JP Carter of Evangelical Outpost and others (here, here, and here) have written a great deal about Evangelicals. In fact, I've challenged JP to a duel of sorts over who is the most evangelical Evangelical. We're going to face off then take twenty paces and fire, but in reality it's just a interesting way to address the question, What does it mean to be an Evangelical? (Skip through to the end if you're here to see my first volley at JP.)
The term Evangelical is frequently bandied about, but hardly ever fully understood. One of the hallmarks of being an Evangelical is engagement with the secular world, yet that doesn't seem to have lent itself to being better defined in the popular culture. Evangelicalism is an outgrowth of the Protestant Reformation which itself was a protest against Catholicism. It is rooted in the belief that the proclamation of the Gospel is the primary job of the Christian. It further relies on the authority of Scriptures as being inerrant in the original autographs and the only safe and sufficient guide to faith and practice. However, Evangelicals, unlike their Fundamentalist brethren believe that the best way to proclaim the gospel is by involvement with the problems of the secular world and it's institutions. I suppose you could call him a "proto-Evangelical", but William Wilberforce exemplifies the type of involvement that Evangelicals are supposed to have.
William Wilberforce lived during the latter part of the 18th century in England. He was a rising star in parliament as well as an eloquent and powerful speaker. Although he regularly attended church and viewed himself as a "good person", it wasn't until he make a commitment to Christ that he discovered his true cause in life. When he made a commitment to Christ he thought about giving up politics. It's reported that he met with one of the most radical Christians of his day, John Newton, and asked for his advice.
Newton warned Wilberforce of forsaking his old friendships and becoming too involved in religious activities. He encouraged him to stay in politics feeling that God had placed him in a position in the government so that he could advocate for a Christian worldview.
Wilberforce, in October of 1787, confronted the slave trade and the general state of immorality of the culture at his time. In 1789 he introdcued the first bill to the House of Commons that called for banning the slave trade. It was soundly defeated, but Wilberforce kept introducing bills that would ban the slave trade for the next eighteen years. In January of 1807, parliament finally voted to ban the slave trade. The bill for abolishing slavery throughout all of the British territories was passed on July 29th, 1883. Just three days before his death.
Wilberforce exemplifies the type of activism balanced by firm doctrine that evangelicals are supposed to demonstrate.
Billy Graham is probably the most famous Evangelical. Over the years he has met with Presidents of both parties and other powerful people. During the cold war, he was criticized for his willingness to go behind the iron curtain and proclaim the gospel. According to the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, he has preached to over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. Billy Graham proclaims the gospel, not in churches, but in sports stadiums and in front of government leaders around the world.
There are other evangelicals who have successfully reached out to the secular world while also maintaining sound doctrine. Among them are Jack Kemp, Chuck Colson, and James Dobson. They share the common goal of reaching the world through involvement with it not separation from it.
Some writers insist that Evangelicals maintain a vast array of doctrines and are therefore difficult to define. (I'll address that more in another post.) However, the doctrinal statement on Billy Graham's website seems to reflect mainstream Evangelical doctrine the best.
The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association believes:
The Bible to be the infallible Word of God, that it is His holy and inspired Word, and that it is of supreme and final authority. In one God, eternally existing in three persons -- Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary. He led a sinless life, took on Himself all our sins, died and rose again, and is seated at the right hand of the Father as our mediator and advocate. That all men everywhere are lost and face the judgment of God, and need to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ through His shed blood on the cross. That Christ rose from the dead and is coming soon. In holy Christian living, and that we must have concern for the hurts and social needs of our fellowmen. We must dedicate ourselves anew to the service of our Lord and to His authority over our lives. In using every modern means of communication available to us to spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ throughout the world. [Source]
The Evangelical Free Church of America defines itself similarly:
The Evangelical Free Church of America is an association of some 1,300 autonomous churches united by a mutual commitment to serve our Lord Jesus Christ with the guidance of the Holy Spirit and obedience to the Word of God. We are committed to cooperate with one another in ministry and fellowship as we seek to fulfill the Great Commission which Christ has entrusted to His Church. The growing ministry of the EFCA currently extends to some 45 countries of the world. The term Evangelical refers to our commitment to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the authority of Scriptures as being inerrant in the original autographs and the only safe and sufficient guide to faith and practice.
In a recent issue of The Weekly Standard, the impact of President Bush's faith is explored. Regardless of whether you agree with his political views, it's difficult not to acknowledge the numerous statements he has made with regard to how his religious views have influenced key policy decisions. In this sense, Bush is firmly in the camp of those who would describe themselves as Evangelical.
"Bush has not embraced the terms 'born-again' or 'evangelical' to describe his faith, though he has said he wouldn't reject the appellations, either. His faith appears to be what theologically conservative Christians generally believe, and he expresses his beliefs in a straightforward manner. [Source]
Evangelicalism cannot be understood unless it is in light of the Great Commission, "Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel." One of the great hallmarks of Evangelicalism is the "into all the world" part. In the modern day, there are churches and denominations with the word "evangelical" in their name. However, they are evangelical in name only. Typically they "go into all the world" but they don't necessarily preach "the Gospel". I'll save that for a future post.
JP Carter's education: It doesn't say on his website but he did get a BS in Liberal Studies. (Sounds a little fishy to me.)
JD Mays' graduate degree is from: Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
JP Carter was raised as a Catholic.
JD Mays was raised and confirmed in the Evangelical Free Church of America
JP Carter's blog, Evangelical Outpost contains no links to an organization run by one of the most well-known evangelicals, Chuck Colson.
JD Mays' blog proudly displays a link to Churck Colson's organization.
JP Carter's blog contains Evangelical in the term, therefore no pagan in their right mind would dare come to his site. (or at least a lot of them wouldn't)
JD Mays' blog makes references to the Army which alludes to some sort of violence and most assuredly attracts scoundrels from all over the blogosphere.