What is the “Perspicuity” of Scripture, and Why Does It Matter?

When I was a missionary in Hungary, we used to visit a refugee camp populated with thousands of people from muslim-majority countries, with whom we didn’t have a common language. Everyone in the camp got by with a mix of English, Russian, and sometimes German words that formed a special form of refugee pidgin. But this was insufficient for deeper conversations, such as those about God, Jesus, and salvation.

So, with the help of the International Bible Society, we were able to get New Testaments in Urdu, Dari, Farsi, and other languages, and we handed these out along with humanitarian aid, telling those we met to read them, and then we would follow up. For many of them, this was their first time ever having access to the New Testament in their own language, and by God’s grace, we did see many of them become followers of Jesus.

But this approach to ministry was based on an underlying assumption: that anyone with average reading comprehension skills can sufficiently understand the meaning of the Bible when it comes to what it says about who Jesus is and how salvation is possible through Him.

This assumption is known as belief in the “perspicuity,” or clarity of Scripture.

Not everyone embraces the idea that Scripture is perspicuous, notably the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox churches – as well as fringe groups including the Mormons (AKA Latter Day Saints) and the Jehovah’s Witnesses.

It was after a friend of mine converted to Roman Catholicism based on claims he had heard about Scripture not being perspicuous that I was intrigued by this topic and wanted to research it further. I ended up writing my Masters dissertation on the topic – specifically looking at the question of whether the concept of the perspicuity of Scripture was novel to the Reformation, or if it is also found in the writings of the early Church Fathers – which would mean that the insistence on the perspicuity of Scripture in the Reformation period was actually a return to the way the early Christians understood and viewed Scripture.

In this week’s episode of the Theology for People Podcast, Mike asks me questions about the perspicuity of Scripture; what it is and why it matters, and what is at stake when it comes to this issue.

You can listen to the episode in the embedded player below, or by clicking this link: The Perspicuity of Scripture: Is the Bible Clear? Can Everyone Understand It?

The Perspicuity of Scripture: Is the Bible Clear? Can Everyone Understand It? Theology for the People

Can anyone pick up the Bible, read it and understand it? Is Scripture "clear," and if it is: about what and for whom is it clear? I wrote my Masters dissertation on the topic of the perspicuity, or clarity, of Scripture. This is an important topic, because whether or not we view Scripture as clear affects how we handle and use the Bible and how we relate to church traditions, and how we view the world in the midst of a culture in which many long-held beliefs and assumptions are being challenged. In this episode, Nick and Mike discuss the concept of the perspicuity of Scripture, looking at the history of this concept and what is at stake in this debate.  For more articles and content, make sure to check out the Theology for the People website. — This episode is sponsored by · Anchor: The easiest way to make a podcast. https://anchor.fm/app

Remembering Tom Stipe

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Tom Stipe was my pastor and mentor. He was the pastor of Crossroads Church of Denver, and in 1999, at 16 years old, I walked through the doors of that church for the first time on a Wednesday night. Little did I know that would be one of the best decisions I ever made, and it would shape the course of my life.

I went to Crossroads at the recommendation of my friends from school – friends who were not Christians! This is a testimony to the fact that Tom and Crossroads had an incredible reputation in the community. He was well-known and respected, even by people who didn’t follow Jesus or go to church. My friends told me that Crossroads had good music and they just teach the Bible.

I started going to Crossroads whenever the doors were open and I grew under Tom’s Bible teaching. I made other friends there and mentors with whom I have had lifelong friendships.

In January 2002, Tom sent me out as a missionary to Hungary. He ordained me, and for years he supported, encouraged and visited me and my wife while I was there. He really liked my wife Rosemary, probably even a little more than he liked me 😄.

Upon returning to Colorado, Tom was a source of encouragement. I will miss hearing his stories of all the great things God did through the Jesus Movement and over the years through Crossroads, but with the hope of the resurrection, I look forward to seeing him again.

