These days it seems that being ‘evangelical’ is back in vogue. But what exactly does that term mean?
Everyone wants to claim it, to the point that now many Christians from a broad range of theological backgrounds and beliefs label themselves by it, and it often seems to have different connotations in different cultures. The reality is, however, that many Christians (and certainly non-believers) don’t really have a clear idea of what the word actually means or who it describes.
Historically, being an evangelical has meant being a person whose beliefs and life are shaped by the evangel – the gospel of Jesus Christ. So here are five of the key theological convictions that should come with that evangelical label:
1 – THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE
Evangelicals believe that the Bible is the truthful, reliable, divinely-inspired and authoritative source of all doctrine and that it’s the only guide for Christian belief and practice. Because it’s divinely inspired it stands above all other writings, traditions and people. It doesn’t mean we can’t experience God outside of the pages of Scripture, but those experiences shouldn’t contradict the Bible at all – it’s our yardstick for everything we know and understand about God.
2 – THE SERIOUSNESS OF SIN
To be evangelical is to be convinced of the truth that every single human being throughout all of history, since the fall of Adam and Eve, is born with a sinful nature which alienates them from God. We’re completely helpless to rescue ourselves from our sinful state, and so we stand under the righteous judgment of God where only His forgiveness can reconcile us and give us freedom.
3 – THE CENTRALITY OF THE CROSS
Thankfully evangelicals also believe that the cross of Christ is the perfect antidote to the seriousness of sin. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, and that’s exactly what his death and resurrection accomplished – the atoning death of the sinless Son of God restores us to the Father.
4 – THE NEED TO RESPOND TO THE CROSS
Another mark of an evangelical is the recognition that the gospel is not just the great news of God’s salvation available through Jesus, but it is the great summons to actually respond to it. Salvation is found in Christ alone and is not automatically bestowed on a person – we need to respond in repentance and faith and take hold of that amazing gift God holds out for us.
5 – THE WORK OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
The fifth hallmark of an evangelical is the importance we place on the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. As a person responds to God in repentance and faith they’re brought to new life in Christ through the power of the Spirit. The Spirit will continue to work in the believer’s heart throughout their life, empowering them to grow more and more like Jesus.
So basically it comes down to this: to be evangelical means more than just being accepted by the wider Christian community. You actually have to believe something… and live it out.