Why “Evangelical” is a Stupid Name
If you’re part of my group, you know what “Evangelical” means. It means that you are like me. I am like you. We are like each other. We “get” each other.
Together, we Evangelicals understand the most important things that matter about being a Christian:
- We attempt to submit to Jesus as Lord in everything.
- We believe that being a Christian requires a personal decision.
- We allow the Bible to critique us rather than us critiquing the Bible.
- We participate in God’s mission to revive our world that has been deadened by sin.
- We look to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus as the only source of power for true change.
The problem is that when I say, “I am an Evangelical,” the only people who know what that means are other Evangelicals. Recent surveys have demonstrated that most people have no clue what an Evangelical is. When pressed to guess, people say things like:
“I literally have no idea.”
“They are any Christians who proselytize.”
“They are Christians who are really committed.”
“They cram their beliefs down other people’s throats.”
“They are closed-minded and think they have all the answers.”
The time has come to abandon the name altogether.
What is the alternative? I am considering self-identifying as a Fundamentalist. *Gasp*
“Oh no!” all the Evangelicals cry in horror, “You mustn’t!”
The reason is because there are still churches that identify as Fundamentalist, and we Evangelicals relate to them sort of like a weird creepy aunt – you know you can’t disown her because she’s family, but you don’t really want to hang around her at the family reunion.
Fundamentalists teach that rock music is from the devil. They read from the King James only. The women wear only skirts or dresses. They have all completely withdrawn from society into their own little ghetto. Evangelicals HATE to be associated with these people.
“We are not like them!” we scream.
Oh shut up and get over it.
To the wider culture, a Fundamentalist is someone who lets their beliefs be dictated by their particular holy book. Guess what. We Evangelicals do let our beliefs be dictated by our particular holy book. It’s time we recognized that everything that the rest of society believes about Fundamentalists is also true of us. And all the little nuances we have of why we are not Fundamentalists are insignificant to the rest of society.
On the other hand, compare this to society’s view of an Evangelical. Either people have no idea what you believe, or they think “evangelism” in their minds – which they think must come from the Greek word that means, “being an intolerant jerk.”
Every time I have identified myself as an Evangelical to someone who is “outside” of my Evangelical circle, I have regretted it. I assumed that people knew what I meant and that their attitude towards my faith would be neutral-to-positive.
Instead I found that my description only obscured what I actually believed, and their attitude was actually neutral-to-negative.
Now imagine instead if I just came right out and said, “I’m a Fundamentalist.” It’s sort of like saying, “I’m an intolerant jerk,” since that’s pretty much how we all think about Fundamentalists (myself included). But I will have actually given my hearer a pretty accurate indication of what I actually believe – not the part about intolerance, but the part about my submission to the Bible. Plus I won’t be oblivious to the neutral-to-negative attitude I am likely to receive.
In fact, I strongly suspect that I might just end up with the neutral-to-positive attitude I had originally hoped for. Here’s the reason:
If I asked someone what kind of Christian they were, and they answered with a friendly smile, “I’m an intolerant jerk,” I would be stunned by their candor and impressed by their conviction despite the negative implications. And part of me loves the counter-cultural aspect of cutting against the norm. So even if that is what “Fundamentalist” means to the culture around us, I think it can still work in our favor.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s a dumb idea. But the more I think about it, the more I like it. What do you think?