A celebration of life was held for Pastor Tom at Harvest Church in Irvine, California, and was led by Greg Laurie, a friend of Tom’s. Harvest did a great job creating a video of the event for those who couldn’t join in person. That video is embedded below, or can be found here.

I was honored to get to say a few words at the memorial as well: my eulogy starts at 51:54.

Tom will be sorely missed. The God of Tom Stipe and the Spirit which he trusted in and relied on is here with us still, to do great things in the next generation.

Maranatha!

My Top 10 Books of 2020

I read 35 books in 2020 (including the Bible!). Here are a few of my favorites (other than the Bible), in no particular order:

  1. A Clear and Present Word: The Clarity of Scripture, Mark Thompson

I read this book as part of my research for my Masters dissertation, which was on the topic of the perspicuity (clarity) of Scripture, and whether belief in this concept was novel to the Reformation period, or if it had precedent in the patristic period as well.

2. The Bible in America: Essays in Cultural History, Nathan Hatch

Great short essays about the history of thinking about the Bible in America, particularly in regard to radical individualism and the rejection of tradition and the church in the interpretive process. Sadly, it is out of print, but used copies are available to order.

3. On Christian Doctrine, Augustine of Hippo

A true classic, written between 397 and 426 AD. The main topic of this book is about how to interpret and teach the Bible.

4. Fire Road: The Napalm Girl’s Journey through the Horrors of War to Faith, Forgiveness, and Peace, Kim Phuc Phan Thi

The autobiography of the woman from the famous photo of a girl burning in napalm in Vietnam, and how she became a Christian.

5. The Burning Edge: Travels Through Irradiated Belarus, Arthur Chichester

An engaging travel log through the area hit by the fallout of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster by one of my favorite YouTubers.

6. On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts, James K.A. Smith

Theologian James K.A. Smith gives a biography of Saint Augustine while retracing his steps from North Africa to Italy and back.

7. Understanding Gender Dysphoria: Navigating Transgender Issues in a Changing Culture, Mark Yarhouse

Mark Yarhouse teaches at Wheaton College, an evangelical divinity school in Illinois. This book gives and important framework for understanding the issues related to gender dysphoria from a Christian perspective, including much of the research that has been done on the topic, and advice for parents and those who seek to minister to people and families.

8. Taking God At His Word: Why the Bible Is Knowable, Necessary, and Enough, and What That Means for You and Me, Kevin DeYoung

An accessible study of what the Bible teaches about the Bible.

9. How to (Not) Be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, James K.A. Smith

This is a thinking person’s book about culture in our postmodern age. Smith uses terms like “epistemic pelagianism” to describe the idea that people can figure out everything on their own without the help of God. He discusses Charles Taylor’s idea of the “imminent frame,” i.e. the present world, and its shortcomings. So many important thoughts in this book, although it’s not the easiest read.

See also: What is Epistemic Pelagianism?

10. Légy Jó Mindhalálig, Móricz Zsigmond

A few years ago I decided to read the required reading for Hungarian secondary students. This is a classic novel about a student in Debrecen, Hungary, a city where I lived for over 3 years.

Does Proverbs Condone Bribery? – Interview with Benjamin Morrison

On this site there is a page where readers can submit questions or suggest topics . Recently I received the following question from a reader in Ukraine:

Outside of proverbs, bribery is spoken against. Inside proverbs we see both direct opposition to it, but also some almost-approving of it. I won’t list verses which speak against it because they’re numerous and easy to find, but I’d like to hear your thoughts regarding verses like these:

A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of the one who gives it; wherever he turns he prospers.
Proverbs 17:8 ESV

A gift in secret averts anger, and a concealed bribe, strong wrath.
Proverbs 21:14 ESV

Corruption and bribery are major topics here in Ukraine and we’ve dealt with this question a few times.

That’s a great question. To answer it, I reached out to a friend who lives in Ukraine where he serves as a pastor and missionary: Benjamin Morrison.

Ben has lived in Ukraine for 19 years and is the Lead Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Svitlovodsk, Ukraine, and the Director of City to City Ukraine.

