What is an Evangelical?

The Presidential election season is ramping up and in an ever-increasing manner for the next 18 months we will be bombarded with advertisements, both television and print, touting the accomplishments of one candidate, while bemoaning the opposing candidates record. Now might be a good time to make a commitment that for every five minutes of watching cable news, you’ll spend 10 minutes reading your Bible!

One of the interesting developments to come out of the last Presidential election is our culture’s disdain for the term, ‘evangelical.’ It became a term of derision in our culture. Some Christian’s and respected Christian organizations (such as the Gospel Coalition) suggested the term ought to be jettisoned by Christ-followers. Alan Noble, editor of Christ and Pop Culture states, “For much of society, ‘evangelical’ describes a specific voting bloc.” Noble’s statement reveals that the term ‘evangelical’ has been co-opted. The term in our society has shifted from a theological category to a political category. The term ‘evangelical’ has nothing to do with politics (Thank God) and everything to do with what Gospel-centered Christ-followers believe.

British Historian David Bebbington helpfully suggests there are four primary convictions of an evangelical.[1]What are they?


  • Conversionism: The belief that lives need to be transformed through a “born-again” experience and a life-long process of following Jesus. Nicodemus, a member of Israel’s religious leadership was told by our Lord Jesus, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (Jn. 3:3). So an evangelical is one who, along with Peter would exclaim, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…” (1 Pet. 1:3).
  • Evangelism: The conviction that God commands His disciples to engage the mission of God through communicating the Gospel both at home and abroad. After His resurrection Jesus tells His disciples, “All authority in heaven and earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).
  • Biblicism: A firm belief that God has spoken in His Word, the Bible and we are to live in obedience to God’s Word. The Apostle Paul tells us, “All Scriptureis breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17, emphasis added). An evangelical is one who has a high regard for and obedience to the Bible, as God’s revealed Word.
  • Christocentrism: The conviction that Jesus’ life and sacrificial death are the only possible means of redemption. The Apostle’s, referring to Jesus, boldly proclaim, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). An evangelical makes it their aim to live their life in honor of Christ.


So what should we do with the term ‘evangelical?’ Should we jettison it as has been suggested? I don’t think so. If we’re asked in the upcoming election cycle, are you one of those evangelicals? I think we should (gently) take that as an opportunity to share what we believe and the hope we have, not in politics, but in Christ and His grace to us.




[1]I’ve changed some of Bebbington’s language to make it more helpful. His four are Conversionism, Activism, Biblicism, Crucicentrism.

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