All too many of the journalists and reporters, who make up the familiar newspapers of our nation, still fail to ‘get it.’ They persist in using the term evangelical to describe a breed of (usually) negative and conservative, and ostensibly Christian, political activists, which totally misuses and misunderstands the word. I’ve sung this song before on this Blog, but it needs to be revisited.

The followers of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, in the first century, set about to commit to writing the record of Jesus’ life and teachings. Four different associates and eye-witnesses of those events and teachings adopted the word that Jesus, himself, had used in heralding his message: “Jesus came into Galilee proclaiming the gospel (i.e., the evangel, or ‘thrilling announcement’) of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand …’” Jesus used the common Greek word euangellion, which pertains to a thrilling announcement of something wonderful which had taken place, or was taking place, like, a military victory, or a new king, or some wonderful event. And so, Jesus’ follower entitled their accounts of his life and teachings as gospels/evangels.

OK, now for the unpacking of that. Jesus’ evangel was radically counter-cultural. It was addresses to the outcasts, and marginalized, and hopeless, and guilt-ridden of humankind. It also spoke to the deepest un-met needs of humankind. It was designated, by one apostle, as the gospel/evangel of peace. It addressed Jesus’ work of reconciling guilty humankind to God, and assuring them of his love. It was a message of hope. It was also a transforming message. It came with healing, it came with the promise that Jesus’ own divine life would inhabit those who embraced him as God’s Son, and God’s revelation to the meaning of life and of this world. It was thrilling beyond words. It brought hope. And … its ethical teachings throbbed with thrilling implications.

Now note: It was anything but a message of a dour, conservative, self-serving political agenda (as too many  journalists employ it). Quite the opposite: It called for an ethical agenda that was willing to suffer for the cause of justice, that was merciful, that welcomed strangers, that cared for the sick, and that demonstrated the love of God in such unmistakable lives that all who observed, or lived around them, would know that they were the followers of Jesus—the radical incarnation of the life and teachings of Jesus.

In terms of the political tensions in this present scene in these United States, the agenda of those who are truly evangelical in their Christian lives, would (to use an understatement) make Bernie Sanders look conservative. The teachings of Jesus are principled and responsible (in that sense: conservative), but in terms of the welfare of humankind, the teachings of Jesus reflect an unmistakable social agenda. Check it out.

Jesus preached to those on the margins. He denounced the rich is drastic terms. He was embraced by those of no special account: the weak, the foolish, those with no pedigree, those who were irreligious. Those who have practiced and incarnated his true evangel, over the centuries since, were a culture creating force with all kinds of humanitarian ministries.

To the totally misunderstood use of the word ‘evangelical’ … my response is: Who would ever want to be an ‘evangelical’ if it was that breed of protective, negative, conservative folk who are anything but Christ’s agents of faith and hope and love? No! By Jesus’ use of the word, his evangelical followers are those who so incarnate his teachings in their daily lives that men and women will see their good works and glorify God. Thrilling news!

One hopes that the journalists will wake up to this glaring error in their total misuse of such a beautiful word.

If you find these Blogs helpful, pass the word along. Thanks. And give me some feedback from time to time.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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