We had a great discussion on this topic, which I think you will really enjoy and benefit from. In this video we discuss the nature of the Book of Proverbs, different scenarios in which bribes are asked for or offered – and how to respond in each, as well as some personal stories. Finally we end the conversation on a note of how the gospel helps and empowers us to face corruption and bribery and other things that are wrong in the world. Enjoy!

A Biblical Discussion of Current Politics and Where Our True Citizenship Lies

My friend Nate Morris is the pastor of a great church: Mountain Life Calvary Chapel, which has campuses in Edwards and Carbondale, Colorado, serving the communities of the Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley.

Recently Nate started a podcast: the New Day Podcast, which aims, in his words, “to talk about the topics which you shouldn’t talk about around the dinner table,” such as religion, race, politics, and so on.

I was honored to be a guest on his podcast; you can check out our discussion here: Special Guest: Pastor Nick Cady – A Biblical discussion of current politics and where our true citizenship lies.

In the episode, we talk about how my decade as a missionary in Hungary has affected my views on politics, as well as my concerns and hopes for the church in our current political and social situation.

Check it out the episode and leave a comment on this post with your thoughts and reactions, and make sure to subscribe to the New Day Podcast with Pastor Nate Morris!

Will There Be Ethnic Diversity in Heaven?

The standard joke among foreigners when I lived in Hungary was that Hungarian would be the language of Heaven, because it takes an eternity to learn.

But will there actually be diversity in Heaven? Will racial differences exist for eternity? Or will Heaven be homogenous?

One Race?

As recent events have highlighted disparities and tensions between ethnic groups in the United States and beyond, one response from Christians has been to point out that the Bible teaches that all people come from one set of common ancestors. Therefore, they say, there is truly only one race: the human race.

In a recent episode of Calvary Live, Pastor Ed Taylor of Calvary Church in Aurora, Colorado spoke with John Moreland of Denver Christian Bible Church, who is an African American man. When Ed asked John his thoughts on the idea that there is really only one race, John said he was not sure if he fully agreed with that.

Why not? Because, while John would not disagree with the fact that all human beings descend from one common set of ancestors, he feels that saying that there is only one race detracts from the importance of racial diversity.

Is Racial Diversity Something to Erase or Celebrate?

This past Sunday we studied 1 Kings 11 at White Fieldswatch or listen to that message here. This chapter talks about how King Solomon married many foreign women, contrary to God’s command that the people of Israel not do that.

However, upon further examination of the Bible, what you realize is that this prohibition against marrying foreign women was about faith, not about race. Several of the female heroes of the Bible were women who were not ethnically Jewish, but they became followers and worshipers of Yahweh, the true and living God: Ruth was from Moab, Rahab was a Canaanite. In Jesus’ family tree in Matthew 1, five women are listed by name, and three of them are of non-Jewish origin.

In fact, if you look at the origin of the Jewish people, they were a nation chosen by God from among the nations. They were a manufactured nation, not created on the basis of a shared ethnicity, but on the basis of a shared faith in God. This is why there are Jews from places like Ethiopia and East Asia who are not ethnically descended from the Middle East, and yet they are full-fledged Jews. Essentially, anyone who wanted to be a follower of Yahweh was welcome, no matter where they were from.

Mike and I discussed this topic in this week’s Sermon Extra video: “Why Did Solomon Marry Foreign Women”

What made the early Christians unique was that, unlike most religions at that time, which were limited to a local ethnic group, Christianity – like Judaism – was a truly multi-ethnic faith. It claimed to the truth for all people everywhere, and it claimed that Jesus was the Savior not of only one group of people, but for the entire world.

This belief came from the Bible itself:

“Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, for you judge the peoples with equity and guide the nations upon earth.” 

Psalm 67:4

Although in English we often use the word “nations” to speak of political or geographical entities, i.e. “countries.” The word “nations” in the Bible, however, is the Greek word ἔθνη (ethni, the plural form of ethnos), from which we get the English word: “ethnicity.”

So, the country of Russia, for example, is made up of 185 nations, i.e. ethnic groups. This is why in Canada, the indigenous people groups are called the “First Nations.”

