It would be hilarious, if not downright ridiculous, were it not such a tragic distortion. What I’m leading up to is the misappropriation of the designation of the description ‘evangelical’ by a segment of political conservatives to give some legitimacy to their cause. The word ‘evangel’ is the same as its English translation ‘gospel’. It refers to the the thrilling news of life and teachings of Jesus Christ, and his inauguration of God’s new creation. And, … boy! Is it ever radical stuff? It is obvious that these folks who use the desination of ‘evangelical, have never read the ‘evangel’ or they would not take the positions politically that they do.

I’m referring especially to their total rejection of the platform of one candidate because he is a ‘democratic socialist’. Back to my initial point: the teachings of Jesus make socialism seem mild. Jesus inaugurated his ministry with the announcement that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah who would proclaim good news to the poor, liberty to the unjustly imprisoned, recovery to the blind, and freedom to all who are oppressed. Ah! then skip over to the end of his earthly ministry and he projects us to the end of the age when all humankind will be summoned before him and separated into those blessed and invited to inherit his kingdom/new creation and those rejected. The criteria for this judgement? Their hospitality to strangers, their feeding of the hungry and giving drink to the thirsty, their care for the sick, and their ministry to the unjustly imprisoned.

That’s radical humanitarian stuff, the implementation of justice, the making his message into flesh and blood behavior, the incarnation of the love of God to the victims of this broken world. In the course of Jesus’ ministry, he would say that the poor are blessed and conversely: “woe to you rich.” (Luke 6). He taught that if you have two cloaks, you should give one away. He taught that it is very difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God: his new creation. He told one aspiring very rich young inquirer who sought discipleship that he should give away all his possessions and them come, explaining that it is very difficult to a rich person to enter the kingdom of God (their wealth being an idol to them). “Unless a person forsakes all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.”

That makes socialism sound tame. Add to that the affirmation of the church over the centuries that the purpose of civil government is: “the welfare of all of its citizens.” Or maybe to insert here a line from Dietrich Bonhoeffer: “When Jesus calls a man, he bids him come and die.” Christian discipleship is not tame stuff—just read the New Testament, Concern for minimum wages, for food for the hungry, and care for the sick … is the role of civil government. It makes the agenda of some form of socialism to be an “of course.”

One has to be radically realistic politically. Granted. But the wealthy have a political power that the hungry and the stranger and the unjustly imprisoned, etc. … do not have. And it is obscene to high-jack the term “evangelical” to oppose costly programs to meet those human needs. We who are Christ’s disciples become the salt of the earth and the light of the world by incarnating, here and now, in our personal and political lives, the life and radical teachings of Jesus. To be continued …

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.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Lauren says:

    Yes and Amen!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

CommentLuv badge