For the Record
A single word can be a mighty big deal.
Today I'm determined to clarify what in the world (or at least in the U.S.A.) is an Evangelical.
This is a big deal to me because in recent years, the words evangelical and fundamentalist have become synonyms, and that drives me crazier.
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Here's from a certain online dictionary: "Evangelical: Of, relating to, or being a Christian church believing in the Bible as the sole source of religious authority, in salvation only through conversion and spiritual regeneration, and in the necessity of public witness to faith."
And here is a statement of faith from the National Association of Evangelicals: "We believe the Bible to be the inspired, the only infallible, authoritative Word of God. We believe that there is one God, eternally existent in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We believe in the deity of our Lord Jesus Christ, in His virgin birth, in His sinless life, in His miracles, in His vicarious and atoning death through His shed blood, in His bodily resurrection, in His ascension to the right hand of the Father, and in His personal return in power and glory. We believe that for the salvation of lost and sinful people, regeneration by the Holy Spirit is absolutely essential. We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live a godly life. We believe in the resurrection of both the saved and the lost; they that are saved unto the resurrection of life and they that are lost unto the resurrection of damnation. We believe in the spiritual unity of believers in our Lord Jesus Christ."
Okay, the way I and some others interpret the applications of some of those beliefs may surely differ, but that's okay with me and probably with most evangelicals except the subset of evangelicals who are also fundamentalists.
The most prominent evangelical fundamentalist denomination in the U.S. is the Southern Baptist Conference. Here is an excerpt from their mission statement: "We stand together in the truth of God’s inerrant Word, celebrating the faith once for all delivered to the saints." Note the word inerrant.
What inerrant means, according to the faith statement of a prominent fundamentalist university, is that “the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching and record of historical facts.”
The distinction I find between simply evangelical and evangelical fundamentalist begins with this notion of inerrancy: we simple evangelicals generally believe the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are "without error or misstatement in their moral and spiritual teaching . . ." but we are not asked to believe that Old and New Testament scripture are inerrant in the record of historical facts. We are not asked to believe as historical fact that Adam and Eve were created as fully human and placed in a garden where a serpent tempted them and so on; or that Earth was created in seven of what we moderns call days; or that Jonah was swallowed by a big fish and resided inside that critter for three days. But fundamentalists are not only asked to believe in and attest to the literal, historical, factual truth of all that, but to believe that whoever disagrees with them is rejecting God and the promise of salvation.
To reiterate, this distinction between evangelicals and fundamentalists is a big deal to me because the words evangelical and fundamentalist becoming synonymous slanders us simple evangelicals and by extension all followers of Christ (except fundamentalists).
What's more, a God whose essence is love (1 John 4:8) is slandered when considered ready and willing to condemn anyone who fails to adhere to improbable and unnecessary beliefs.
Perhaps this anecdote will clarify what I mean by unnecessary. After Karl Barth, a renowned theologian, gave a lecture, a woman asked, "Doctor Barth, do you really believe that a serpent spoke to Eve?" To which he replied, "Madam, I don't care whether a serpent spoke. I care what he said."
His point being that stories have meanings entirely regardless of the detail used. A story may be created to tell a complex truth in a simple way. The value of a story isn't determined by its factual accuracy but by its effectiveness in delivering truth.
And the worth of the Bible with all its stories doesn't depend upon its historical accuracy but by how accurately it tells the truth, which is what those of us who pick up the Bible are after, right? So we can be set free, right? (John 8:32)
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