So, what this passage is saying is, “Let all the [ethnicities] be glad,” because God judges all the ethnic groups of the world with equity and guides them.

In the “Great Commission,” Jesus instructed his disciples to preach the gospel to all “nations,” i.e. ethnic groups:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Matthew 28:19-20

In his address to the philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, Paul the Apostle said:

And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us

Acts 17:26-27

Here Paul states that God, in His providence, has determined when and where people would live, with the goal that their setting and situations would drive them to seek Him.

Rather than being opposed to the plan of God, it would seem that diversity is part of God’s design and brings Him glory. In a fallen world, not all aspects of any culture will be good and reflect God’s character and heart, and every culture will have certain idolatries which are common to the people in that culture. Conversely, however, every culture will have some aspects which uniquely reflect God’s goodness and character (common grace), which will differ from the way other cultures reflect those things.

Ethnic Diversity in Heaven

In John’s vision of Heaven in Revelation chapter 7, he writes:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Revelation 7:9-10

John gives three descriptions of the diversity of the people around the throne and before the Lamb: tribes, peoples, and languages. This is an escalating list, which goes from smallest to largest: languages may be used by people of multiple ethnicities, and ethnic groups may contain many tribes.

All three of these designations are present around the throne; thus it seems likely that even with our new “heavenly bodies” (see 1 Corinthians 15:35-49), ethnic diversity seems to be maintained and apparent in Heaven, for eternity.

Whereas divisions and oppression will cease, it seems that diversity will not.

It seems that who you are, because of your ethnic and cultural background, will be maintained for eternity, to bring glory to God. While the negative aspects of a culture will be done away with, the good, God-honoring and glorifying diversity will continue to bring glory to God and enrich others.

As we await that day, may God help us to honor and value ethnic diversity, and glean from one another.

Hulk Hogan, Idols, and the Name of God

Recently Hulk Hogan posted this on Facebook, which garnered a lot of attention, and a reader asked me to comment on it.

In three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship. God said, “you want to worship athletes, I will shut down the stadiums. You want to worship musicians, I will shut down Civic Centers. You want to worship actors, I will shut down theaters. You want to worship money, I will shut down the economy and collapse the stock market. You don’t want to go to church and worship Me, I will make it where you can’t go to church”
“If my people who are called by my name will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”
Maybe we don’t need a vaccine, Maybe we need to take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival where we focus on the ONLY thing in the world that really matters. Jesus.

Matters of the Soul and the Body

I agree with Hulk’s statement that we should take this time of isolation from the distractions of the world and have a personal revival.

I agree with his call to repentance, prayer, and seeking the Lord from 2 Chronicles 7:14.

I don’t see why this repentance and revival would exclude the need for a vaccine however, but just as Jesus said: “What does it benefit a person if they gain the whole world but lose their soul?”, (Mark 8:36) that question could easily be applied to our current situation: “What does it benefit a person if they survive the COVID-19 crisis but lose their soul?”

Personally, I have seen a significantly greater openness to the gospel and to prayer in many people during this crisis, and I praise God for that. I believe that God is more concerned with the well-being of our souls than with our physical comfort. At the same time, it is also the call of the people of God to relieve suffering when possible (see Matthew 25:31-46), as we look forward to the end of sickness and death forever for those in Christ because of what He accomplished in his life, death, and resurrection.

The Human Heart is an Idol Factory

Hulk claims that “in three short months, just like He did with the plagues of Egypt, God has taken away everything we worship.”

The thing is, just taking away people’s money doesn’t make them stop worshiping money. Oftentimes it is not what we have that we worship, but what we want – that’s what it means to covet.

One of the things I learned working with refugees and the impoverished Roma population in Hungary, is that some of the people who worship money the most are those who don’t have any of it. They seek after it, believing that if they had it, they would be content and fulfilled. Some of the most materialistic people I have known are people who lacked materially. On the contrary, I have known many wealthy people who were incredibly generous – having learned firsthand that money and possessions will never fill the God-shaped void in one’s soul.

