The reaction to Mark Galli’s editorial in Christianity Today reveals how polarized the current political climate is in the United States. Some question his motives and others wonder what has taken so long. There are as many loud evangelical voices of dissent as there are of support for Galli’s call for President Trump’s removal from office. The United States is a divided country on every level of society: religious, cultural, racial, economic, and political. Sadly, there is no greater division than what we are seeing occur among those who identify as “evangelicals.”
We are entering the next four days of the Christmas season as an evangelicalism that has lost its compass.
In recent years, the term “evangelical” has undergone a dramatic shift in meaning. Rooted in the Greek word euaggelion, it originally meant a political declaration that was passed from rulers to citizens. During the New Testament period, it took on a specific meaning of the good news proclaimed to all nations that Christ came so that whoever believed He was God would have the right to become His children and receive eternal life (John 1:12, 3:16; Rom 10:9-10). This good news continues to be declared around the world in a global announcement that God is uniting all things in Jesus Christ (Eph 1:9-10). Evangelicals, then, are those who declare this good news to others as a responsibility to join with God on His mission to ensure that every people group on the planet has the opportunity to hear about what He has done to reconcile us to Himself (2 Cor 5:16-20).
In the early to mid 20th century, a new generation of evangelicals attempted to separate the movement from fundamentalist Christianity. Making the gospel message relevant to the culture through intellectual engagement and positive messaging, this new movement became known as “neo-evangelicalism” emphasizing gospel proclamation and setting the stage for prominent pastors, teachers, and evangelists like Billy Graham and John Stott. It was in this period of time that neo-evangelicalism became the most widely accepted and predominant voice of the conservative Christian movement broadly known as “evangelicalism.”
Perhaps beginning with the Reagan presidency, the term began to take on an additional meaning. Rooted in the neo-evangelical ethos, Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority rose as a prominent “evangelical” political voice in the United States. Since that time, the term applied as much to a theological system as a political one. Unfortunately, the media and American culture grasped ahold of the now politically defined “evangelical” and turned it into something it was never intended to be, a sort of pseudo-evangelical. This pseudo-evangelicalism is a socially conservative voting block of people who are mostly white and lean to the right on the political spectrum. They identify as pro-life, pro-guns, and pro-Republican.
This shift in meaning has caused some, ourselves included, to question the value of the term “evangelical” as a moniker for those of us who are passionate for the proclamation of the gospel around the world (Matt 24:14). Furthermore, as the American culture at large and the media continue to propagate their definition of a pseudo-evangelical, the unintended consequence has increased divisions among Christians not only in the United States, but around the world as more people identify as evangelical outside of our country than inside it. The negative impact of pseudo-evangelicalism was recently highlighted at a meeting of evangelical, Coptic, and Orthodox Christians in Egypt as a Palestinian evangelical shared about the persecution she is suffering due to America’s pseudo-evangelicals.
If God is most glorified when more people are worshipping Him (Rev 5:9), how does our political divisiveness help?
We believe there is a first order issue that stands as an elephant in the room, yet it is not being addressed. Perhaps it is a frightening proposition to consider. It certainly will make many Christians uncomfortable no matter if they are evangelical, neo-evangelical, Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or Coptic. In our view, that first order issue is this: Is God being glorified through the events transpiring among Christians in the United States? If God is most glorified when more people are worshipping Him (Rev 5:9), how does our political divisiveness help? We all need to ask ourselves this question on a personal level. In the midst of the division and the vitriolic attacks on brothers and sisters who claim belief in Jesus Christ, how are we glorifying God in our political statements? After all, glorifying God is the chief end of humanity.
We are entering the next four days of the Christmas season as an evangelicalism that has lost its compass. Perhaps it is the end of evangelicalism as we know it. Instead of the angelic proclamation that was first heard by the shepherds in the field, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11), we have become content in declaring an euaggelion of political preference; something foreign to Jesus and the angelic announcement. Shame on us.