Should We Stop Using the 'E' Word

October 22, 2007

In previous posts I have dealt with discussions about whether or not we should keep using the word "evangelical" to describe ourselves (see posts here, here, here, and here). Often in these discussions the term is called "the 'e' word." Ron Sider, the founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, has a good column in the current issue of Prism that deals with this issue. It is entitled "Should We Stop Using the 'E' Word?" He offers reaons why he still uses the term despite scandals and politics. Here are a few highlights:

First, "evangelical" is a good biblical word, from the Greek word for "gospel." Evangelicals are people committed to Jesus' gospel and passionately eager to share it with all who have never heard. ... Using the word "evangelical" emphasizes this commitment to evangelism.

Second, ESA has always sought to ground all it does in historic Christian orthodoxy. There are people around who call themselves Christians who do not believe in the deity of Christ, his atoning death, and his bodily resurrection. ... We need some label to distinguish theologically orthodox Christians from theologically liberal Christians.

Third, ESA has always sought to ground all our work in the Bible. We seek a biblical balance of evangelism and social action and a biblically balanced political agenda. ... Biblical revelation has been the final authority for what ESA--and all evangelicals--think and do.

Fourth, historically, it has been the evangelical world that has offered some of the best holistic models that ESA has tried to follow. John Wesley, the great evangelist and leader of the evangelical revival in the 18th century, condemned social evils, including slavery, and called for social holiness. ... In the United States, Charles Finney, the Billy Graham of the middle of the 19th century, was one of the leading crusaders against slavery. Oberlin College--where Finney taught--was a leader in combating slavery and promoting evangelical feminism.

Using the word "evangelical" identifies us with and anchors us in this long heritage of faithful engagement in both evangelism and social transformation.

Fifth, I refuse to give up a very good word to people like Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell.

Finally, now is no time to abandon the label, because we are actually winning the debate! Virtually all evangelical leaders today agree with what ESA has championed for decades--namely, that a biblical understanding of mission must include both evangelism and social action.

... People with an ESA vision should use it gladly, even as we insist it does not mean the narrow, nasty, unfaithful things that some people think it means. By even more vigorously promoting a biblically grounded, holistic vision, we will help both Christians and secular people understand that "evangelical" is a very good word with which to identify.
He makes a lot of excellent points! It would be great if the word "evangelical" could be saved from the stain it has received in recent years from scandals and politics.