Martin Luther stated that “the human heart is an idol factory.” In other words, even if God did take away these idols, (which are all clearly still here, with the exception of sports) the underlying problem would still exist, and we would just make and find new idols to worship with our time, energy, resources, and attention.

What we need is something deeper: regeneration, new birth, a transformation from the inside out, which is the work of God in our lives.

The Name of God

I find it absurd that Hulk uses the name of God as his personal motto: “I am that I am.”

The name Yahweh derives from the Hebrew word for “to be” – which is why God told Moses to tell Pharaoh that “I am who I am” if Pharaoh asked the name of the God who had sent Moses.

To use this name as a personal motto is borderline, or perhaps blatant blasphemy, in my opinion.

In Conclusion

While it is a bit ironic that Hulk Hogan, a celebrity, is calling out the cultural idol of celebrity worship, and his point about God taking away our idols is dubious at best (if God shut down stadiums to stop our worship of athletes, how does he then reason that the shutting of churches is to be understood as punishment for people not going to church???), his core point is a good one: rather than just waiting for this to be over, we should take this time to refocus on our relationship with God and repent where necessary of giving other things the place in our hearts which rightly belongs to Him.

Ministry Trip to Hungary and Ukraine

When I left on March 5 to Hungary and Ukraine, there was no recommendation not to travel to those areas – and even now there are very few cases of COVID-19. I am deeply concerned by the threat that this virus poses to the vulnerable and immune-compromised around the world, and am committed to doing my part to prevent the spreading of the virus.

That being said, here is an update on what Mike and I were up to in Hungary and Ukraine:

Expositors Collective Budapest

The Expositors Collective is a growing network of pastors and leaders who are committed to raising up the next generation of Christ-centered Bible teachers and preachers through interactive training seminars and a weekly podcast. 

Just last week, the Expositors Collective celebrated two years since our first training weekend in Thousand Oaks, CA! 

Since that first event, we have hosted 8 training seminars, the latest being the one in Budapest, which was a bit of a hybrid: as opposed to our usual 2-day format, we condensed it into a 1-day event, which required leaving out some aspects of our usual training. 

Budapest was also our first time working in a bilingual setting, as we had people in attendance not only from Hungary, but from surrounding countries, including Slovakia, Serbia, and Romania, as well as students from Calvary Chapel Bible College Europe.

The training went very well, and there is interest for Expositors Collective events in other European countries, as well as for the full 2-day version in Budapest at some point in the future.

Visiting Missionaries & Speaking at Churches

White Fields supports several missionaries around the world, mostly in Eastern Europe. (See: White Fields Missions) On this trip, I was able to visit all of our European missionaries except one, beginning with the Németh family in South Budapest. I had the opportunity to preach at their church, Golgota Dél-Pest. I loved getting to preach in Hungarian again. The video of that sermon is embedded below.

On Monday, March 9, Mike and I flew to Kyiv, Ukraine – where we were met by missionaries and friends: George Markey (senior pastor of Calvary Chapel Kyiv), and Nate Medlong, who serves in Kharkiv, Ukraine with Calvary Chapel Kharkiv and Fostering Hope ministry to children in foster care. Mike then took a train to Ternopil, in western Ukraine to visit missionaries there, and I went to Kharkiv with Nate to spend a few days with him, his family, and people from their church.

I taught the Thursday night service at the church in Kharkiv, after a quick trip up to Kyiv Thursday morning to speak at Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary, where I taught two 80-minute classes on Spiritual Formation.

This past Sunday I taught at Calvary Chapel Kyiv, their last service before the national quarantine began. Video of that message is embedded below as well.

Calvary Chapel Ukraine Leadership Conference

On Friday-Saturday we had 65 Calvary Chapel leaders from all over Ukraine gather in Irpin for the annual leadership conference. This was a time of teaching, training, and discussing leadership principles from God’s Word in order to help us lead our churches well. Click here for photos of the conference.

With the spread of COVID-19, these gatherings are no longer possible or wise, but in God’s providence we were able to hold them while it was still safe and wise to do so.

