Home > Evangelicals, Fundamentalism > Why “Evangelical” is a Stupid Name

Why “Evangelical” is a Stupid Name

I am an EvangelicalI am an Evangelical. With a capital E. We Evangelicals are the group that the media refers to as “the Evangelical voting bloc.”

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!”

Why not?

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 They have all completely withdrawn from society into their own little ghetto.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?

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  1. September 14, 2012 at 3:15 am

    I hear what you are saying, and being sensitive to those “outside” is worthy. But why not simply “Christian”? This is the only label that really makes sense in the UK, and in America, with my British accent, I can simply say that “American labels don’t mean the same thing for us, so best think of me as Christian”!

  2. September 14, 2012 at 9:32 am

    I take your point about labels meaning something different outside America. And to an American’s ears, anything you say sounds twice as intelligent if you say it with a British accent. I may just end up coming down with you as being “simply Christian.” (Hmm. That might make a good book title.) But from the very beginnings of the faith Christians have felt to need to clarify what kind of Christian – orthodox rather than heretical, catholic rather than gnostic, etc.
    In one of my classes Kevin Vanhoozer said, “I try to avoid labels because once people have labeled you they can marginalize you.” I am concerned that such a stance requires a level of discipline to refrain from answering controversial questions with black/white or yes/no answers. I’m not sure I have that much discipline. On the other hand, I’m not sure I actually have black/white or yes/no answers to the questions anyway. So maybe it’s all good.

  3. September 14, 2012 at 6:45 pm

    “But from the very beginnings of the faith Christians have felt to need to clarify what kind of Christian”

    True enough.

    What about “non-whackjob-Christian”…?

    • September 17, 2012 at 11:01 pm

      Ooo I like it. The only problem is I have this thing against telling lies.

  4. September 14, 2012 at 10:08 pm

    Hello. fantastic job. I did not anticipate this. This is a fantastic story. Thanks!

  5. September 21, 2012 at 3:17 am

    rtjones :
    Ooo I like it. The only problem is I have this thing against telling lies.

    Ha!

  6. September 21, 2014 at 10:38 pm

    Evangelical is like Reformed…its a code-word for Calvinist. That’s how it started anyway. Calvinists have to create these ciphers every now and then by which they can identify themselves to fellow Calvinists as a Calvinist without other groups figuring out what they mean. The trouble is, at some point, if the new name gets “cool” then other groups begin to adopt it…or people figure out what it means, or both. Then its time to create a new cipher.

    • September 22, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Well, I know a lot of self-identified Evangelicals who have strong beliefs against Calvinism. For instance, the spiritual heirs of Charles Finney are Evangelicals but are anything but Calvinists, who often accuse them of heresy!

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