So It Means ‘Christian’?

Roger Olson:

After all the wrangling over who is truly “evangelical” and “an evangelical,” I’m tempted to say “anyone is an evangelical who is sincerely, passionately committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ as that is conveyed to us through the inspired narratives of the Bible.” Another way of putting it is that anyone is an evangelical who is a God-fearing, Bible-believing, Jesus-loving Christian. I know that won’t satisfy some people who want the label evangelical to mean more, but I’ve become satisfied with this broad definition. (How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative [Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008], 13.)

If that’s what an evangelical is then I wonder why the term gets used at all.  Why not just stick with Christian?  It’s less mysterious.  I suspect that Olson’s ‘some people’ are the majority of people who read that definition of evangelical… as long as he’s satisfied though.    :-|


24 thoughts on “So It Means ‘Christian’?

  1. DA Carson suggested in a lecture at ETS that evangelicals are in sad shape when they are more concerned with defining the term then with preaching the evangel. I look forward to Carson’s book on the subject which should be out in the spring.

  2. I agree with you Nick as a Catholic in the fullest sense of that word Christian I get annoyed by the hijacking of the word `evangelical`. I am probably as equal to any of the `so-called evangelicals` in my missionary actions. I am reminded of the quote of Francis of Assisi `Preach Christ always and sometimes use words`. I believe is what true evangelicals do.

  3. There is what “evangelical” should mean, given its etymological meaning: One who believes the gospel.

    Then there is what it *does* mean, given its use as a descriptor in the modern Church: One who believes the gospel, and who also predicates the Bible’s authority on a theory of its inspiration.

    The fact that “evangelical”, as used, means the second of these definitions is what ruins the term for me. There is no necessary connection between the gospel and the Bible’s purported inspiration, but evangelicals act like there is, and they put those two things together in their definition of what it means to be an evangelical.

  4. One who zealously advocates a belief, would be an evangelical. Mostly we associate this with Christianity. True believers in anything are usually considered zealous advocates, especially when their belief is a radical departure from the norm. As true Christians…our hearts have been removed and replaced…We ARE radically different from the norm!

    Ezekiel 11:19

  5. Bryan: Which point was that again?

    Seth: I’d have to agree there, but then if it can mean anything I wonder why bother with it at all.

    Andrew: Well there you go (although I admit to taking issue with the St. Francis quote in the past).

    John: I think my problem with the term has always been that I can’t pin down what it does or is supposed to mean.

    Bill: Naturally! ;-)

    Nancy: So ‘evangelical’ and ‘zealot’ are synonymous? That’s an interesting take on it. I haven’t heard that before.

  6. An evangelical is someone who wants to be identified and associated with evangelicals. If you think being an evangelical is a positive thing and you actually care enough to fight for the right to be considered an evangelical then that’s enough. You are an evangelical.

    That’s how I define it. : )

    Bryan L

  7. Nick–

    That only “evangelicals” as defined by the fundamentalists are true Christians. Whether this be through KJV fundamentalism or the “no-smokin’, no-drinkin’, no-cussin'” variety. It’s prevalent where I was, but they don’t do the research to understand that evangelicalism came about as an objection TO their fundamentalism. Evangelicalism == Christian (as defined by fundamentalist ideals)

  8. It means what all other words mean. What ever I’m “pointing at” when I say it.

    You know, like a little kid who thrills her father by saying “Da”, then proceeds to say “Da” at everything.

  9. “…So ‘evangelical’ and ‘zealot’ are synonymous? That’s an interesting take on it. I haven’t heard that before.”

    If we’re talking Peter, Paul, James, John, Luther, Calvin, Wesley, et al…I’d say yeah.

  10. “Zealot” of course is always the other person willing to destroy the world over the placement of a comma. Never ourselves, even with our finger on the big red button of the earth shattering bomb we swiped from Marvin the Martian.

  11. An evangelical is a Christian. But not all christians are evangelical. Therefore Christianity is not evangelicalism, as evangelicalism is not equated to and with Christianity.

  12. I used to be a member, taught Sunday school even, Of an…

    Evangelical Lutheran Church of America.

    Oy vey.

    Am I evangelical or Christian?

    What am I?

  13. Fascinating discussion – thanks folks! (Btw, I came here via James McGrath’s Exploring Our Matrix)

    Re “Evangelical Lutheran”, that may be a whole nuther notion. In my native German, we distinguish between “evangelisch” (which denotes many non-Catholic denominations in Germany coming out of the Reformation – hence most Lutheran churches even outside germany being also called “Evangelical”) and “evangelikal” (which denotes a particular theological stance) – both of which get translated with “evangelical” in English. Confusing!

    So, “evangelical” might simply mean sticking to the “sola Scriptura, sola gratia” of the Reformation. Or it may mean holding a particular, often narrowly literal view of the Scriptures.

    I’ve never liked the direction, the word developed in Anglophone circles … ;-)

  14. Sorry to disagree but I don’t think that “evangelical” in the sense of adhering to the “sola Scriptura” principle of the Reformation is too encompassing. There are plenty of Christians who use creeds and other traditions as source of their theology whereas, strictly speaking, Christians who are “evangelisch” (in the German sense of *that* word) restrict their theological sources to the words of the Bible. But maybe that’s too German and won’t work in English. The corresponding wikipedia article ( also only exists in German (and Dutch) but not in English. Well, I still hope mine was worth a try …

  15. Oliver: Disagreement is always welcome, just as long as you’re disagreeing with someone other than me. ;-)

    In all seriousness, I was referring to the “direction the word developed in Anglophone circles” that you mentioned.

  16. Ah, thanks, Nick, for correcting my misunderstanding your point of reference.

    Now here’ something I can agree with:
    Down with “evangelical” in English!

    (And long live “evangelisch” in German … ;-)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s