It was a fruitful time of ministry, and great times of fellowship with people who are doing important work in a place where it is very needed. Please keep the work of these leaders and churches in your prayers that God would bless and use their ministries for His glory and for the good of many people!

You Are What You Do: and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love, by Daniel Im

I recently finished reading Daniel Im’s latest book You Are What You Do: and Six Other Lies About Work, Life, & Love.

I have enjoyed Daniel’s work with Ed Stetzer on the New Churches podcast and the book Planting Missional Churches.

I also read Daniel’s first book, No Silver Bullets: Five Small Shifts that Will Transform Your Ministry, and gleaned some great principles from it, particularly the concept of moving from “the sage on the stage” to “the guide on the side.”

For more on that, see:

7 Lies

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In Daniel’s latest book, he explores 7 lies; commonly held beliefs regarding identity, value, and self-worth:

  • You are what you do
  • You are what you experience
  • You are who you know
  • You are what you know
  • You are what you own
  • You are who you raise
  • You are your past

Believing each of these lies will lead to disfunction, disappointment, emptiness, pain, and regret – Daniel says.

In the book, Daniel is very candid about his own struggles with these lies. His stories are so personal, that they draw you in and not only make for compelling reading material, but they help you understand that these are not just abstract ideas for Daniel, they are things about which he has deep, personal knowledge and experience.

Perhaps most compelling of all is the story of him taking a job at a mega-church in Seoul, South Korea, from which he was later fired. He shows the courage to honestly explore his true motivations for taking the job, and why he struggled so much with getting fired and then struggling to find a job upon returning home to Canada.

Using and Fear

These are issues that I can relate to myself. I recently shared at a pastors conference about a time when I was a new pastor, my wife and I had planted a church in Eger, Hungary – and I realized that I wasn’t just doing ministry and serving people, but I was using ministry and using people as a way to affirm myself and build my own sense of identity and self-worth: that I was a pastor, a church planter, and a missionary. However, at the same time I was motivated by fear, because if my ministry didn’t pan out, then I stood to lose not only my job but my entire identity and sense of self-worth!

For more on this, check out: Identity Issues: Function, Labels, Sin & Jesus – which includes a video in which Mike and I discuss times in our lives when we’ve struggled with matters of identity, function, and labels, and how we have discovered the only true, stable, and fulfilling source of identity and self-worth in Jesus.

You Can’t Just Rid Yourself of Lies, You Must Replace Lies with the Truth

There were points in this book where I wondered, “Okay, Daniel is making a great case for why these things don’t fulfill, but is he going to point us to what will fulfill and satisfy?”

And of course, he did. He perfectly wrapped up the issue in the final chapter of the book, and this quote is a good summary of his point:

There is a sense of freedom in knowing what and who you are not. But ridding yourself of these seven lies won’t fill you – it’ll just empty you. Unless you replace these lies with the truth of who you really are, you’ll just find another set of lies – even stronger and more destructive – to replace these with. (p. 172)

In Conclusion…

Daniel Im’s latest book is relevant and timely. It’s the kind of book I wish I would have read as a young man getting a start on life. I would highly recommend it for young adults.

However, this isn’t only a book for young adults, as no one in the world today is immune to these lies. This is a book for everyone.

Here is the one piece of advice I would give in regard to this book: make sure to read all the way to the end. The book is written as a unified whole, rather than a series of stand-alone chapters; there is one big thought and thesis to this book, and if you stop reading before the end, you will miss it.

I congratulate Daniel on writing this book. I hope it will get into the hands of many people and be used by God to not only set them free from lies, but to find the security and freedom of “being found in Christ.”

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him. (Philippians 3:7-9)

Is the Term “Evangelical” One We Should Embrace or Avoid?

man wearing black crew neck shirt reading book

In a recent post, I reviewed Christian Smith’s book, The Bible Made Impossiblein which he takes aim at “biblicism,” which he claims is particularly prevalent amongst evangelical Christians.

This brings up an important question: What exactly is an “evangelical”?

