Save the E-Word?

October 24, 2006

Christianity Today has an interesting column entitled “Save the E-Word.” It is a response to previous calls that perhaps the word “evangelical” should be abandoned. (See previous posts on this discussion here, here, and here). Here are a couple of highlights from the CT column:

Several misperceptions are distorting the meaning of the word evangelical, including:

• We are defined in the media by what we are against.
• We are associated, in the public's mind, with extreme fundamentalism.
• We are linked by evangelicalism's critics with the secular political agenda of the hard-right.

... Let’s agree that the word evangelical still works, but not like it did when the pioneers of the neo-evangelical movement adopted it. At that time, it signaled their positive stance for the gospel along with a fresh, non-fundamentalist agenda of cooperation and cultural engagement. If it works today, it must be as a set of ideals and commitments around which to rally rather than as a partisan label.

Because the evangelical movement has doctrinal, behavioral, devotional, and social dimensions, the E-word has always been difficult to define.

... The news media’s relentless focus on controversy makes it difficult to remedy false impressions. But there are steps that evangelicals could take. We should reiterate our genuine respect for people whose beliefs do not give them the kind of Christian hope we have. Second, we should speak with greater clarity and precision about our values and priorities. Third, we should place renewed emphasis on biblical knowledge, personal holiness, and compassionate concern.

It is far more important to keep this movement focused than to rehabilitate a label. We can dream of a day when every evangelical is biblically literate, evangelistic, and engaged in mission. That won't happen until we own the word evangelical with truer commitment and lasting passion to the core purpose of the saving gospel.

This is an important discussion with some good advice given here on what evangelicals can do to positively communicate to the world. As Christians we must be careful about what labels we use and how we present ourselves to others.