Is the Label ‘Evangelical’ Worth Keeping?


– [Kevin DeYoung] I want to ask you guys a
question about a term. Before we get to the actual question, I want to ask a
different question. Russ, are you an evangelical Christian? – [Russ Moore] Well, it depends
on who’s asking me the question. What I want to know is what does
someone mean when he or she says evangelical? In the same way, I’ve had
people say, “Are you a fundamentalist?” before, and it depends on what
they think of as fundamentalist. So, if they’re thinking of it
in the J. Gresham Machen,The Fundamentals of the Faith,
well, yes. Most people, though, have some other association when they say
that. And they mean a whole list of potential things. I think the same thing
is true in almost every context. I would say, “Yes.” But I would also want
to say, “What do you mean when you say evangelical?” And sometimes people have a
really skewed sort of idea of what an evangelical is. So, you have to then
define what a Christian is, define what the gospel is… – That’s right. – …define what evangelical is so… – Normally, yes. – Normally, yes. But you can
kind of tell whether you need to have more conversation. – Mika, are you an evangelical
Christian? Do you use that term? – [Mika Edmondson] Okay. Great question.
So, I’m actually, completely, I think the reverse of Dr. Moore. Normally, no.
But it’s occasionally, yes. Normally, I don’t refer to myself as an evangelical.
I refer to myself as a Presbyterian and in that… – There ain’t nothing wrong with that. – Ain’t nothing wrong with that. – Amen. – Normally, I refer to myself as a
Presbyterian. And in so far as people are referring to sort of the historic sense
of folks that come out of the protestant reformation, then I identify as an
evangelical in that historic sense. But you know, since then there have been
some political identifications with evangelicalism that would not necessarily
apply to me because I come out of the African-American church tradition.
So, that’s how I would answer that. – So, we’re talking about
is the term evangelical worth using, worth keeping. So I want to follow up on
that. So, in African-American tradition, typically would… would those pastors,
those churches, not have used that term, or is it just more recently that it’s
taken on so much baggage, that it doesn’t seem helpful? – I don’t think they would’ve
thought of themselves that way. I think they would’ve thought of
themselves as Bible believers or Christians or whatever particular
denomination they were associated with. That term itself, I don’t
think it’s very widely used amongst African-American
Christians. So, you know… – Do you…And I think that’s true
sort of across the board. Usually, if someone asks me the evangelical
question, it’s almost always a secular journalist or academic or something else.
Most people in real life would typically say, “I’m a Christian.
I belong to whatever church,” and then kind of talk about their
experience, and what it is that they believe. But not many people, in my
experience, actually use that term, at least at the beginning. – So, Russ, as you interact with secular
people in Washington and all sorts of folks and… What are the sort of
misunderstandings that lead you to feel like, “I really need to explain this” or
“I’m not sure I want to own the category”? – Well, I think there are a couple of
things. One of them is, I think, sometimes when people on the outside think of
evangelical, they think of whatever TV evangelist that they happen to
be familiar with. So sometimes, people haven’t really even thought about
evangelicalism since the evangelist scandals of the ’80s I guess, or the
aftermath of that. So, that’s part of it, or they think of some health and wealth
prosperity gospel sort of preacher, and I think that’s actually more true
overseas. When someone talks about evangelicalism, I really have to come in
and define out that. But the majority of the time, it’s a political identity first.
And so, what people mean by that is… and there are many journalists who just
assume that what evangelicals do all day is wait for the Iowa
caucuses every four years. And you kind of say most
evangelical Christians actually, that part of their lives, wherever they
are in the political spectrum, is a small part of who they are and
there’s a much bigger picture. – Yeah. It does have a lot to do with our
context, as in our background. I mean, growing up in a mainline
denomination, I think I often used that term because it was sort of set us apart. We’re the good guys. We’re the
people who believe in the Bible, who believe Jesus is the only way.
And so I find my friends by are you an evangelical. But, yeah. If you’re in a
different context, it means something different. So Mika, what advice
would you give to a pastor who’s watching this? It could be any church
member, but think of a pastor who’s saying, “Should I really… Should I
retain this title? Should I refer to my church that way, evangelical?” And would
your counsel be different depending on white, black, Asian? I mean, what
sort of counsel would you give? – Great question. I think that as Dr.
Moore here mentioned earlier, I think we want to use that word and
qualify it, right? So, we want to say… I think that you can use the
term, and so far you really point out the theological distinctives of what it
means to be an evangelical, right? So, I think it’s helpful in that sense,
even amongst the African-Americans, if you were to say, “What I mean
by this term is this, this, and this.” I think there are many people that would
say, “Oh, well, if that’s the case then I’m an evangelical as well.” But often times again, it’s
often associated with its political identification now. And so, you
know, I mean, it just…that’s just the way it is with language, right? Language,
depending on the context that you use it, it takes on sorts of different
shades of meaning, and you know, it could be useful. It could do more
harm than good, you know? If you come into a situation in which
people think of evangelicalism primarily in terms of the political identity, then
you may not want to use that at all. Honestly, when I think, in some
ways, it’s sort of similar to the term Calvinist, right? Depending on where
you go, there are some folks that think, “I don’t want that,”
you know? Or even reformed, there’s some folks that are, “That
makes me feel uncomfortable.” And so in those circumstances,
I don’t lead with that, you know, because the term itself does
more harm than good. – Well, and I think in both of those
cases, it largely depends on how much somebody knows about those terms. And through the more that they do, the
more likely I would be to use short-hand, and say I’m an evangelical or Calvinist
or whatever. But if people don’t, they can just be importing all sorts of
ideas that you don’t have. – It’s not worth dying on some of those
hills with the labels that may have important history and important identity.
But really, the question is does the term in this context help me to promote
and defend the evangel? – Absolutely. – And a lot of the times what that
requires is kind of laying out what we believe. We believe the Bible is
completely true. We believe that people have to be born again, the whole list of
what it means to be gospel Christians. And you can do that
really quickly with someone, even when you’re using short-hand. – So, however we sort this out, and people
may, depending on their context, have to do it differently, but the key is,
let’s make sure in whatever labels we’re using, or using for others, that we’re
gospel people, and we’re getting the gospel out and our labels are serving to
that end, not detracting from it. – Absolutely.

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One thought on “Is the Label ‘Evangelical’ Worth Keeping?

  1. This is really rich!  Evangelicals are a stink because they are known for being anti-gay, anti-muslim, anti-immigrant, and anti-poor. So here is Kevin DeYoung who has written the most anti-gay 'bible' trashing gay people along with gay marriage, along with a book on the social gospel which declares is 'unbiblical'.  Both books have been used as culture war bombs for years.  And now he wonders if the term 'evangelical' is still 'helpful'.  What a hypocrite.  And here is trying to convince us that the political action of ugly evangelicals is only a small part of who their 'identity', who they really are.  The rest of the time, well they are really decent and sweet Christians.  Earth to Kevin, – when you are on the receiving end of ugly political and bigoted attacks by people like you, you really don't give a shit about what you do on your spare time.  All we see is a hate filled bigot using junk 'research' to try to justify that our lives are so much cheaper than yours, and oh yes, we are a threat, a real fucking threat to you and your 'children'.

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