Popular Usage

Recently a friend from church approached me before service one Sunday morning. He pointed out an article in the New York Times about evangelicalism in America, and asked what exactly an evangelical is, and whether our church was evangelical.

Another friend recently posted online about two Christian leaders who had written a book about their support for a particular political issue, and my friend’s comment was that the divide between evangelicals and Jesus is widening all the time.

Obviously my friend is speaking of evangelicals as if they are a single, united group of people, who for the most part do not only hold certain religious beliefs, but also certain political and social positions.

Again, it begs the question: what exactly is an “evangelical”?

Origin of the Term

The word “evangelical” means “of the gospel” or “about the gospel.” It comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means a proclamation of good news.

See also: The Gospel of Caesar Augustus, & What It Tells Us About the Gospel of Jesus Christ

The gospel, which is the proclamation of Jesus Christ and what He has done in order to save us, redeem us, and reconcile us to God, is the core message of Christianity. Thus, an “evangelical Christian” simply means: a Christian who is about the gospel, or a gospel Christian.

Co-Opting of the Term

Since the gospel is the core message of Christianity, one would assume that all Christians would be people who are about the gospel! Unfortunately, some political groups have attempted to co-opt the term evangelical to give the impression that theologically conservative Christians all agree with particular political, social, and economic positions and support certain political parties.

This has led some Christians to feel that they should abandon the term evangelical, as they feel it is no longer helpful in identifying them because the term may be associated in some people’s minds with certain political positions, thus creating an unnecessary barrier for some in approaching Christianity.

So what is an evangelical?

Defining Evangelicalism

Theologian and historian Mark Noll says: “the groups and individuals making up the postwar evangelical movement unite on little except profession of a high view of scripture and the need for divine assistance in salvation.” [1]

Another definition states that evangelicalism is “a transdenominational movement that has sought to transcend its differences in order to work together toward certain common activities and goals, particularly evangelism, world missions, and ministries of mercy and justice.” [2]

Nathan Hatch explains that evangelicals cannot be spoken of as if they are one united group of people who all share the same core beliefs, nor is there one leader who represents or speaks on behalf of evangelicals as a whole. He states, “In truth, there is no such thing as one evangelicalism. [It is made up of] extremely diverse coalitions dominated by scores of self-appointed and independent-minded religious leaders.” [3]

Thus, for my friend to say that “evangelicals are moving farther away from Jesus every day” is to suppose that certain leaders speak on behalf of a movement which is united in both their theological and political views, which is absolutely not true. Nevertheless, many people obviously hold this opinion, partly because of “self-appointed” leaders who act as if they do speak on behalf of evangelicals as a whole, which is the reason why many Christians are considering whether it would be best to distance themselves from this descriptor.

Not an American Movement

One of the problems with associating the term evangelical with Christians who hold certain political positions is that it fails to recognize that evangelicalism is a worldwide movement, not an American one, and evangelicals around the world hold a wide variety of positions on social and economic issues. Even in the United States, evangelicals are not united in their political views or affiliations.

Should We Embrace It or Avoid It?

Words are only helpful until they are not. Furthermore, the helpfulness of words depends on context, because in different contexts, the same words can be associated with different things. If a word carries a lot of baggage in a particular context, it might be better to find a different word.

For example, in Hungary, where I pastored for several years, the word evangéliumi (literally: of the gospel) was a helpful and positive term which gave people a sense of who we were and what we were about. In England, where I have done my theological education, the term evangelical does not carry heavy political connotations, and is therefore helpful in describing a certain kind of Christian who is active in their faith, takes the Bible seriously, and is engaged socially. John Stott, an Anglican, is remembered in England as the face of the Evangelical Alliance, a group of churches that works together beyond denominational lines to further the gospel.

In the United States some Christians, including myself, have opted for using alternative monikers, such as “Gospel-Centered,” which retains the idea of being focused on the gospel, while not using a term which has come to be associated with many things other than the gospel in American society. As I often say: as a Christian, the only controversy I want to be known for is the controversy of the gospel.