In some moderate to progressive denominations it is all about the “E” word. Either these denominations vilify certain “E” words and seek to eliminate them from the proactive movement of the denomination, or they are embrace more deeply certain “E” words that speak to their core values, but really do not help them move forward.
In this post I want to focus on two vilified and eliminated “E” words. These words are “evangelism” and “evangelical”. Closely related, these words come from the root word “evangel”.
Let’s cut through a lot of history and details for the sake of this post and acknowledge when we talk about the word “evangel” we talk about the Good News at the heart of Christianity. In Christian church history “evangel” is interpreted as gospel. Even at some point Godspell–remember the musical? “Evangel” is about the Good News of great joy that shall be for all people–Jesus the Christ.
To engage in “evangelism” is to proactively express the Good News. That’s an extremely warm and faithful activity for those who call themselves Christians or followers of Jesus the Christ. It is not something that ought to be diminished, marginalized, or eliminated. It is a very powerful and positive “E” word.
Perhaps it is a case of the proverbial “throwing the baby out with the wash water.” Often moderate to progressive Christians are turned off by the aggressive methods of conservatives who engage in what a friend of mine calls “confrontational evangelism.” The position taken is we do not want to be like them.
Perhaps it is an exclusively moderate to progressive feeling about those called conservative to fundamentalist. They see “confrontational evangelism” as a boxed or bounded Christianity rather than a centered Christianity that expresses itself as Good News for all people.
Whatever the case, moderates to progressives often recoil from any mention of the word “evangelism” and as a result lose the joy of telling the Good News. In some moderate to progressive circles the word “evangelism” is eliminated or diluted. In one denominational family it is reported the prevailing understanding of “evangelism” is to reactivate inactive church members. This is a case in missing the point.
With “evangelism” effectively eliminated, some denominational movements now turn to the word “evangelical” In doing so they at minimum confuse the difference between lower case “e” evangelicalism and upper case “E” Evangelicalism. Lower case “evangelicalism” is the movement of Good News Christians. Upper case Evangelicalism is a positional—even political—understanding of evangelicals who are conservative to fundamentalist.
Do moderates to progressives ignore that many congregations in North America can thank the evangelical movements of the 1700s forward for bringing hundreds of thousands Christian faith communities into existence by creating an expectation of sharing the Good News and starting new congregations?
Certainly they do not wish congregations who nurtured their Christian faith had never come into existence. Certainly they are not sorry there were people who unapologetically shared the Good News over generations of time. So, what is it?
Perhaps it is the post-Watergate [June 17, 1972] syndrome of the attack on leadership not leading in the manner moderates to progressive think they ought to, coupled with the rise of political involvement by conservative to fundamentalist leaders who co-opt the word “evangelical”.
Many people–including me–thought it was great when Jimmy Carter declared himself to be “born again”. Yet long-term he is primarily embraced by moderates to progressives as conservatives to fundamentalists declared him not their kind of evangelical.
Therefore, since moderates to progressives do not like the people who are the new “Evangelicals”, they intentionally or unintentionally de-emphasize, marginalize, or eliminate the word “evangelical”.
Is it a type of cultural and religious prejudice or myopia on the part of moderates to progressives? Are they no longer evangelicals themselves–people of the Good News of Jesus the Christ? What do you think is going on here?