"Before you can search for truth, you must be interested in finding it." -Miroslav Volf

Monday, September 3, 2012

What’s an Evangelical? Are You That?

The Saturday before last was my second day of orientation at the GTU. It actually had little to do with introductions to the school, faculty, and programs. We instead spent the day discussing the concept of "service-learning" prior to going out and doing some actual work in the community. I spent several hours in a creek bed, cleaning up garbage and fallen debris that was either hindering the flow of the stream or detracting from its beauty (pardon the implied spiritual metaphor).

There was a very brief conversation that has stuck with me, in which several of us were discussing our similar college experiences at Evangelical schools. At some point a fellow student asked me if I was an Evangelical. I gave him my answer...which provoked a brief discussion about the scope and boundaries and marks of Evangelicalism.

So what does it mean to be an Evangelical Christian? I’m not convinced there’s one definitive answer, as I sense this descriptor means different things to different people in different contexts. Maybe for you it’s a political term, maybe a spiritual term, maybe a negative or positive term, maybe more a personality descriptor than a theological/religious one, or maybe just a redundant phrase, as for you perhaps true Christians, if they are good Christians, are necessarily Evangelical.

I was curious to hear from any of you—you who venture to this blog regularly or have done so for the first time—your response to any (or all) of the following questions:
  • What's an Evangelical Christian (as opposed to any other kind of Christian)?
  • What characterisiticsbeliefs, practicesdo you associate with Evangelicalism?
  • Are you an Evangelical Christian? Why or why not?
  • Are there specific things which you believe or practice that you think indicate you fall into the Evangelical "camp?" Anything that you think indicates you fall outside of the camp?
  • If you don't consider yourself a Christian at all, what do you think of when you think of an Evangelical Christian?
  • What do you find most admirable or praiseworthy about Evangelical Christianity?

I’d love to hear your responses to one or all of the above questions, whether you are Christian or not, Evangelical or not, human or not (non-human responses welcome). Don't go read a Wikipedia article for info...I'm less interested in what such sources say and more intrigued by your perception/opinion of the term. Would love your feedback!

And it probably goes without saying, but...please be as kind as you can. Honest, but kind. :) 


Sara Saxton said...

I think I'm officially outside the Evangelical camp. The best way that I can think of to define my idea of Evangelists is that they are Christians that are not open to interpretation. For them there is only one path that leads to God and if you are not traveling the exact same path in the exact same way that they are, you are lost. I think my path runs parallel to theirs, but I take lots of detours, smell lots of flowers, observe the wildlife, and sometimes prefer to moonwalk up the lane rather than hiking up the path at a steady clip with my eyes on my feet. My husband keeps telling me that I'm not a typical Christian. But why would I want to be a typical anything when God made me unique?

Matt Boswell said...

Wow...really beautiful response, Sara. I hear you implying that Evangelicalism doesn't leave a lot of room for creativity, diversity, and uniqueness in belief.

And, yeah, moonwalking and being an Evangelical are probably mutually exclusive. :)

Matt Boswell said...

From Paul Blankenship (on facebook):

Great, intriguing post. Here's that book I mentioned last week by the Stanford anthropologist: http://www.amazon.com/gp/aw/d/0307264793 . Two features of evangelicalism that I appreciate as an evangelical: the idea that God is deeply personal, and the idea that God is deeply loving (of course, not exclusive to evangelicals, but prominently and experientially at the forefront of the camp).

Matt Boswell said...

From Pat West (on facebook):

Hmmmm...thought provoking. I would say by the common definition an Evangelical would have to be Protestant, and believe that Jesus is who he says he is and not just one of many ways. I don't know if there is much else to it then that. I guess by that definition I am an evangelical. I think a lot of people maybe view an evangelical as someone who is political when it comes to social issues like abortion or same gender marriage. I would consider myself political when it comes to abortion but not so much when it comes to same gender marriage. I don't believe in legislating morality but unborn children do not have a voice so someone needs to speak for them. I think most people would describe an Evangelical as being a part of either a main denomination i.e. Baptist, Lutheran etc. Or perhaps a non-denominational church. It's an interesting endeavor though because I personally would include myself in the Evangelical category if it wasn't for the fact that most Evangelicals seem to believe that things like glossolalia(speaking in tongues), prophecy, and supernatural miracles are more historical than a present tense reality. At least from my own experience with people who would describe themselves as Evangelical that seems to be the case. Ok I've rambled long enough.-Pat

Matt Boswell said...

From Abigail Rine (on Facebook):

Some things that come to mind... Emphasis on accessing God/Truth primarily through the Bible (and typically more literal and face value readings of the Bible); emphasis on the necessity of a personal conversion experience; emphasis on faith as propositional; emphasis on certainty and absolutes (as opposed to ambiguity and mystery); tends to see itself as ahistorical, or existing beyond tradition or denominations, "non-denominational," etc. I do think, though, that modern evangelicalism is, as it ages, becoming more complex and nuanced -- so this more reflects the "fungelicalism" (fundamentalist evangelicalism) I grew up with, rather than, say, the evangelicalism I encounter regularly at GFU.