Saturday, December 31, 2005

What Is An Evangelical? Conclusion

Well, the long journey has finally ended. I've attempted here to briefly (haha) define what exactly an evangelical is and to describe the definition as best as I can. Initially, I described an evangelical as: a person (preacher), church, or denomination that has the Gospel of Jesus Christ, especially the primacy of Christ's work, as the central article of faith; that believes the spreading of the Gospel and the salvation of souls is the number one duty of the Christian; that believes all moral/spiritual truth is found in the Bible; and that Christians are called to live lives of service before God and fellow man. I'd like to highlight those points in summary. The Gospel: the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims that before the hands of the watch began to move, before God placed the singularity that caused the Big Bang ("Let There Be Light!"), God knew us. According to His divine and sovereign will, He sent His Son as a ransom, a sacrifice, for our sins, an atonement by which we are made right with God for ever. By His grace we are able to accept the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. "By grace are you saved through faith, and that not of yourselves--it is the gift of God; not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)." Evangelism: evangelism involves (1)telling people (especially lost people) about Jesus with the express purpose of winning them to Christ; and (2)discipling new converts to Christian maturity, with the goal of equipping them to win and disciple new believers themselves. Scripture: the "sufficiency of Scripture" refers to the concept that all moral and spiritual truth is contained in the Bible; that the Bible is able to save us by the witness of the Gospel; and that the means of that salvation is our response to the truth contained within its witness by coming to Christ in faith. Christian Service: Christian service is the acting out of our faith in Christ by putting the needs of others before our own, and filling those needs as a sign of our love for them. I suppose we can call this the "Holocron's Notes" version of what an evangelical is. Each of these points embraces or heavily touches on several key doctrines such as atonement, resurrection, sovereignty, salvation, sufficiency of Scripture (in which I'm going to include inspiration and inerrancy), discipleship, missions, and ministry. Most importantly, as a whole these four characteristics of the evangelical shape and inform the doctrine of the church. By this I do not mean the beliefs of a particular church, though indeed that may be the case, but I mean how we structure our churches. Much as Rick Warren has structured his church around "The Purpose Driven Life," evangelical churches are structured around these four traits. If these four traits are indeed what makes an evangelical, then I am proud to identify myself as an evangelical. What do these traits mean for the modern evangelical movement? I begin to wonder if the culture war going on right now has taken away the focus from what James calls "true religion" (James 1:27) and reduced many evangelicals (those who are outspoken and well-known) to gossip-mongers. I do not level this charge lightly; more and more I see outspoken evangelicals talking loudly and negatively about what this or that person or group did or said and less about the Gospel and winning those people or groups to Jesus through their witness and service. Please do not misunderstand. I think the culture war is important. If we allow secularism to rule, the people will perish. This is because secularism has no vision, and Scripture says that where there is no vision, the people will perish (Proverbs 29:18). Secularism refuses to condemn immorality. This relativistic, pluralistic worldview will cause many to suffer torment in Hell forever. No vision, indeed. Jesus also said he came not to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew 10:34). the culture war is the wielding of that sword. But a sword can be used in ways other than offensively. Look at Obi-Wan Kenobi in the Star Wars prequels. He wielded his lightsaber almost purely defensively, and in Revenge of the Sith, now a master of his weapon, was nigh invincible. And the Force was his ally. Similarly, we have God on our side. The Gospel is the most potent weapon we have at our disposal, and we have been brandishing it about like a club instead of the elegant weapon it is. To quote Master Kenobi, how uncivilized. Instead, we as evangelicals should be trusting the sovereign power of the Holy Spirit to guide our witness and our service, much as it did when I spoke to the young marine at Red Lobster. If we truly believe God is sovereign, we must agree that God will put us in the right place at the right time to plant a seed, water it, or reap the harvest. We cannot just tramp through the fields like we've been doing publicly. The culture war, I feel, will be won at the grass roots level and not in the national spotlight. Notice what I'm saying here. I'm saying we have the most powerful weapon ever at our disposal, and and we should use it like water. Water is probably the most powerful and elegant weapon in nature. Bruce Lee encapsulated what I'm saying beautifully - "Be like water! It is the stuff of life. It surrounds, penetrates, takes on the shape of that which attempts to contain it. Be fluid!" The Gospel is that fluid power. It can surround sin, penetrate it, and take on its shape, making it new and pure and holy as it does so. I think this paragraph alone deserves its own blogpost, and I will make a note to draw one up as soon as possible. But I am excited about the implications this summary of evangelicalism holds for the future. Already I am seeing rumblings about a move towards the smaller church. Bivocational pastorates are increasingly coming into stark focus. Small local churches are no longer allowing themselves to be ignored. Seminary profs at Southern have for the past few years started to talk about and be about "the local church." Megachurches have ruined it for them, and it's time that stopped. True evangelicalism takes place at this level, where the people and their pastors are in such close proximity that the Gospel is lived out day by day, and day by day the Lord adds to His church. With that, I will close this series. There is much, much more that could be said; more, I fear, than this blog could contain and more than I could ever learn about or than would catch my interest. I am proud to call myself an "evangelical," and I am excited about what the future may hold for evangelicals and their churches. Wouldn't you be?


Blogger J Hearne said...

The Bruce Lee thing does not originate with Mr. Lee. More correctly, it's central to the idea of Taoism and other Southeastern Asian philosophical systems.

Mr. Lee was not the origin of this metaphor of water.

1/02/2006 04:52:00 PM  
Blogger Stephen Newell said...

So? He's the one I originally heard (and read) it from, so it is only natural that I'd attribute it (in this case, correctly) to him. It doesn't invalidate the quote.

Let's all try not to nit-pick. This isn't Pyromaniac or Boar's Head.

1/03/2006 10:53:00 AM  

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