sought to provide a counterpoint both to isolationist fundamentalism and social gospel liberalism—has now become nearly synonymous with a socio-political perspective?
  • What is the significance of many evangelical churchgoers who, on both the right and the left, appear to be more shaped by their cultural background and political philosophy than by the Scriptures they uphold as their ultimate authority?
  • Is there any point in holding to the “evangelical” label when the “brand” (for lack of a better word) encompasses everyone from Paula White to Tim Keller, from John Piper to Robert Jeffress?

These conundrums make some evangelicals throw up their hands and deride the term. Why not dispense with the label? Why not just call ourselves Christians? Or gospel people? Or find some other way of describing the beauty of the cross-cultural, cross-denominational renewal movement we’ve inherited?

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