Skip to content ↓

Should We Abandon “Evangelical?”

Gospel People

The word evangelical seems to have fallen out of favor, and perhaps for reasons that are understandable. Where the word once had a distinct Christian meaning, in recent years it has come to be conflated with politics as much as religion, with civil issues as much as spiritual. Many wonder whether the term is worth salvaging or if we should simply move on. Many wonder whether Christians should still consider themselves evangelical or whether it would better serve Christ’s cause to find a new self-description.

Michael Reeves has wondered this as well and has written Gospel People: A Call for Evangelical Integrity to address the issue. “This is a book about being people of the gospel,” he says. “In other words, this is a book about what it means to be evangelical. I believe that there is a biblical case to be made for the importance and the goodness of being evangelical.” This is not to say that he will defend everything that calls itself evangelical since “across the world, swathes have come to self-identify as evangelical without holding to classic evangelical beliefs. And then there is the problem of how being ‘evangelical’ has become associated with particular cultures, with politics, or with race.”

He believes that modern-day evangelicalism is facing a crisis of integrity in which many of those who consider themselves evangelicals “are being defined—and even defining themselves—by agendas other than the gospel.” The only solution is to go back to the foundations upon which evangelicalism was founded, “the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” To be people of the gospel, we must begin with the gospel. Evangelicals, after all, are people of the gospel or, as the title of the book says, gospel people. “Evangelicalism, then, must be defined theologically. To be evangelical means to act, not out of cultural or political leanings, but out of theological, biblical convictions.”

So what are these theological, biblical convictions? Reeves traces how the Apostle Paul defines the gospel and says that any teaching that will be consistent with his must be “Trinitarian, Scripture-based, Christ-centered, and Spirit-renewed.” He condenses this down to three r’s: revelation, redemption, and regeneration. Thus at the heart of true evangelicalism are three essential heads of doctrine:

  • The Father’s revelation in the Bible
  • The Son’s redemption in the gospel
  • The Spirit’s regeneration of our hearts

These headings serve as a kind of “table of contents” for the book, with each of them receiving a chapter-length treatment. Having examined each closely, Reeves writes about the importance the Bible places on being gospel people. When we understand this, we’re equipped to know that “with the gospel as our anchor, evangelicals are able to see that not every issue is a gospel issue, and not every error (or departure from our view or practice) is a soul-killing heresy. Some doctrines are more essential and foundational than others.” This means that evangelicals ought to define themselves by the most central, gospel-related issues, not the peripheral ones as is too often the case.

The final chapter is a call for gospel integrity—for those who call themselves evangelical to be evangelical indeed. To display such integrity we will need to examine ourselves and be willing to critique ourselves. Yet we can and must do this. “It runs against the very grain of the gospel we cherish for us to indulge in self-justification. Instead, the evangelical way is not to condone or to flee but to repent and to reform. For evangelicalism, being a gospel movement, is and always has been a renewal movement: we seek to renew ourselves and the church around the gospel (and never vice versa). It is a reformation movement, about adhering ever closer to the gospel in thought, word, and deed. On that reformation hangs the future of evangelicalism.” Only when we have great clarity on the gospel will we unite around the gospel and eagerly promote and defend it.

In the end, Reeves determines that evangelical is too good a word to lose and too significant a term to abandon. Thus it falls to us to embrace it and then ensure we are living worthy of it. “The word evangelical has centuries of pedigree for a good reason. It may have lost some of its value in some places, but that can be regained through reinvestment. And where else can we people of the gospel go? There really is no acceptable and viable alternative with anything like the historical weight or the descriptive simplicity.”

I tend to agree with Reeves that evangelical is a term worth embracing rather than abandoning for, as he says, there is simply no great alternative. There is no other word that has the historical pedigree and the depth of meaning. Hence, it falls to us to continue to use it and, even more importantly, to continue to ensure we are living as people of the gospel. There is lots to commend in Gospel People and it’s a joy to recommend it to you.

  • The Night Is Far Gone

    The Night Is Far Gone

    There are few things in life more shameful than sleeping when you ought to be working, or slacking off when you ought to be diligent. When your calling is to be active, it is inappropriate and even sinful to remain passive. This is especially true when it comes to contexts that are of the highest…

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    A La Carte (April 15)

    A La Carte: Personal reflections on the 2024 eclipse / New earth books / 7 questions that teens need to answer / Was there really no death before the fall? / How to be humble instead of looking humble / Kindle deals / and more.

  • Exactly the Purpose God Intended

    Exactly the Purpose God Intended

    General revelation serves exactly the purpose God intended for it—it reveals his power and divine nature. But, its message, while important, is insufficient—insufficient by design. Though general revelation tells us about the existence of God, it does not tell us about how to be reconciled to God.

  • A La Carte Collection cover image

    Weekend A La Carte (April 13)

    A La Carte: The pain of being single; the love that holds me fast / The Christian response to cultural catastrophe / The reduction of public Bible reading / All Things (a new song) / Why should I go to church? / and more.

  • Free Stuff Fridays (Moody Publishers)

    This giveaway is sponsored by Moody Publishers, who also sponsored the blog last week with Overflowing Mercies. Attention all Bible scholars, believers in the power of faith, and lovers of the Word! Learn about God’s divine mercy and compassion with our exclusive Bible Study Giveaway. Win the ultimate bible study library including Overflowing Mercies by…

  • How Should We Then Die

    How Should We Then Die?

    Euthanasia makes a lot of sense. At least in our culture at this time, it makes intuitive sense that those who are ill without hope for a cure or those who are in pain without likelihood of relief ought to be able to choose to end their own lives. Our culture assumes there are few…