Many years ago my mother told me about a trip she took with a group of people to attend a national denominational training event. If you knew my mother, you would know she could hardly tell it without laughing.
The event was far enough away that they had to spend the night to get there. The driver told everyone to be ready and in his car the second morning at a certain time. They had just enough time to make it for the start of the event.
Ten minutes after the deadline, the three passengers were in the car, but the driver was not. As the passengers tried to figure out what might be going on, my mother said the last time she saw him, he was in her room helping her with her luggage.
My mother got out of the car, and went to her room. The door was slightly open. When she went in she saw no one but heard voices coming from the bathroom.
When she got to the bathroom she saw the housekeeper leaning back over the commode with her eyes open wide, and a very scared look on her face. She was repeatedly saying “Yes, sir” to everything the other person was saying to her.
The other person was the driver. He had out his four spiritual laws booklet, and was confronting her about her need to be saved. His normal mode was as a confrontational evangelist. He was also known as a highly politically person who wanted to make sure the laws of the land and the doctrinal positions of his denomination conformed to his theology.
He was a big “E” Evangelical for sure. Yes, as good as he was in many ways, he did not understand the small “e” evangelical role that emphasizes the warmth of the Good News, the gospel, the kerygma, the unconditional love of Jesus Christ as a sacred trust that includes both the Great Commission and the Great Commandment. He wanted to save people from something rather than help them be reconciled to our Triune God.
It is the big “E” Evangelical about whom the moderate and progressive Protestants continually say, “We are not them.” I understand and appreciate that position. I even agree with it. I just wish some moderates and progressives did not spend so much time defining themselves by what they are not.
To call on an overused cliché, I suspect too many moderates and progressives are “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” They are choosing to downplay and perhaps even to ignore small “e” evangelical, which means they are at times leaving out the best thing we have to offer as Christians — Good News.
As such they create an unbalanced Christianity. Balanced Christianity is able to articulate and act on the four “Goods.” These are Good Faith, Good Community, Good Works and Good News. Any movement or organization of civil people can have Good Community and Good Works. Nothing about these two demands the presence of Christianity.
Unique to Christianity are two things. One is our Good Faith in the worship of the Triune God. The other is the Good News we share about a reconciliation of individuals with the Triune God, and a life of unconditional love as best exemplified by the living Word of God.
As a moderate Baptist, I choose not to give away the small “e” evangelical word, or a balanced Christianity that affirms belief and action surrounding all four “Goods.” I believe too strongly in what a deep, balanced Christianity can do to mold a fully devoted follower of Christ, and congregations which are models of a Christ-centered, faith-based community. And in doing so, the small “e” evangelical word works well for me.
I gladly give away the big “E” Evangelical word to those who seem to speak more about judgment than grace, more about the written word of God rather than the living Word of God, and more about creating a theocracy with their form of American civil religion than a country of religious liberty.
They can have that label if it still works for them. If you have read the latest book by Robert P. Jones titled The End of White Christian America, you will see the big “E” Evangelicals are increasingly marginalized from the political scene. The big “E” word may not work much longer.
As for me, I will hold on to the small “e” word of evangelical as meaning the Good News within the constellation of the four “Goods.” I speak them with delight, without hesitation, and knowing that some people will still get the small “e” and the big “E” confused.