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So, how do you define "evangelical"?

I've been grousing for some time that the word "evangelical" has been hijacked, misunderstood, or otherwise transmogrified into a synonym for "Christian fundamentalist," which has led to all sorts of confusion in political discussions and in media coverage of the same.

In some ways, the meaning-mangling is due to reporters who are often called on to write stories about things they don't understand, and they hear a word used a certain way, and then perpetuate that nuance in their writing.

Even the respected George Barna has contributed to the word's transformation from a functional to a doctrinal term: in Barna organization surveys, the criteria for labeling respondents as "evangelicals" includes nine specific characteristics (listed in this earlier blog) that are mainly doctrinal and together describe a very conservative Christian position, if not outright fundamentalist.

Yet, many mainline or more liberal Christians self-identify as evangelical. A recent blog at explores the question and offers definitions by a variety of folk. It's worth a look.

In my mind, the word's derivation from the Greek term that means "good news" or "gospel" should make the meaning clear: an evangelical is someone who has trusted in the good news about Jesus Christ and who believes that news is good enough and important enough to share with others. 

How would you define "evangelical"? Do you think of it as a doctrinal or a functional term? Do you consider yourself to be an evangelical, at least by your own definition?

Feel free to offer your definition or observation in the comments section below. The word is both used and misused by politicians and media alike. Meaning matters: what do you think it means?

Reader Comments (4)

For me "evangelical" means willing to talk religion normally without beating people on the head with it.

"Fundamentalist" would be a better term for the papers to use. I see little difference between most American fundamentalists and those Islamic idiots.

The greatest trouble with "Evangelicals" these days is their obsession with making all others believe it EXACTLY as they do with little room for variance. Also, I'm finding too many who lived the wild life in the 60-70's trying to "prove" their righteousness to somehow salve their consciences over what they did.

That's replacing forgiveness with works and obsession. You can detect when people are overboard with their zeal for "righteousness." I see the same with Republican politics these days and it's not good, in my view.

Jan 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGene Scarborough

Unfortunately, what does "it" mean reflects the common misunderstanding that meanings are in words.

Meanings are not "in" words; meanings are "in" the people who use the words. (Please pardon the semantics lecture.)

If people undestand the word to "mean" what the media and Barna have come to use it to convey, then when most people hear, read, or use the word, that's what they mean by it. And that's the way words come to have different definitions in different times.

I, as do many other old geezers, still insist that when I refer to myself as an evangelical, I intend the understanding articulated above--a believer in the good news who feels the good news is important to share. And it doesn't take nine points to describe, define, or articulate it.

But that's just me. And I'm aware that it's a losing battle when people with access to large media outlets use it differently and thus "re-define" it.


Jan 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterRegular Reader

To me, we are talking more about attitude than belief. MOst self-described evangelicals are pretty conservative in doctrine, but they will listen to other views. They may not be convinced, but they will listen with respect to other views. Actually there are liberal , fundamentalist, and evangelical attitudes in most religions.

The key word is one I can;t emphasize enough. It is LISTEN". iT IS a rare occurence.,in Baptist life true listening is rare. We are too busy trying to be "right" to listen to others.

Jan 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterWayne Hatcher

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